Singapore offers a wide choice of international schools, most of which have a multicultural environment with students from a diverse range of backgrounds and countries. Add to this a wide variety of curriculums, from single-country programmes to the International Baccalaureate and International Primary Curriculum, and there’s not much more that a parent could wish for.
While a visit to a school is often the best way to make an instinctive decision based on the individual needs of your children, hearing the opinions of other families about their experiences can be invaluable. The following pages feature a multitude of referrals from Expat Living readers to help you decide on a school.
10 things to take into account when choosing a school:
1. Ensure the curriculum fits your child’s educational needs and your future plans; the right fit may minimise the disruption of moving to another country and changing schools.
2. Check the location of the campus, and its convenience to your home and transport options.
3. Class sizes and teacher-to-child ratios vary markedly from school to school.
4. Mandarin is widely taught as a compulsory language, but there are often other options, including European languages.
5. Extracurricular activities can offer children a balance to the academic experience. Most schools offer a wide range of sports, music and visual arts.
6. Most international schools come with a higher price tag than expats may be accustomed to in their home countries.
7. Depending on the age of the child, schools often encourage parental participation; if work commitments allow, this can be a wonderful way to meet new people and get to know the school.
8. Because of the tropical climate, outdoor experiences are a feature of most schools; check the facilities available.
9. School excursions to other countries are a normal part of the school curriculum; they often focus on learning about those countries and sometimes on volunteering.
10. School holidays and term dates vary from school to school.
Schools fit into four broad categories:
Examples include UWCSEA, St Joseph’s Institution International, Overseas Family School and GEMS World Academy. These schools typically cater to dozens of cultures with all having equal footing, and annual global celebration days. For mobile expats, the mix of international curriculums allows children to transfer and continue their education easily. Curriculums are typically a mix of the International Baccalaureate, the International Primary Curriculum and the ICGSE.
National curriculum schools
Examples include Marlborough College Malaysia, Tanglin Trust School, Singapore American School and Avondale Grammar School. Parents value the way that these schools ensure minimum disruption when transferring between countries, and for older children, allow easy entry to university in their home country. Typically, these schools demonstrate strong cultural ties, while embracing their place in Singapore and its cultural diversity.
Hybrid curriculum schools
Examples include Stamford American International School, the German European School Singapore and the Australian International School. These schools offer a dual curriculum approach, combining a home country curriculum with one or more international curriculums, typically with a culturally diverse student population and strong emphasis on language.
Some expats choose local schools, especially if their children attended local kindergarten or preschool, and they are keen to continue their intensive language instruction. Singapore’s education system has an excellent reputation internationally and regularly tops the world in mathematics and science. Families considering staying in Singapore long-term may favour this option, but should be aware that there can be strong competition for places.
Australian International School
1 Lorong Chuan
‘Our daughter Ishanaz is currently in Year 12, and has been attending AIS since 2011. My sons have only just turned three, so they have not started school yet. However, we wish to enrol them at AIS in the near future.
We chose AIS as it was the nearest IB school to our house. Four years ago, we moved from Japan, where good service and attention matter, and were naturally attracted to how friendly and welcoming the school staff were. It never disappoints me and continues to be the same; the awesome teachers always greet us with a smile and are ever-willing to make time for a chat with us. We have seen the tremendous improvements made by the former Principal, the late Dr Miller, as well as the present Principal, Mr Casson.
Mother tongue learning is well taken care of, and my daughter enjoys every subject she has chosen. She also adores all her teachers, who are very committed to making their lessons enriching.
What we like most is the school’s arts programme. Ishanaz is the school’s Creative Arts Captain and has many opportunities to perform at events. School productions are always a highlight, and we recognise the tremendous quality of art produced by AIS. In general, the co-curricular activities are offered in multi-spectrum form, which caters to the diverse interests of the students.
Jeff and I value the importance of raising happy children. In this school, I’m confident that each and every child has a special place and an opportunity to learn in a happy environment.’
Avondale Grammar School
304 Tanglin Road
‘Our three children started attending Avondale Grammar School after we moved from Melbourne to Singapore in October last year. Zoe is in Grade 6, Pippa in Grade 4 and Fraser in Transition.
