Introducing world-renowned Westminster-style education to Chengdu

Head Master Rodney’s legacy of founding Westminster style schools

When facing the road leading towards Westminster Abbey, you will see two paths stretched out in front of you. Within squinting distance is Westminster School, with pupils in their pretty pink ties striding through the stone arch of their ancient institution. The other path leads towards Harris Westminster Sixth Form, with their pupils stepping through the glass doors of the former Ministry of Justice office building. With the two schools lying on the same road and sharing “Westminster” in their names, the connection between them is apparent.

The two schools share another prominent link – their coveted places on the list of top schools gaining Oxbridge offers. Westminster Schools’ world-leading Oxbridge admissions rate is certainly not news. However, Harris Westminster Sixth Form is a rising star, surpassing many well-established independent schools in the seven years since its establishment.

According to The Spectator, Westminster School ranked 1st, with Harris Westminster Sixth Form coming in at 15th on the 2021 Oxbridge Admission List. The two schools received a combined total of 131 offers from Oxford and Cambridge. Pupils also received offers from top British and American universities in the Russell Group and Ivy League.


In just seven years, how has Harris Westminster Sixth Form achieved so much success?

The school was formed from the deep collaboration between Westminster School and the Harris Federation, a non-profit charity organisation. Harris Westminster Sixth Form combines the strengths of Westminster School in teaching academically able pupils with the Harris Federation’s experience in establishing and running outstanding maintained sector schools across London. As a “free school”, Harris Westminster prioritises admissions for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and offers 2-year A-Level courses.

Since its opening in 2014, the school has seen 6 graduating classes leave its doors, with 110 graduates going on to study at Oxford or Cambridge (this is excluding the offer-holders from 2021). Other graduates have gone onto prestigious universities in the U.K. and U.S. Each year, approximately 2000 students apply to Harris Westminster with only 300 fortunate pupils gaining a sought-after place at the school.

In just seven years, how has Harris Westminster Sixth Form achieved so much success? Tracing back the roots of Harris Westminster, we identified the key individual who connects the three Westminster schools together. During his time as Deputy Head Academic at Westminster School, Rodney Harris was the Project Leader on behalf of the School in establishing HWSF. Now, with that experience and expertise of successfully embedding the Westminster ethos in a new school in the UK, Rodney is the Founding Head Master of Chengdu Westminster School.

The Harris Westminster Sixth Form was formally launched in 2014 with a reception at the House of Lords, attended by the then Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, and the Chair of the Governing Body of Westminster School.

When discussing the founding of Harris Westminster Sixth Form, Head Master Rodney could not hide his passion for the project. “The Harris Federation was set up by Lord Harris, a successful businessman and philanthropist. Coming from a deprived part of London himself, his motivation was to help children across the city who did not have access to the best education. Through the Harris Federation, he opened a large number of free schools in London to improve the education and life chances of children who come from the same background as him. However, the Harris Federation found it challenging to support these children after they have completed their GCSEs at age 16 to then go on to university. Lord Harris was aware of Westminster’s excellent academic results and outstanding record of placing graduates in top universities in the UK and overseas. This is why in 2012, he sought the cooperation and support of Westminster School to establish the Harris Westminster Sixth Form (HWSF).”

“For Westminster, helping pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds improve their life opportunities is very much in line with the school’s ethos of social responsibility and dedication to civic engagement.”

This was how it all started.

Tale of two cities divided by chance of a top degree | News | The Times

Daniel Adesanya says that Harris Westminster transformed his opportunities. 

Taking a top-down approach

As Deputy Head Master at Westminster School, Rodney spent two years collaborating with the Harris Federation to investigate how Westminster’s ethos and pedagogy could be brought to HWSF. The contributions of highly experienced and well-regarded Westminster School leaders such as Rodney formed the basis for the success of HWSF.

With the school philosophy, curriculum structure and school life of Harris Westminster mirroring that of Westminster School, Westminster-style education is able to permeate all aspects of school life. However, Harris Westminster is not an exact copy of Westminster –the school has developed and adapted to the needs of their pupils through great attention to detail.

Westminster School is fully committed to supporting Harris Westminster to ensure that all aspects of the school reflect the essence of a Westminster education.

Support from Westminster School

The key to the success of the project lies in the frequent interactions between teachers at Harris Westminster and Westminster School.

The time-honored history and time-tested education philosophy, pedagogy and management which represent the essence of a Westminster education, are not only embraced by teachers in Westminster School but also reflected in their daily work practice. The frequent interactions between teachers of the two schools allows the power of Westminster education to be unleashed. Most importantly, all school departments are involved in this in-depth and holistic collaboration, allowing a quintessential Westminster education to be developed successfully in Harris Westminster.

