The Mail on Sunday

Schools sell­ing out to Bei­jing

Not only are UK pri­vate schools be­ing bought by Chi­nese f irms but some are giv­ing lessons that are a threat to free speech

- BY JAKE RYAN, GLEN OWEN and JONATHAN BUCKS Education · Asian Politics · Infectious Diseases · Politics · Health Conditions · Beijing · Communist Party of China · United Kingdom · China · Diana, Princess of Wales · Bromley · Bournemouth · Yale University · Northampton Town F.C. · Asia · Country Garden Holdings · Ipswich · Ipswich Town F.C. · Enid Blyton · London · Oxford · Oxford University · People's Liberation Army · Thomas Paine · Confucius · Buckingham Palace · Buckingham Palace · Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh · Xi Jinping · the Chinese government · Malaysia · United Arab Emirates · Thailand · South Africa · Nigeria · Shanghai · Wellington College, Berkshire · Wellington, New Zealand · Dominic Raab · Abbots Bromley · Lichfield · Llanelli · Robert Buckland · Cerys Matthews · Yang Huiyan · Yang Guoqiang · Bedstone · June Brown · Bideford · China First Capital · Thetford Grammar School · Norfolk · Cambridgeshire · Shrewsbury · Denbigh · Foreign Affairs Committee · Crowthorne · Crowthorne · Wang Jianlin

HUN­DREDS of in­de­pen­dent schools left in dire fi­nan­cial straits by the coro­n­avirus pan­demic are be­ing tar­geted by Chi­nese in­vestors, The Mail on Sun­day can re­veal.

Ex­perts an­tic­i­pate a ‘ feed­ing frenzy’ as firms, in­clud­ing some run by high-rank­ing mem­bers of the rul­ing Chi­nese Com­mu­nist party, seek to ex­pand their in­flu­ence over Bri­tain’s ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem. Sev­en­teen schools are al­ready owned by Chi­nese com­pa­nies, but that num­ber is set to rocket.

Amid ris­ing con­cern about Bei­jing’s ten­ta­cles reach­ing into Bri­tish class­rooms, an in­ves­ti­ga­tion by this news­pa­per can re­veal:

Nine of the 17 schools un­der Chi­nese con­trol are owned by firms whose founders or bosses are among China’s most se­nior Com­mu­nist Party mem­bers;

Princess Diana’s prepara­tory school is owned by a Chi­nese group that openly trades on her name;

Schools are us­ing ed­u­ca­tional tools for teach­ing chil­dren a ‘white­washed’ view of China;

One firm ad­mit­ted its ac­qui­si­tion of Bri­tish schools is aimed at sup­port­ing China’s con­tro­ver­sial Belt And Road strat­egy, which aims to ex­pand Bei­jing’s global in­flu­ence.

Many in­de­pen­dent schools are fac­ing a fund­ing cri­sis be­cause of the pan­demic. En­rol­ments have plum­meted and fees have been slashed be­cause pupils are learn­ing from home.

Board­ing schools have re­port­edly seen fees fall by up to 35 per cent and day-pupil num­bers by 20 per cent. They and other in­de­pen­dent schools have been un­able to take full ad­van­tage of the Gov­ern­ment’s fur­lough or busi­ness loan schemes be­cause they have to stay open to sup­port the chil­dren of key work­ers or those study­ing on­line.

Last year, Chi­nese firms bought three schools, in­clud­ing Ab­bots Brom­ley School near Lich­field, Stafford­shire, which had been forced to close its doors in 2019.

A key player in the mar­ket is Bright Scholar, which bought a num­ber of schools and col­leges in 2018 and 2019, in­clud­ing Bournemout­h Col­le­giate School, St Michael’s School in Llanelli, Car­marthanshi­re – where Jus­tice Sec­re­tary Robert Buck­land and singer Cerys Matthews were once pupils – and Bos­worth In­de­pen­dent Col­lege in Northamp­ton.

Bright Scholar is owned by Yang Huiyan, who is re­port­edly worth £20 bil­lion, mak­ing her Asia’s rich­est woman, and was founded by her fa­ther Yang Guo­qiang, a mem­ber of the Com­mu­nist Party’s high­est-rank­ing ad­vi­sory coun­cil. Ms Yang, 39, is the boss of Coun­try Gar­den Group, Bright Scholar’s par­ent com­pany.

Two in­de­pen­dent schools – Bed­stone Col­lege in Shrop­shire and Ip­swich High School are owned by a fund backed by the Chi­nese Wanda Group. For­mer pupils of

Ip­swich High in­clude au­thor Enid Bly­ton and June Brown, who played Dot Cot­ton in Eas­tEn­ders.

