Education Guardian accompanied five UK secondary headteachers on a British Council trip to Beijing and Xi’an - their prize for winning the regional finals of the Teaching Awards 2006. The aim: to partner up with a Chinese school, see the rapid changes being made to the Chinese education system, and drool. Jessica Shepherd reports the revolution in Chinese education system:

Neon Chinese characters shine through the early morning smog covering Xi’an, capital of Shaanxi province. A long way below, cyclists chance their luck cutting the paths of the taxis stacked on the city’s third ring road.

To the right of the traffic, on land the size of two football pitches, 3,000 pupils from Xi’an middle school stand in neat rows waving their arms in tandem for zao cao - morning exercises.

At exactly 9am, the loudspeaker system is switched off. And without fuss, the 15- to 17-year-olds walk to their first lessons.

It has long been assumed in the west that Chinese schools encourage a collectivist mentality, are obsessed by exams, spoon-feed their students and are closed to links abroad.

But several of China’s top schools - including this one - can now do much more than challenge these assumptions.

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