We chose Avondale because it follows the Australian curriculum, which they could ease into. Also, the school’s nurturing environment challenges them to be the best they can be.
Our time at Avondale Grammar has been overwhelmingly positive. The parents’ association and school community have been really welcoming and our children are given many opportunities. They represent Avondale in sporting events against other international schools, and are part of the Kapa Huka group as well as the choir.
The kids have daily Chinese lessons and also enjoy extracurricular activities after school. Their PE classes are sometimes held off-campus, and during lunchtime there are house-sport games like soccer, basketball and netball to keep them busy.
Our children are extremely happy in the small classes, and we have seen them progress and thrive academically. The teachers at Avondale are outstanding; Mr Craig Kemp teaches Zoe, Ms Pearl Thomas teaches Pippa, and Fraser has Ms Florida Dulce. Their engaging lessons have developed in our kids a love for learning.
I would highly recommend Avondale to families moving to Singapore. The school has a wonderful environment with extremely committed and dedicated staff; every day our children are happy, and that makes a huge difference – especially after landing in a foreign country and leaving behind all the familiar routines.’
Canadian International School
7 Jurong West Street 41
Tanjong Katong Campus:
371 Tanjong Katong Road
‘Henrik started at CIS in 2002 when he was four years old and attended the Junior Kindergarten class. Currently he is in Grade 11, the first year of his IB Diploma, and will graduate next year. Hedda and Frida joined CIS in 2005, also aged four, and now they are both in Grade 8.
When we moved to Singapore in 2002, we happened to live next door to the then Principal of CIS. He asked if Henrik had found a school yet, and when we said no, he suggested that we check out CIS. We did so and we haven’t regretted it.
We have been very satisfied with what CIS has offered in terms of academics and well-equipped facilities for sports and play. After more than a decade of experience with the school, we know how dedicated they are. We are very happy with the teachers at CIS; the school always places a strong focus on the students’ independent learning abilities, encouraging them to set their own goals.
We have recommended CIS to other families on the several occasions we were asked for our opinion. Our experience with the school has been great and we believe CIS offers a good curriculum and programme, as well as a big and modern campus at Lakeside.’
Beate and Kjell Gauksheim
GEMS World Academy
2 Yishun Street 42
‘Our three boys have been enrolled at GEMS World Academy since January this year, and so far our experience with the school has been amazing.
We’re really pleased with its outstanding curriculum and high-quality educators. There is also a remarkable sports programme and the teachers constantly encourage the students to achieve their goals.
Having heard about the school through a friend, we then decided to enrol our boys there because we ourselves are an international family – James is Irish, I was born in Mauritius, and our boys were born on three different continents: Asia, Europe and America. We wanted our children to be in an international school environment, but more importantly to be in an academy that would foster their curiosity and creativity. The school instils a passion for learning, inspiring students to look beyond the simple facts to pursue a deeper understanding.
We genuinely feel that GEMS helps develop engaged learners who have inter-cultural knowledge. This promotes greater understanding and respect between different groups of people, therefore creating a more peaceful world to live in.
I would definitely recommend GEMS to other families because of how excellent the curriculum is. It’s helping us raise three passionate learners, and we believe that with this head start, our boys will be able to make confident decisions in their future academic pursuits. Thank you, GEMS, for making them believe in themselves and helping them achieve their goals!’
German European School Singapore
300 Jalan Jurong Kechil
‘We’ve been in Singapore since 2004. After the first four years, we moved to Hong Kong where we lived for approximately two years. Sofia and Ana went to an international preschool where they were taught in English and Mandarin. We returned to Singapore about four years ago.
Both Sofia and Ana currently attend GESS, and are in Grade 3 and Grade 2 respectively. Initially, we were looking at other international schools, as we didn’t know about GESS; then we coincidentally met a couple who had enrolled their children there. They were so enthusiastic that we decided to have a look at the school and talk to the admissions officer. We have not regretted it: Sofia and Ana are happy about going to school every day! They enjoy the lessons and the after-school activities, and they love their teachers.
We believe that our children’s learning should be fun, exciting, challenging and carried out in an interactive and stimulating environment. For us, it’s also important that Sofia and Ana understand the different cultures and customs of their peers. Thanks to a team of enthusiastic and caring teachers and staff, all our wishes are fulfilled.