The Wanda Group, which in­vests in tech­nol­ogy, real es­tate, ho­tels and the me­dia, bought the schools in 2017 through City of Lon­don­based as­set man­ager Lon­don & Ox­ford Group. It was founded by Wang Jian­lin, a for­mer Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army sol­dier who is worth an es­ti­mated £10 bil­lion and is a mem­ber of China’s se­nior Com­mu­nist Party ad­vi­sory coun­cil.

Two more schools – Kings­ley School in Bide­ford, Devon, and Heath­field Knoll School in Worces­ter­shire – are owned by China First Cap­i­tal Group, which has se­nior Com­mu­nist Party mem­bers on its board.

Oth­ers bought by Chi­nese firms in­clude Thet­ford Gram­mar School in Nor­folk, which was at­tended by Thomas Paine, Wis­bech Gram­mar in Cam­bridgeshir­e and Rid­dlesworth Hall Prepara­tory School in Nor­folk, where Princess Diana was taught.

Rid­dlesworth was bought by the Con­fu­cius In­ter­na­tional Ed­u­ca­tion Group in 2015 and its web­site lauds its links with the late Princess. The firm’s owner, Kong Ling­tao, who claims to be a di­rect de­scen­dant of the 6th Cen­tury Chi­nese philoso­pher Con­fu­cius, also boasts of his visit to Buck­ing­ham Palace in 2014, when he met Prince Philip.

An­other com­pany, Ray Ed­u­ca­tion Group, bought Ad­cote School for Girls near Shrews­bury, Shrop­shire, and My­d­del­ton Col­lege in Den­bigh, Wales, in 2018.

On its web­site, Ray Ed­u­ca­tion de­tails plans to use its Bri­tish schools to help ex­pand to other coun­tries as part of Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping’s Belt And Road strat­egy to boost China’s global eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence.

Un­der the head­ing ‘in­ter­na­tional mar­ket’, Ray Ed­u­ca­tion says it is ‘re­ly­ing on Bri­tish brand schools and re­spond­ing to the Belt And Road call [of the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment]’ to t ar­get ex­pan­sion in ‘Malaysia, United Arab Emi­rates,

Thai­land, South Africa, Nige­ria and other coun­tries’.

Ray Ed­u­ca­tion’s chief ex­ec­u­tive, James Hu, who is a sec­re­tary of the Com­mu­nist Party’s Hongkou district com­mit­tee, said: ‘Ad­cote School for Girls and My­d­del­ton Col­lege are part of our global cam­pus plan.’

He added: ‘We have al­ready set up three Ad­cote schools and two fran­chised My­d­del­ton Col­leges in China within two years and we have plans to bring the two brands to other re­gions and coun­tries in the near fu­ture.’

Last night, Con­ser­va­tive MP Tom Tu­gend­hat, chair­man of the For­eign Af­fairs Com­mit­tee, said: ‘China’s strate­gic un­der­stand­ing and reach means that they have an ad­van­tage in seek­ing to in­flu­ence oth­ers and us­ing es­tab­lished brands, in­clud­ing some of our own, to achieve that po­si­tion. We need to de­cide what it is we are pre­pared to de­fend, but be­fore that we would need to un­der­stand what it is we want.’

The rev­e­la­tions will add to con­cern about the growth of Con­fu­cius In­sti­tutes at 29 Bri­tish univer­si­ties, and Con­fu­cius Class­rooms, an off­shoot, at al­most 150 schools, in­clud­ing Welling­ton Col­lege in Crowthorne, Berk­shire. They claim to pro­mote the Chi­nese lan­guage and cul­ture, but crit­ics say they are a ve­hi­cle for Bei­jing to spread pro­pa­ganda and cur­tail free speech.

For­eign Sec­re­tary Do­minic Raab last month an­nounced a re­view of the role of Con­fu­cius In­sti­tutes, which are un­der scru­tiny in other Western coun­tries.

Crit­ics point to ed­u­ca­tional re­sources used by Con­fu­cius class­rooms as ev­i­dence of pro­pa­ganda. One called Chi­nese Buddy car­ries videos fea­tur­ing a car­toon of a danc­ing Pres­i­dent Xi.

An­other pop­u­lar learn­ing tool is Chair­man’s Bao, a news ser­vice for chil­dren that in­cludes ar­ti­cles about tourists en­joy­ing trips to the re­gion where mi­nor­ity Uighurs are per­se­cuted.

Last night a De­part­ment for Ed­u­ca­tion spokesman said: ‘Own­ers of in­de­pen­dent schools have a re­quire­ment to pro­mote fun­da­men­tal Bri­tish values.

‘Schools can­not pro­mote par­ti­san po­lit­i­cal views.’

‘China is ex­tend­ing its in­flu­ence with our brands’ ‘Schools can­not pro­mote par­ti­san po­lit­i­cal views’

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 ??  ?? IN­FLU­ENCE: Welling­ton Col­lege, top, and Thet­ford Gram­mar School, above
IN­FLU­ENCE: Welling­ton Col­lege, top, and Thet­ford Gram­mar School, above

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