Which School? Big vs Small, the Pros & Cons

How important is the size of your child’s school? It’s not about one being better than the other, but more about finding the right fit for your child.
Which School? Big vs Small, the Pros & Cons
By Carli Allan
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Can a smaller school offer the same opportunities in sport, the arts and leadership?

Nexus new
Nexus is among several larger schools in Singapore with a high-performance swim programme

In small schools with just one class per year group, your child may only have the opportunity to mix with up to 25 or so friends, and this smaller social circle can be a drawback for some students. However, if they do make friends, they will not face the anxiety of class changes every year.

At schools with less than 30 students, fielding teams in different sports can be a challenge; if only two or three children enjoy rugby, for example, they miss out on the opportunity to play competitively. On the flip side, they do have a greater chance of being picked for the school play, sports teams, student council and other groups.

While SMMIS admits that extra-curricular offerings are “naturally narrower in a small school” it still offers a wide choice of clubs in art, music, dance, cooking, drama, chess, robotics and several sports. “Our students enjoy participating in inter-school competitions; just because we are smaller doesn't mean we are quieter!” says Mrs Robinson.

At Singapore American School, everything is on a grand scale – the early learning library has 2,500 books alone. The school hosts more than 20 major art, dance, and drama productions annually; runs 250 clubs, service organisations, and after-school activities; and has over 35 competitive boys' and girls' sports teams.

Similarly, in a typical year, Tanglin has 140 competitive sports teams, runs 177 co-curricular activities, stages 34 drama productions, and runs 80 annual school trips (pre-Covid). There are more than 70,000 books across its three school libraries.

Large schools including Australian International School (AIS), Nexus International School, Dulwich College (Singapore), XCL World Academy, Tanglin and Singapore Sports School may offer a high-performance programme for students pursuing a goal in professional sports. These cover rugby, football, golf, swimming, gymnastics, athletics, triathlon and netball. And some are members of a global or regional sports association, such as the Athletic Conference of Singapore International Schools (ACSIS) and South East Asia Student Activities Conference (SEASAC), which offer opportunities for their students to represent the school in a wide variety of inter-school tournaments.

When it comes to student leadership, a larger school can offer a very wide variety of roles of responsibility. Mr Ridley (Tanglin) lists a few examples of the roles offered to students from Infant up to Senior School. (And all of the younger student leaders wear colourful school caps bearing their leadership role with pride.)

“Sun Monitors remind everyone to wear hats and drink plenty of water, while Planet Protectors perform spot checks throughout the school to ensure that resources are being used thoughtfully. Importantly, Playtime Buddies make sure everyone has a friend. Early leadership skills are also encouraged through the roles of Wellbeing Warriors, Song Leaders and Tech Leaders, and these skills are nurtured further in Junior School.
“In the Junior School Student Council representatives play an important part in school life making sure the views of their fellow students are heard – they even interview the Head Team Candidates. In Years 5 and 6, Junior Listeners and Student Librarians receive special training, and Junior Photographers and Reporters can often be seen at school events.”
While SMMIS admits that extra-curricular offerings are “naturally narrower in a small school”,  it still offers a wide choice of clubs

While the roles may be more limited, students at a smaller school do still have the chance to take on leadership responsibilities. For example, SMMIS has active Student Councils in both the Primary and Secondary Schools who have led initiatives including a sponsored fun run, talent show, chess tournament, library treasure hunt and student newspaper.

Mrs Robinson says:

“In smaller schools the chances for student participation and school representation are higher because there is a smaller pool of students. As a result, students have more of a stake in their school because they can really make a tangible difference.”

Next: How can a small school compete with a large school in terms of facilities?

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