In January 2020, The Perse School Singapore welcomed its first pupils. It’s a brand new campus with a brand new concept in Singapore for kids between 5 and 11, but it extends from a school in the UK that’s centuries old. CLAIRE BELL is the Founding Principal and she tells us a bit about the history of it, her role … and a slim connection to Hogwarts!
The Perse School in Cambridge has an interesting history. Can you tell us how it started?
The Perse is the oldest surviving school from Cambridge; it was founded in 1615 by Stephen Perse MD who was Fellow of Gonville and Caius College at the University. It quickly established an excellent reputation by sending a regular flow of scholars to Cambridge’s Caius College. Early last century, the experimental teaching methods of The Perse School attracted attention from educators who were looking for an alternative to the traditional ‘Read, Write, Repeat’ approach to education at the time.
How did the school develop into the 21st century?
It established an international reputation in a matter of years with a Prep School and two boarding houses following soon after. The Sixth Form began welcoming girls in 1995 and the school’s move to full co-education was completed in 2012. The Perse School Cambridge celebrated its 400th anniversary in the academic year 2015/16 and continues to be the leading academic independent school in the UK. And, four centuries later, it still has an impressive number of students going onto Cambridge and Oxford Universities!
How does that history translate to The Perse School Singapore?
We work hand in hand with our school in Cambridge – in particular, aligning our learning, wellbeing and extra-curricular activities. Our pupils learn about its heritage, too. We even have a giant timeline on one of the walls for the children to study! It’s important to us that our pupils and staff retain and enhance our already outstanding academic and pastoral presence here in Singapore.
What are The Perse School Singapore’s values?
Our school values are built on the traditions and wisdom of The Perse School Cambridge, and we include them in all aspects of school life. They are:
- Intellectual curiosity and scholarship. We want our pupils to question their learning, to challenge knowledge, think deeply and use their creativity.
- Breadth and balance. Our pupils are involved, engaged, committed, and take full advantage of the opportunities on offer.
- Endeavour. We want our pupils to push boundaries, unlock their potential and develop resilience when faced with challenges.
- Respect for one another and our environment. Our children celebrate diversity, acknowledge and appreciate the contributions of others and treat everyone with fairness and kindness.
Rumour has it that you have a variation on the ‘Sorting Hat’ from Hogwarts; is this true?!
One of the most popular aspects of school life for our pupils is our house system! We have four houses, which all have their sporting heritage based in Cambridge. Our children are sorted into their houses using our own ‘Sorting Cap’, which is an original cricket cap from the school in Cambridge. They work collaboratively to earn points as individuals or as a team to earn house points to win the House Cup!
You’re the founding principal – Congratulations! Tell us a bit about your background.
I trained as a primary school teacher in the UK and then went on to specialise in special educational needs and disabilities. After many years of teaching students and working within educational management in the UK, I decided to dip my toe into international education about 10 years ago. I progressed and finally took on a position as Executive Principal at The British International Schools of Kurdistan (Northern Iraq) and gained Cambridge (CAIE) accreditation for it. The school was also accredited, and it was the first school in Iraq to gain the credential.
I then spoke in Parliament and worked with the Ministry of Education in Iraq to help other schools with inclusivity in mainstream education. Before joining The Perse School Singapore, I was Head of Schools for The Tenby International Schools in Malaysia, where I helped to found one of their newest and largest schools.
What brought you to Singapore?
The Perse School! I’d always been interested in coming to Singapore and I truly love it here. I’ve lived in Southeast Asia for quite a few years now and have worked in Malaysia, Cambodia and Thailand.
What are you hoping to bring to your role as founding principal?
Experience, transparency and tenacity. Having worked in a war zone in difficult surroundings, I believe in diversity, challenge and valuing different cultures and beliefs. The Perse School Singapore is a wonderful school with a true belief in children succeeding and being themselves.
The most important thing about being a Founding Principal is that I have never forgotten where I’ve been. I’ve been a pupil; I’ve been a teacher. I have experience and life lessons that allow me to see school life from many different perspectives.
What defines success for you in your role as Principal?
I feel the most pride and measure my success as a Principal by seeing a child who entered on the first day lacking self-belief develop into a confident, expressive and curious member of our school.
My success is also defined by seeing teachers equipped to be leaders in their classrooms. I want to provide opportunities for professional development and allow my staff to express their ideas and support their enthusiasm.
I’m a true believer in children having their confidence built through progress. A child who can see changes in their learning starts to strive for more and more. Getting better at something is a success! So, everything is a celebration, and everyone in the school is happy to be there. Academic success is cheered as much as sporting achievements are. But, most importantly, teachers and pupils know they are valued.
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