International Benchmarking Study Tour #1 – Singapore

The two Singaporean schools we visited had more differences than similarities but were both big on vision (I’ll post more about St Theresa’s Convent School another time).

Hwa Chong Institute had an impressive track record of appointing graduates in senior military and governmental positions. Their vision, to:

…nurture leaders in Research, Industry and Government to serve the nation.

Hwa Chong Institute

Interestingly “Passion and Compassion” were writ large also and Singapore as a system, unhappy with its top-table positions in TIMMS, PIRLS and PISA, is worried that academic excellence may be stifling the creative competencies. Young Singaporeans may just be too good at passing tests. These softer skills are acknowledged as crucial for young people to thrive in a global economy and Singapore is stepping back from high-stakes academic preparation into competencies-based curriculum planning. This may be easier to do when the top grades are “a given” with such focused students and motivated parents?

Singapore is a small state, making the country nimble in adapting educational policy to research and practice. It is also politically stable; no steady churn of earnest Ministers with a point to prove here.

What did I take from the school that had resonance at DHSB?

1: Students return from their Unis and deliver courses / programmes;
2: They are focused and specialised in curricular pathway choices – no concerns about selection here;
3:  The consortiums – (Houses) – focus on the holistic development of students;
4: Oxbridge graduates return to teach the Oxbridge aspirants – I will invite ours to dinner ahead of next speech day;
5: They are nakedly ambitious for the top end. This involves sophisticated networking, alumni relationships and immersing students in other cultures (China and US), for up to 6 weeks.

McKinsey: “…the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers,” supports Singapore’s investment in attracting top graduates and retaining them with masters level leadership training. CPD for staff is timetabled weekly and an annual conference is a focus for teacher action research findings. Teachers’ digital literacy isn’t just sign-posted, it is part of a “Future School” vision, starting with Web 2.0 training for ALL colleagues.

Pay and conditions for teachers are excellent. Interestingly, brighter students can skip O levels and move straight to level 3 programmes. Only an independent school in the Uk could do this; it would be suicide for a state school.

In every Q&A thus far, as a sample of top-performing UK heads, we seem obsessed with accountability, assessment and funding. Not good.

But we are irrevocably optimistic and ready to learn and adapt from global success.

I hope our recorded experiences filter down to UK ministers.

Interestingly, there was no evidence that Singaporeans lack creative enterprise; the art gallery was testament to this.

Creativity very much on display in Singapore

8 thoughts on “International Benchmarking Study Tour #1 – Singapore

  1. Karen Stears

    I like the focused pathway idea but guess with current government directives it’s a no-go too.

    1. Kieran Earley

      Yes – our accountability structures restrict creative approaches here. It looks as though Singapore has an essentially “stage not age” approach to pathways based on academic ability.

      Students are streamed at KS3 but there are different access points to an academic pathway if appropriate later.

      The DfE are very selective about what they bring back from outstanding school systems abroad.

    2. Yes – our accountability structures restrict creative approaches here. It looks as though Singapore has an essentially “stage not age” approach to pathways based on academic ability.

      Students are streamed at KS3 but there are different access points to an academic pathway if appropriate later.

      The DfE are very selective about what they bring back from outstanding school systems abroad.

  2. Karen Stears

    The Oxbridge/competitive ‘grooming’ though is common in independent sector here where there is much more focus on post-leaving contacts for alumni and fund-raising purposes as well as for fostering pathways into elite institutions. What sort of teaching/coaching takes place in Singapore? I’m in favour of selecting and supporting truly G&T pupils in KS4 onwards (bi- or weekly) with extra activities of which such visits could play an important part both in terms of information and inspiration.

    1. You’re right to point out that we do this already – and well! Hwa Chong can afford to appoint alumni to coach and teach. Money is no object and top end performance is their USP.

      I agree with both you and Sharon that a wider group of staff would enjoy this sort of contact. We need to be even clearer about our celebration and support of the most able.

  3. Carolyn BruceSpencer

    Inviting the Oxbridge graduates back to DHSB to support the Oxbridge aspirants is a fantastic idea as is engaging students on return from University to deliver courses / programmes at DHSB.

  4. Sharon Davidson

    I know that students come back to talk to year 12 students in the summer term in lessons in Geog, English, Maths , Media Studies and Medicine . They don’t teach but they share their experiences. Our Oxbridge students and Medics are particularly generous with their time and like to be involved in the preparation for future hopefuls too. Their perceptions and guidance is invaluable IAG for our year 12 and 13. This could easily become a great project for any colleague wishing to expand into working with KS5 students more….

  5. Sarah Nicholson

    We’ll be setting up a networking event at this year’s Speech Day for current Oxbridge undergraduates, DHSB applicants, members of staff and governors.

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