Kensington Wade is a new, independent English-Chinese bilingual Prep School in Kensington. Its founding Headteacher, Laura Marani, previously headed La Scuola Italiana in Holland Park and traditional British Prep Pembridge Hall.
Tell us more about this new school and how it will work.
It’s both terribly exciting and a little scary. We will welcome our first students in Nursery and Reception in September 2017. We will consider opening a Year 1 class if we have enough demand. For Nursery and Reception entry, the children do not need to know any Chinese. For the later years they will need to demonstrate some knowledge of the language. The school will teach language by immersion – I am a strong believer in this system because I saw how well it worked at La Scuola Italiana–, which means children spend half the day in an English classroom and half the day in a Chinese classroom. We eventually hope to have 30 children in each form, split into two groups of 15.
How will you be teaching reading and writing in the two languages?
We do it all at the same time. The children will have a slightly longer day to account for the fact that we have more ground to cover. In my experience bilingual school students tend to work a little bit harder and that’s fine. A strong worth ethic is important. Maths will always be taught in both languages, though we will adopt the Shanghai maths approach. The pupils would need to know the English vocabulary and way of calculating and solving problems.
Will you use traditional characters in Mandarin?
We will be using Mandarin ‘Simplified’ characters. (This is not what it sounds like, as it is still extremely complicated, but is a modernised version of the ‘Traditional’). Simplified is now the official system in China. If parents request it, we will organise an after-hours’ class for learning the traditional characters, both because these are in use elsewhere and because they enable children to access traditional arts.
Have you started recruiting your teachers?
Yes, we have teachers for September. All of them will be native speakers and also qualified in teaching, not just Mandarin. We have just appointed our new Headteacher, Joanna Wallace, who comes from Putney High Junior School, where she successfully expanded the language programme to include Mandarin. I will stay on as Consultant Principal.
What sort of families do you hope to attract?
So far we have had interest from all sorts really: some that you would expect, like mixed couples or parents with a professional or life connection to China. But also some who don’t, and simply believe that Chinese will be more useful in the future than French or Italian and want to give that option to their child. Of course Chinese can be learned as an adult, which is what our Founder, Hugo de Burgh, did, but it is an arduous path. That’s where his conviction that the language should be learned from the earliest possible age comes from.
Will you still be preparing children for the 11+?
Yes, of course we will. We are very much an English Prep School and therefore we will prepare the children for the exams they have to take to transition to all the top Senior Schools. We will borrow the best from the Chinese system –excellent standards of behaviour for instance– and weave into the education we offer our pupils.
Which elements of the Chinese educational philosophy do you think are particularly effective, and will make the style of education on offer unique?
I think we have a lot to learn from the Chinese work ethic and we will pick and choose the strands that we wish to incorporate into our teaching. Aspects of this style of teaching are already widely in use in the US and are very successful. In the Italian School in London, it has in fact proved even more successful than we envisaged at the outset. I would not say the style is unique, but it is unusual and, done well, it is exceptional.
Are you planning to develop anything in terms of cultural outreach/ internal enrichment programmes to help students understand more about Chinese culture?
Whilst, as a traditional English Prep School, we will follow the appropriate curriculum, in the Chinese timetable there will be time to cover some cultural, historical and geographical content. If the children are immersed in the Chinese language they must be able to put it in context.
Your current facilities are brand new and can house up to 200 children, what’s next?
We are already in talks to secure another site when the lease comes up on this one. Of course it will stay local to the area.
How does the admission process currently work?
At the moment it’s still fairly flexible. We tend to meet the children but that’s often because they’re with the parents when they come to visit. In the future we may assess, especially in the languages in the higher years, but not at the moment for entry into Reception and Nursery. We have quite a lot of registrations for September 2020 already, but some room until then.