We would definitely recommend GESS to other families. We’re happy to see our girls going to school each morning with smiles on their faces, and we know that they feel safe and comfortable there.’
Massimo Poma and Edith Poma-Schiffer
Integrated International School
41 Sunset Way
#02-03/04 Clementi Arcade
‘Before we enrolled our son Yash at IIS last January, he attended an international school in Taipei, where we had lived for 10 years before our move to Singapore.
We came across the school through an internet search and, while we visited a few other schools, IIS stood out the most and felt like the right place for Yash. When we took a tour there, the first thing that struck us was the warmth and friendliness of Ms Sarah. The small school and class sizes created a family-like setting where all the teachers and students knew one another.
Yash’s past and current teachers, Ms Josephine and Mr Garett, along with other faculty members like Ms Shanida, have given him outstanding care and attention in helping him become more self-confident. The constant communication the school maintained with us, especially during the early months when Yash was just settling in, helped us stay abreast of our son’s progress.
Another unique aspect of the school is their Sunset Buddies programme, in which the IIS kids go to a different school for a couple of hours each week to play and interact with the students there. The field trips and the morning assembly managed by the kids themselves have been other highlights for us.
We would unequivocally recommend IIS to any parent. It’s a great school that places a strong emphasis on the all-round development of the kids while recognising and nurturing their individuality.’
Nayantara and Satya Prakash Bhavaraju
International Community School
27A Jubilee Road
‘This is our third year living in Singapore. Javier and Luis graduated in May this year and will head to college in the fall. Lucas is in Grade 8 and will continue in ICS for Grade 9.
When we arrived in Singapore, we first enrolled our sons in another American school. At that time they were on the waiting list and upon hearing that we were searching for other options, the admissions director suggested we look at ICS. After reading up on the school and visiting the campus, we felt that it was the right fit for our boys.
We were drawn to ICS as it’s a Christian school that strikes a perfect balance between challenging the students academically and instilling in them a Christ-like attitude. This will help mould them into intelligent, responsible and socially aware individuals. One particular programme I like is the Week Without Walls. This is a community service outreach where the high school students are sent to less-developed parts of Asia to help build classrooms.
ICS is a wonderful school; it seems more like a family, as everyone is warm and welcoming. This is the fourth school my sons have attended, and they all agree that it was the easiest transition for them. Because ICS is a smaller school, the teachers are able to form a close bond with their students.
I would definitely recommend ICS to anyone seeking a loving environment where their children can thrive and learn. Each child is precious and is made to feel this every day.’
Bea and Pocholo Agnir
Marlborough College Malaysia
79250 Nusajaya, Johor, Malaysia
6345 3341 / +60 7 560 2200
‘We’ve been in Singapore and Malaysia for nine years. Meredith started attending Marlborough College Malaysia in August 2012; she was a member of the founding cohort.
We learnt of the school through word of mouth, and subsequently visited the site during its construction. We wanted somewhere with a balanced approach to education, both academically and outside the classroom. The school places great value on its sports, arts and music programmes, and the children are encouraged to explore new avenues while enhancing their existing strengths.
We could not recommend the school more highly. The small class sizes afford our daughter close contact with her teachers and we believe this has enhanced her learning exponentially. Also, the school is based on a 90-acre site in Nusajaya, Malaysia, where the kids get to participate in sports like football, rugby, swimming, lacrosse and indoor climbing.
Meredith is happy in Marlborough College. She is achieving great results and often takes part in new activities. Anyone considering the school should take the opportunity to visit and discuss its merits with the Master, Mr Bob Pick. He is passionate in ensuring the children work to the best of their abilities and often reminds them to help the wider community. The school’s outreach team arranges visits within the local community and the children are encouraged to think of ways to support these charitable efforts.
Our time at Marlborough College has shown us that the school will support its students in all their endeavours. From the moment we enrolled our daughter there we have felt like one of the family, and this is an ethos that flows right through the school.’
Rebecca and Justin Regan
We started searching online for schools after finding out that we were leaving Dubai. Among those shortlisted, One World was the most friendly and welcoming. It also fitted all our criteria: IB curriculum, not overwhelmingly large, and located in the east of the island. During one of Steve’s trips to Singapore, he did tours of the different schools and was most impressed with the warm and open atmosphere of One World.
