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.
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.