Finding the perfect school can be a daunting task, especially if you’ve just moved to a new country. There are a myriad of things to consider and fret over, not least: fitting in, being part of the cool gang, not being embarrassed by your family at the school gates, etc. Chances are your child will have some of their own concerns too…

To make sure you make the right decision for both you and your child, follow the SchoolViews practical and easy guide! (And don’t worry – we know that each of you is cool and collected, and so we’ll focus on the really important things necessary in deciding: Which School is the One…)

The obvious starting point is to divide the search into two distinct parts:

  • Your initial research; and
  • The school visit

In our next post, SchoolViews will look at the school visit: what to look out for, and what to ask. Today, however, we go through the steps to take in your initial research: how you can narrow down your choices before you do any actual field work – helping you create the perfect International School Shortlist!

Researching International Schools in Singapore: a SchoolViews Checklist

With dozens of international schools in Singapore, you’ll quickly realise that you can’t, realistically, visit every school there is – or even every school which you like the sound of.  Yes, you might indeed be SuperParent, but there are simply too many international schools here to see. Instead, you need to fall back on the fool-proof system of Making Lists – specifically, a School Shortlist.

The best, and most manageable, way to create a shortlist relevant to your specific needs is to consider each of the following criteria with respect to each school you may be considering:

Curriculum

The curricula offered by the schools here vary enormously, so before you start calling school offices to make an appointment, have a think about which one is best for you and your family. Some schools are aligned to a particular country including, for example, France (Lycée Français de Singapour), USA (Singapore American School), and UK (Tanglin), and offer the curricula from those places, while others have purely international curricula (Canadian International School).  Then there are hybrids – schools which combine a home-country curricula with an international one (Dulwich College Singapore). In determining what’s right for you, you might want, in particular, to consider both what type of school system your children have come from – and thus might wish to continue with – as well as where you / they will go in the future. If, for example, you know for sure that you will return to the UK in two years and that your children will complete their education there, you may thus decide to give them a head start and settle into one of the UK-focused schools here. Of course, you might prefer to expose them, for even a short time, to a purely international experience. But whatever you decide, determining which curriculum is right for your family will start your Shortlist ball rolling.

Finances

If you are lucky enough to have your children’s education paid for by your sponsoring employer, then this won’t be such a consideration for you. However, fewer and fewer expats are enjoying such perks, with most schools reporting a significant increase in the number of “self-funders”. If this is you, then the level of school fees will obviously be a large consideration. While by and large, international schools in Singapore are without exception eye-wateringly expensive, you will notice a huge variance in the tuition fees  charged (ranging from $13,000 to almost $40,000 per annum).

In determining the fees for a school, you should also research the application and entry fees, which in Singapore can be significant (as much as $12,000 per child), as well as whether your preferred schools charge a “Facility Fee” (as many do – up to $7,500); for some schools, this facility fee is a one-off, for others, it can be an annual charge. Finally, many schools charge a top up – again, running into several thousands of dollars – if your child is deemed to have English as a second language.

So, if you’re the one paying for your child’s education, then the large variation in fees and charges makes it worthwhile to do some preliminary research before you plan a school visit.

Location

For many parents, the location of a school isn’t a huge consideration, particularly with the prevalence of school buses here. However, if location is important to you – you would like your children to be able to walk to school, or if you anticipate being at your child’s school frequently and don’t want a long journey there, or if the school bus is too early or takes too long for your liking – then consider the location of the school as one of your priorities. While many schools are very centrally located, more and more are moving beyond the usual residential areas to less built-up parts of the island. Even if your children will be on the school bus, if you don’t plan to get a car, then trekking out to a parent/teacher meeting or awards ceremony might dampen your school-enthusiasm somewhat.

School Holidays

This might sound somewhat unusual, but in the realm of international schools, the holiday calendar can vary hugely – both from school to school, and from school to your home country. This will be particularly relevant to you if you suspect that you might have children in different schools. But even aside from that, you might want to put “Holiday Calendar” as a useful checking point in determining your Shortlist. Many expats plan to travel with their children to their home countries for the obvious holidays – Summer, Christmas and Easter, in particular – and you might be disgruntled if you discover, two weeks into term, that you will only have ten days’ holidays at Christmas, and that your traditional June family-get-together is now not an option.

Mandarin

For many parents, the opportunity for their children to learn Mandarin while in Asia is an enormous advantage of living here. Newcomers to Singapore should, however, be aware that the international schools here vary greatly in the level of Mandarin they offer. Some have as their mission, that their younger years children should be bilingual by the time they reach middle / senior school, others are proud to offer daily lessons with a native speaker, while some schools treat it simply as another subject which is taught once or twice a week. If a proficiency in Mandarin is important to you for your children’s development, then this is certainly one criteria which you should use in creating your shortlist.

Sport / Extra Curricular Activities (ECA)

When choosing an international school in Singapore, most parents can take it as a given that the school will offer a variety of sports and other ECAs to their children – giving them the opportunity to either develop their talents, or determine that the sports field isn’t for them!

Many parents, however, are already aware of their child’s talents or aspirations, in which case choosing a school which supports their abilities will be a priority. For these parents, researching the sports facilities and activity departments / choices available in the schools will be an essential first step.

Special Needs / Educational Support

If your child has specific educational or developmental needs, then it goes without saying this will be your primary concern in choosing a school for them. Luckily, Singapore has a choice of excellent schools catering specifically to children with learning difficulties – watch out for the SchoolViews forthcoming dedicated article on this topic. If your child has some learning challenges which might require focused support in a mainstream setting, then this will be an obvious benchmark in identifying potential schools. Note, however, that not all schools publicise the range of learning support they offer, so it’s worthwhile, at the research stage, to ask other parents for their feedback, or even to call the school and make specific enquiries.

Religion / Ethos / Philosophy

Think about whether there is a particular religious or philosophical focus which is important to you. While most (but not all) international schools are non-denominational, many are set apart by their missions or ethos; if this is an essential requirement for your family, then be sure to research which schools align with your values and beliefs.

Community

Finally, while we may have been tongue-in-cheek about this in our introduction, it really is worth considering your social and community needs when choosing a school. If you plan to only be in Singapore for a defined term, and think that the school will be the focal point of your family’s community, then for goodness sake, check that the school actually does accommodate your social plans! Some of the international schools have dedicated clubs and associations specifically for parents and rely enormously on the (voluntary) work of their PTA, while others won’t so much facilitate your burgeoning social life as tolerate your occasional presence on campus. Ask around, check the schools’ website, and decide just how much time YOU are planning on spending at school!

With this checklist you should now be able to create your Shortlist of Best International Schools. So what’s next? Besides checking out other parents’ school ratings and reviews at SchoolViews.com; now you need to go through your list, diary in hand, and call each school’s Admissions Office and request a tour of the school or, simply find the school profile on SchoolViews.com and click the blue button to arrange a tour. If only to see what all the other cool parents are wearing…

Next week, in Part II of Finding Your Perfect International School, SchoolViews will look at getting the most out of a school tour, as well as equipping you with a comprehensive list of Things To Ask. (You might want to advise the Admissions Officer to set aside a bit of extra time for your visit…)