It was difficult for our girls to leave their school in Dubai, but One World made it easy for them to settle in here. The staff and parents were friendly and helped to make us all feel at home. As parents new to a country, it makes everything easier when we know our kids have settled into their new environment; even after more than a year, they are still incredibly happy to go to school each day!
Our girls are thriving both socially and academically. Because it’s a small school, the staff know all the children, and the older kids often help the younger ones. There is a real sense of community that you are genuinely made to feel part of.
I would definitely recommend One World International School to other parents because I truly believe that all of the staff care passionately about the children and their education. The curriculum is well delivered and the children are happy. At the end of the day, what more can a parent want from a school?’
Steve and Felicity Edwards
Overseas Family School
25F Paterson Road until 11 August, and thereafter at 81 Pasir Ris Heights
‘We’ve been living in Singapore for around 12 years. Louisa attended OFS from Grade 4 to Grade 12, and Riccardo and Francesco from K2 onwards.
We chose OFS because of its unique language programme, which includes a choice of five languages: Mandarin, Japanese, Spanish, French and German. These are taught four times a week at two to three different levels. As of August this year, OFS will offer 14 languages under the Mother Tongue programme – no other school in Asia can match that! Not only does it open the door to other cultures and different ways of thinking, it also enables the students to preserve and practise their parents’ mother tongue, which is a challenge for many families.
Having had kids enrolled at OFS for eight years, I can vouch for how good the school is. I am very impressed by its committed and passionate teachers. I also would like to highlight the excellent support OFS has provided for my dyslexic son.
I would definitely recommend the school. At first, it might seem intimidating to send your three-year-old child to a school with over 3,000 students, but the sections are well divided. In addition, the academic advantages of a school as big as OFS are way above those of a smaller school.’
Alessandro and Isabella Jagmetti
Singapore American School
40 Woodlands Street 41
‘Scott and I have lived here since 1997. All three of our boys started at the Early Childhood Centre; they are now in Grades 6, 4 and 1.
I grew up as an expat child and attended international schools in Asia and Europe, so I was familiar with SAS through their many sporting and art events. My younger sister Helen attended the school in the late 90s when my family was living here and when I was in University in the US. In fact, she was in the first Freshman class at the Woodlands campus! Naturally, I enrolled my children at SAS because of our family history with the school.
SAS is a phenomenal school with world-class facilities, top-notch teachers and administrators, and a parent community that is highly vested in the success and happiness of its students. There are amazing opportunities for the kids, from creating robots to cultivating a Senior Capstone project in the area of their passion. The school is keen on instilling a sense of community service and leadership in even the youngest students.
I would absolutely recommend the school without hesitation to those who want their children to have an incredible educational experience. SAS encourages its students to express and explore their talents and passions, while helping them achieve their highest academic potential. Who wouldn’t want their kids to go to a school like that?’
Sir Manesseh Meyer International School
38C Belvedere Close
‘Jonas and Noemie have been attending SMM since we arrived in Singapore in 2011, while Judith and Jeremie started when they were 18 months old.
We started looking for a school for our kids when we were still in France. We first learnt about SMM from its website, then from our friends. We choose the school because we were especially attracted to its efforts in helping new students integrate into the community.
All the teachers have shown an incredible capacity to adapt to the learning styles of our kids, who did not have a strong grasp of the English language. Now they are bilingual and have adjusted well in their respective grades. The curriculum is also constantly reviewed: instead of using a specific curriculum, SMM tries to build a unique one by researching the different educational systems and taking what’s best from each of them.
What impresses us the most is how SMM seems like a big family where everyone feels a sense of belonging. Every day, my kids go to school with a big smile; they never want to miss a day of learning. While the school is multicultural and the students have diverse backgrounds, everyone is respectful towards one another.
We recommend this school to families who are looking for a small school where every kid’s individuality is considered. If you want an environment where children are happy and get to learn important values from an amazing team, SMM is ideal.’
