In this study, we identified a multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) outbreak in a high school in northern China. The aim of this work was to describe TB transmission, drug resistance and treatment outcomes for this patient cluster. In January 2017, pulmonary TB was identified in a 17-year-old boy in northern China. Subsequently, a total of 11 TB cases were identified during 6-month follow-up of attendees of the same school. Of five students with latent TB infection (LTBI) receiving isoniazid preventive therapy (IPT), two pulmonary TB cases (40.0%) emerged in March and April, for an active case rate not significantly different from that of the non-IPT group (4/16, 25.0%, P = 0.598). All TB patients were first treated with a standardised first-line treatment regimen administered by the local TB hospital, with 11 of 12 active TB patients exhibiting poor treatment outcomes. Further data demonstrated that all nine patient isolates collected during this outbreak were MDR-TB and shared a common genotypic profile. In conclusion, our data demonstrate that diagnostic delay for the index MDR-TB case of this outbreak played a primary role in transmission of MDR-TB infection within a school setting. Importantly, IPT failed to prevent progression of MDR-TB from LTBI to active TB.