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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Will my child get ‘lost’ at a large school?

Rosemount International School is a small primary and pre-school of just 140 students with a big heart. Praised by parents for its “personal touch” and for inspiring a child’s “love and enthusiasm for school”, the school has a close-knit family community that can be hard to replicate at larger campuses across Singapore. For example, every student knows “Auntie”, who prepares all lunches, morning and afternoon snacks at the school.

SGP Rosemount
Rosemount International School is one of Singapore's smallest international schools

As co-founder Cheryl Young says:

“The greatest advantage – in fact the very reason that we have a small school – is because we all know all of our children and all of our parents. Our small school is almost a ‘village’. We have small class sizes, so every teacher in the school will know your child’s name not just their class teacher.
“We have a strong sense of school community here. For example, our Grade 1 and Grade 2 children recently started to take their reading books to the nursery class to share their skills. We can have a settling-in process that is personal and adapts to every child and their family. And our parents are always welcome to pop by and be a mystery reader or chat to their teacher.”

With just 240 students, SMMIS says that, “Teachers at SMMIS know every student in the school by name”. Mrs Robinson highlights how smaller numbers can mean smaller class sizes and personalised learning.

“Smaller schools tend to offer smaller class sizes and lower student to teacher ratios which translates into a more intimate and personalised learning environment. SMMIS is no exception with an average class size of 18 enabling more individual attention and support. In a small classroom, time is on our side, we can delve deeper into the curriculum or move on at a faster pace.
“Fewer children in a class makes participation inevitable but also less intimidating for those with a shy or introverted personality.”

Can this small school feel be replicated on a much larger campus? Tanglin has focused on creating individual school environments, while also offering older students’ opportunities to cross paths with younger students in a positive way through house events and cross-school initiatives. There are opportunities for collaboration, such as Year 12 supporting Year 2 in Maths. These bring students in all year groups together and create a sense of ‘belonging’.

Students in different year groups collaborate throughout the academic year at Tanglin Trust School

Mr Ridley (Tanglin) says: “These enrichment opportunities offer tangible benefits – the younger children are visibly in awe of their older role models and take great pleasure in listening and learning from them. Likewise, the older students form the Junior and Senior Schools feel a real sense of achievement and reward when they help their younger peers.”

Tanglin parent Karen Morement shares her positive experience of sending three children to such a large school from Nursery through to the Sixth Form.

“We chose Tanglin not only because of its academic excellence, but also because there was a warm, caring feeling the moment you walked into the Infant school; an aspect that remains constant throughout the school.”

One of the many benefits of international schools (compared to a large government-run school in Singapore, the UK or the US for example) is small class sizes, whatever the capacity of the school. Class sizes at Tanglin are 20 in Nursery, 24 in Reception to Year 11, and as low as 15 in the Sixth Form. Similarly, at SAS, class sizes in KG to Grade 5 are capped at 22 students.

When you have thousands of students walking around campus, it’s more important than ever to make children feel welcome, safe, and included. Students who don't feel a personal connection to one or more teachers can lack the sense of community that smaller schools in Singapore provide.

There are also many example of large schools having a strong pastoral care programme. At SAS, for example, a team of trained counsellors meet with every new student and their family, along with members of the PTA’s welcoming committee, to “help every type of transition”. Each ‘school’ has its own dedicated team of counsellors and a psychologist, and all students are matched with a counsellor who provides personal support.

Next: Can a large school have a strong parent community?

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