Carine and Olivier Kamoun
St Joseph’s Institution International
490 Thomson Road
‘Our children have been attending SJI International for seven years. Manuel finished his IB and graduated in December last year. The triplets will graduate in December this year.
We learnt about the school from a friend. Although we only went for a visit to get some information about the school, we liked the place so much that we decided to enrol without much hesitation. We were attracted by the combination of a high-quality, international education, plus exposure to both Singaporean and international families. Additionally, the school’s values and ethos correspond well with our own ideas on education and raising our children.
SJI International has a great learning environment. The curriculum may be challenging and demanding for some, but the teachers are very committed and enthusiastic. The relationship between the teachers and students is a balance of respect and approachability. The school also offers a variety of sports, arts and social activities, and has always provided the resources to develop the children’s interests. They love sports and have been very involved in some of the school teams.
We like how the school gives a sense of responsibility to the students; this translates into self-discipline and dedication in their learning. No wonder SJI International has one of the highest IB average scores in Singapore. We definitely recommend the school.’
Oscar Moreno and Maria Amparo Darocas
Stamford American International School
1 Woodleigh Lane
‘Both our children have been going to Stamford since we moved to Singapore in 2012. Mary Mac completes Grade 1 this year and Thomas will finish KG1.
Enrolling Mary Mac and Thomas in Stamford was one of the best decisions we made when moving here. The convenient location makes it easy for me to drop off and pick up the kids, pop by for in-class volunteering sessions and drop in to watch swim team practices.
The Stamford community is another reason why we chose the school. From the moment we were greeted by the admissions officer, our family felt very welcomed. Stamford parents and teachers work together to create a close-knit community within a large school by volunteering for field trips, participating in the parent reading programme, helping in the library, and organising bake sales.
There are several things that I believe make Stamford an amazing school: fantastic facilities, daily Mandarin or Spanish, after-school activities beginning in KG2, and Suzuki music programmes; but I truly believe it’s the teachers that set the school apart. Every year I think that there is no way my children could possibly have a teacher as great as the previous year, and yet they do!
The work that goes on in the classroom is highly individualised, allowing each child to learn at his or her own pace. I’ve really enjoyed watching my children’s interest in learning expand over the past three years. Not only does the school give its students a fantastic education, it also pushes the kids to become caring and productive members of the society through community projects all year round.’
Arpie and Keen Starke
95 Portsdown Road
‘We’ve been living in Singapore for just over six years. The three boys attend Tanglin Trust School – William and George have been enrolled since nursery, while Owen started in Year 2.
We decided on Tanglin as we liked the friendly and caring environment. Although it’s a large school, William, who was four years old at that time, found the campus the least intimidating of all the international schools we visited.
William has just completed a project titled ‘Kampongs to Condos’, a wonderful look at Singapore’s development over the last 50 years. This topic was superbly brought to life for our techie son, using the new Junior School’s Fab Lab to create 3D versions of the country’s iconic landmarks.
George loved the social and green projects led by Ms Hatton. As a member of the Green team, he has just made a presentation on the effects of global warming to 800 of his peers during “Our World Day”. Owen has also benefitted from some truly inspirational form tutors in Junior School, as well as vibrant and engaging teachers in Senior School.
Apart from their friends, the boys really love the outdoor education trips. From the zoo to Malacca to Sarawak, each trip is a test of the children’s social skills and packs a punch in terms of educational content.
We are sure that the development of the new campus and collaboration with the new media hub at Portsdown will see the school continuing to innovate and evolve as Miss Griff intended 90 years ago.’
Kate and Richard Saynor
38 Swiss Club Road
‘We’ve been living in Singapore since 2005. Currently, Philipp is in Grade 7, Celina in Grade 5 and Florian in Grade 1.
When we moved here, we visited many schools but it was the Swiss School’s facilities, resources and nurturing environment that held the most appeal to us. The school is nestled in tropical forest and the small, cosy campus gave us the serene feeling of being at home.
From the first day, we observed that students at the campus were generally cheerful and happy. Our kids love going there every morning, and the credit goes to the outstanding dedication of the friendly teachers, management and staff.
For us it was crucial that our children receive the best possible attention, support and care from the teachers. We see it as a great advantage that the school has small classes, which are often divided into even smaller groups during the lessons. This has a positive impact on the children’s learning, as they are able to receive individual attention.
