Established in 1989 as a charitable trust after a group of parents wanted a British-style education in Tokyo for their children, this not-for-profit co-ed is the only school that currently offers the A-level programme in Japan. The British School in Tokyo (BST) brilliantly combines a UK-style curriculum with an international focus on Japanese society and culture.
The school is split across two campuses: Shibuya (primary) and Showa (primary and secondary). The leafy Showa campus is within the grounds of the Showa Women’s University in Sangenjaya, 10 minutes west of Shibuya. The BST is in one long building, spread across five floors, but the school also has access to university facilities, including the Astro pitch, the Leo Ground (for football), the Green Hall for assemblies and ceremonies and the Hitomi Memorial Hall for music and drama. There are smallish art and music rooms, plus a swimming pool.
The nearest subway station is Sangenjaya, a seven-minute walk from the school, serving the Den-en-Toshi and Setagaya lines. The school is 20 minutes from Shinjuku and five minutes by train to Shibuya. A bus runs between the Shibuya and Showa campuses in the morning and afternoons, but this is only for primary pupils.
A new campus is in the pipeline that will bring both primary sections together in one location. It will be in the Toranomon-Azabudai redevelopment, not far from the popular expat district of Roppongi, and cater for 700 children from nursery to Year 6. Due to open in September 2023, it will feature spacious learning zones (including bigger art and music rooms), outdoor play areas, larger art and music rooms, an indoor pool, a library and a gym. From the drawings we’ve seen, it will be a very futuristic place to learn while also expressing the green outdoor vision that is so important to the school.
Welshman Paul Tough joined as principal in 2019. With 15 years’ experience in senior leadership, he was previously deputy head and head of international schools in Hong Kong.
Sparky Brit Eleanor Loran has been head of primary since 2020, moving over from Discovery Bay International School in Hong Kong. She has 20 years’ experience in education in the UK, New Zealand and Hong Kong. She divides her time between the two campuses, making sure she is visible at both.
Non-selective with rolling admissions, the BST gives priority in the following order: to siblings, children with one British parent, non-Japanese children who have attended a British curriculum school and want to continue, Japanese children who have studied a British curriculum for four years or more and want to continue, and other non-Japanese children.
For primary, children sit an age-appropriate test to assess language, literature and maths, along with any EAL needs – if English is not their first language, the child takes an English test and an oral assessment.
Corporate scholarships are offered but these are part of Japan’s complex Corporate Contribution Programme (CCP). The CCP is a potentially cost effective and advantageous alternative to paying enrolment and tuition fees. Participation removes the additional income taxes that are normally imposed on the income of parents whose employers undertake to cover their children’s school fees in Japan.
A limited number of means-tested bursaries are available – last year, eight per cent of pupils received them. Priority is given to families whose main earner is in full-time education or working for a not-for-profit organisation. The bursary includes a total waiver of enrolment and application fees, as well as up to 50 per cent reduction of tuition fees, including the annual capital development fee. It’s not awarded in nursery or Reception.
In primary, pupils follow the Early Years Foundation Stage, a combination of teacher-led and independent play-based activities. Classrooms have Reggio Emilia-inspired play areas to support inquiry-based learning. It is very much a British curriculum with an international element. The school also believes in outdoor education, which might range from studying plant life to launching rockets on the school pitch. Pupils learn Japanese from nursery.
Limited SEN support is available for those outside of the mainstream classroom and those who need significant support. Parents pay for additional costs for this. New families must declare any previous educational support in the application stages. EAL support is offered.
Most pupils (84 per cent) continue from primary into secondary.
A group of 180 pupils singing ‘World in Union’ at the opening ceremony of the Rugby World Cup in 2019 (which was hosted in Japan) to a global audience must be at the top of the school’s list of musical achievements. It is important to note that Years 4 to 9 on the Showa campus have instrument lessons during class time, with the timings changing each week so that the same lessons aren’t missed.
Sport is important here. BST had the honour of being the first school in Japan to welcome the Webb Ellis Cup (the trophy awarded to the winner of the Rugby World Cup) when it arrived in Japan in 2019. The school has close ties with the nearby Shibuya International Rugby Club. There is much excitement about the annual Fuji Relay, in which Year 6 pupils run 63km over three days. It’s gruelling but most take part, almost as a rite of passage before joining secondary school.
Swimming is compulsory from Reception. The school currently uses community pools but this will change when the new primary campus opens. BST is part of the Kanto Plains Association of Secondary Schools sports leagues, Japan Swim Association and the International Schools of Tokyo Athletic Association. Sports include cross-country, football, hockey, basketball, touch rugby, cricket and volleyball (the girls recently had their best season ever).
The school is renowned for its inclusivity. The 19:20 programme gave pupils the chance to take part in events leading up to the 2019 Rugby World Cup and 2020 Olympics and Paralympics that addressed diversity in sport, disability and gender equality.
Co-curricular activities include aikido (martial arts), shodu (calligraphy), art, dance, cooking, gardening, photography, climbing and boxercise. There are also DofE and Model United Nations. The very popular outdoor-learning residential trips that take place from Year 1 include an annual ski trip to Hakuba. There is also a snow-sports club that organises three ski-club weekends between January and March.
The school community comprises more than 1,000 students of 65 nationalities. There are two counsellors: one for primary (who covers both campuses) and one for secondary. Primary and secondary pupils can be a part of the student council.
Parents describe the school community as one big happy family. All belong to the PTA. In primary, they are welcome to help out in everything from supervising trips to volunteering for reading sessions. The PTA organises the spring fair, parent workshops and lunch and coffee mornings (particularly for new parents), which are held every Friday at the Shibuya campus and monthly at the Showa campus. It has also put together a handy guide for families who are new to Tokyo, which includes lots of essential local information.
A school advisory committee made up of parents, staff and representatives meets with the principal to discusses the BST’s educational provision. There is a new student buddy system where the school will match parents up with a current BST parent to introduce you to the school or even Tokyo life if you are new to Japan. This is offered throughout the year.
Primary students on both campuses bring in packed lunches. On the Showa campus, they can also order from Kiwi Kitchen and have the food delivered.
An excellent choice for a British education with a focus on Japanese culture too.