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Bilingualism, culture and success: The case for the Kensington Wade School, and the value of immersive education

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Roberta Rennie

Shortly after its establishment, Kensington Wade became an award-winning school as the first and only bilingual English-Chinese preparatory school in Europe. Seeking to understand the relationship between bilingualism, worldview, culture and success, Ripples editor, Roberta Rennie, held an interview with Headmaster, Huw May, and Head of the Chinese programme, Wang Jing.

A holistic education

“We are creating something very new; we operate in a very different way. Our identity is British, though deeply embedded in Chinese culture to provide our students with a truly immersive and authentic bilingual education”.

Jing highlights that pupils’ “mental flexibility to switch [between languages] is remarkable, and their behaviour and kindness is exceptional”. According to the lived experience of the Kensington Wade’s teaching staff, an immersive bilingual education enables pupils to truly flourish and relax in a supportive learning environment.

“Bilingual children’s brains are wired differently”, she explains, “they are wired to problem solve.” Indeed, it is Kensington Wade’s focus on cross-cultural understanding that enables pupils to develop both human compassion and linguistic proficiency, since they appreciate that different languages are the products of different cultures. In her view, Kensington Wade pupils’ outstanding communication skills prove that bilingualism is not simply an important component in education, but a necessary one, too.

On public policy, May argued that the government ought to do more to support bilingualism in private education. Labour’s proposal to subject private tuition fees to VAT, for example, poses a considerable threat to independent schools that operate on tight financial models. Such policies, he suspects, indicate that politicians do not recognise the value of an immersive bilingual education that the private sector can provide. While mandatory language learning provides students with a very basic introduction to foreign languages, “two hours a week is not enough for any real useful language to be spoken. More needs to be done to support bilingual education, since it sets up students as global citizens”.

A supportive learning environment

“We promote all [key language skills: reading, writing, speaking and listening] because otherwise, our pupils will be illiterate. Writing after speaking is the foundation to decoding Chinese properly”.

“A personalised plan is essential and must be centred around a standard of expectation”. May continues, “There is no maximum, if children go beyond [the benchmarks that we set], then they go beyond them.”. Motivated by his personal experience receiving a late dyslexia diagnosis aged 24, May firmly believes in the importance of individual support to ensure that no pupils are left behind. Kensington Wade’s immersive Mandarin programme is central to the school’s inclusive ethos, as learning a second language empowers pupils to build confidence and self-esteem.

Education and AI


On technology, May noted that “AI is used in many areas” of children’s education to the extent that children can practise language at home in the absence of teachers. This is supported by “diagnostic assessments that can plan a year of work”. Through this, Kensington Wade enact the belief that AI can support independence in study.  

I am, in a sense, multilingual, and through learning multiple languages have come to understand that to learn a language is to learn a culture. Jing firmly agreed with this sentiment, and notes that in Kensington Wade, “half of the school days are taught Mandarin, with the other half dedicated to geography and culture”. This allows children to immerse themselves naturally into the Chinese language.

With regards to culture, Jing asserts that “to understand a language is to understand where it came from, since geography and history influence how a language is formed.” In keeping with this principle, children learn Chinese drama, proverbs, attend cultural exchanges and celebrate cultural events with parents to experience an authentic bilingual education.

Culture and success

On a practical level, May accepts that “all parents want success for their children,” although the school adopts a more holistic definition of the term. “We want them to feel comfortable and successful about themselves”. A significant part of this is viewing weakness as strengths and acknowledging difference.

Jing also observed that Chinese culture involves a focus on “growth mindset” and resilience. “Traditionally Chinese parents put more focus on children’s education, as a means to getting a better job, hence we have a Chinese community that focuses on [education] a lot. Our school is about giving the best education and having the best, but [above all] we want them to be good human beings”.

My interview with senior leadership at Kensington Wade offered valuable insight into the challenges of leading bilingual education in the British private sector. I am left with the impression that Europe’s first English-Chinese preparatory school is paving the way for a new type of immersive education, one that values academic success, but also takes its pupils’ emotional well-being into consideration. From an academic standpoint, the principle of immersing pupils in language, culture and history seems to promote a global outlook and intellectual versatility, nurturing both successful and well-rounded young people.



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