When the students are ready to progress to the secondary level, Grade 7, the Swiss School transfers them to a bigger school like United World College. For Philipp, it was definitely the right step. The intensive preparation by the English Department and the international curriculum allowed him a smooth transition.
We would definitely recommend this school to families who want to provide their children with an opportunity to develop their personality in a family-oriented environment, alongside a structured curriculum.’
Carolin and Alexander Henke
The Winstedt School
10 Winstedt Road
Block C #01-16
‘Before we arrived in Singapore two years ago, Rebecca was just entering Kindergarten in the US. We started to realise that she wasn’t finding it as easy as some of her peers to learn how to read, so it became apparent that she would need more support than what many schools offered. A school search agency recommended Winstedt to us, and we applied for a place. They conducted a three-day assessment of Rebecca and concluded that they could offer her a place.
Our experience at the school has been amazing. Rebecca’s progress within 18 months at Winstedt has exceeded our expectations. The school uses the International Primary Curriculum, which teaches around a theme for the term – for example, toys or vacations; this provides good structure for the children.
With small classes, teaching specialists and an in-house therapy unit, Winstedt ensures all the support is integrated and all the students within this structure interact. The nurturing and caring environment allows children who learn differently to develop at their own pace and thrive. The staff are incredibly dedicated to the children and will often go above and beyond to support them.
We would absolutely recommend The Winstedt School for children who need additional help in their learning. We have never regretted our choice to enrol our daughter there; it’s one of the best decisions we’ve made for her. The school has helped her develop into a happy and confident child who continues to learn at a remarkable rate. As parents, there is nothing more we can ask for!’
Caroline and Simon Tillett
UWC South East Asia
1207 Dover Road
1 Tampines Street 73
‘Eleanor is currently in Grade 9; she began at UWC in September 2011. Her sister Isabel started lessons there in December 2012 and is now in Grade 6. We found out about the school from the internet, after moving from Hong Kong to Singapore. We were looking for a school in the east, and after visiting several we ended up picking UWC as we were very impressed with their facilities.
We enjoy being part of the UWC school community. It’s a school that actively involves both parents and students in the learning process. We love the fact that UWC provides a holistic educational approach with subjects such as Outdoor Education, and includes service in both the local and global communities as an active part of school life.
Both my daughters have had amazing opportunities and experiences at UWC. They’ve gone to Malaysia and Thailand for school camps, as well as optional service trips to Cambodia and Bali. Being a parent, I’m really pleased that my daughters enjoy learning in an environment where they are encouraged to find their own strengths, be it academically, creatively or in leadership.
UWC is very supportive and I would definitely recommend it to other families. The school has given my daughters a wide and diverse education that has nurtured their strengths well. If you’re looking for a school that will help your child to be a well-rounded individual, UWC is it.’
Julia and Tony Chapman
Melbourne Specialist International School
75C Loewen Road
This special needs school has an innovative curriculum that aims to develop each individual’s capabilities and maximise their potential. Principal Juliet Cooper tells us what sets MSIS apart from other schools.
Describe the student experience at the school.
The school is special as it uses dance, music, art and drama to engage the students. The visual and performing arts are our tools in helping children learn. MSIS also uses an integrated approach to therapist services, whereby therapists are immersed in the classrooms, working alongside the classroom teachers towards the goals of the students. This model is based on an approach developed at Port Phillip Specialist School in Melbourne.
What are some of the school’s strengths?
The Visual and Performing Arts Programme, the Individual Learning Plans and the partnership between Melbourne Specialist International School and Port Phillip Specialist School. The experienced staff are another important aspect of the school.
What’s your favourite thing about working at MSIS?
We love watching the students develop; the statements they make, and their innocence and vulnerability all make our role hugely important. We need to help them build as many life skills as possible, in order for them to be independent individuals who do not completely rely on their caregivers. Our programme is also inclusive – we accept all students as individuals, no matter how they are disadvantaged.
What activities would you say the students most enjoy?
They really enjoy the arts: dance, music, art, drama and community access. They also like communicating and building relationships with their peers, and making friends who share common interests with them.
This guide was first published in Expat Living’s July 2015 issue.