Although many of the teachers at Harris Westminster come from different teaching backgrounds, they have been extremely keen to understand and implement the ethos and pedagogy of Westminster because of its academic success and reputation.”

Education happens everywhere at Westminster.

Westminster education inspires all pupils to seek truth and knowledge.

A Westminster education enables pupils to build their own knowledge, seek happiness, realise their own goals and give back to the society.

In 2015, Head Master Rodney wrote an article on the opening of Harris Westminster Sixth Form in the Westminster annual publication, The Elizabethan.

Attention to detail

Details do matter.

When conceiving Harris Westminster Sixth Form, we carefully took into account the backgrounds of the pupils. We were aware that these pupils will not be the same as Westminster pupils, as many will be from less privileged backgrounds. If a child is born into a Westminster family, they are more likely to discuss politics at the dinner table and spend time with their families at the theatre and attending galleries. Pupils from Harris Westminster will likely have a different sort of cultural capital, one which the curriculum will have to reflect.

Continuous efforts have been made from the very beginning for teachers’ professional development, through meetings, lesson observation and the sharing of ideas about pedagogy and school management.

No two schools can be identical, and the same goes for Westminster School and Harris Westminster. Although they may have same expectations and goals, the journey to arrive at their final destination must be different.

In 2020, Westminster School and Harris Westminster Sixth Form received the TES Independent School Award for best Independent-State School Partnership.


Chengdu Westminster School

Opening in September 2022

How will a Westminster-style education be brought to Chengdu and continue its academic legacy?

In 2016, Harris Westminster Sixth Form achieved impressive results from its first set of A level pupils. The following year, Rodney Harris was asked to lead the Chengdu Westminster School project. With hands-on experience in the inception and development of a new school, Rodney is bestowed with the support of Westminster School in London to establish Chengdu Westminster School.

The question of how a Westminster-style education can truly be established in Chengdu is of great importance to parents.

The collaboration and development model which underpins the success of HWSF is now integral to the planning of CWS.

“School development is based upon respecting Chinese culture and values, as well as complying with Chinese policies and regulation. CWS cannot be a clone of Westminster School. In the process of bringing Westminster to Chengdu, we require sufficient preparation time to construct a school system, consolidate our foundation and pay attention to the fine details.

Taking a top-down approach, Westminster Schools’ educational philosophy, pedagogy, curriculum structure and architectural design have all been adapted to suit the local context whilst retaining the Westminster DNA.

What remains unchanged is the pursuit of a world-class education and the excellent standards set on our teaching staff. It is only by ensuring that our principals, teachers, teaching resources, and campus environment are of the highest quality, that a Westminster-style education can be fully realised in Chengdu.

We have certainly learned a lot from the planning and development of Harris Westminster, including how to interact with the Westminster staff to seek advice and to ask targeted questions. It is the frequent and multi-layered support from Westminster School which makes the real difference.

Developing an integrated curriculum represents a new yet challenging task for our team. In order to achieve the goal, our teachers have carefully dissected all of Westminster’s school policies, website materials and even the annual school magazines. Members of the Senior Management Team have visited Westminster School and brought back sample assignments and schemes of work for the Chengdu team to analyse and to use for professional learning.

Our project is driven through regular contact with Westminster School staff at the Under (Junior) School and Great (Senior) School, with seminars occurring twice or three times each week. Aside from these scheduled sessions, there is a significant amount of informal contact through the regular exchange of emails, documents and feedback.

Through this, our teachers in Chengdu have extensive access to the different educational happenings at Westminster School, including their educational resources and most importantly, to the Westminster pedagogy. 

Westminster School’s publication “The Elizabethan” was first published in 1874 and has continued to release issues annually for 147 years.

“Critical analysis has also been performed on the school’s policies, pupils and families to identify the source, goals and expectations of pupils and their parents. This is yet another step Chengdu Westminster has taken to ensure that the education we provide is perfectly developed for the Chengdu context. Our pupils will have a clear idea of where they want to go, where their destinations are and what they would like to achieve.

Through the Chengdu Westminster Education Centre, supported by Westminster School to promote professional development and research, we shall provide on-going training for our teachers. We will be able to offer excellent academic, musical, artistic and physical education to all pupils enabling each one of them to achieve all-round development and enhance the opportunities available to them.”

From the perspective of British media, a place at Westminster School largely guarantees a subsequent place at Oxbridge and other world leading universities. Harris Westminster has been exemplary proof that Westminster education can be adapted to a new environment with great success. Chengdu Westminster School is now well equipped to become the first overseas example of a Westminster inspired style of education.