Children usually change schools at least once or twice, but it is possible to attend the same school in Singapore from as young as 18 months up to 18 years. The transition from Nursery to Primary School, or from Primary to Secondary School, is a big step in a child’s life. So, do you choose to send them to an all-through school or to a standalone primary?
While there are more than 50 all-through international schools in Singapore, standalone primary schools are far less common. Standalone primary schools and all-through schools may be different in terms of size, facilities and teaching staff, but one isn’t inherently better than the other.
The curriculum may be the same, but the experience is often quite different. Parents may prefer the charm and warmth of a smaller school nursery that has a genuine village feel, and it is easier for children to have that feeling of belonging, which can be harder to deliver in a school that has hundreds of students as old as 18 years. And, while staying at the same school from reception through to sixth form can have its advantages, attending a dedicated primary school can benefit your child in other ways.
In Singapore, there are more than 10 standalone international primary schools offering a choice of internationally recognised curricula including the UK National Curriculum, the International Primary Curriculum and the IB Primary Years Programme.
There are also a small number of all-through schools that have separate primary and secondary campuses, including Canadian International School, EtonHouse International School, and Invictus International School. These offer various advantages: students are given priority for admission into the secondary school; they prepare their students for a smooth transition into Year 7; and students who stay with the same school group have a greater chance of continuity in terms of friends and routine.
One of the key changes for the 2020-21 academic year will be mergers of the primary and secondary campuses at both Chatsworth International School and ISS International School’s. Chatsworth is moving all primary students at its Orchard campus to the school’s existing all-through campus in Bukit Timah after its lease was not renewed; ISS International School will relocate primary students from its Paterson campus to its high school campus in Bukit Merah after its lease also expired.
A dedicated primary school has been built for a sole purpose – to educate students aged four to 11 years. This means that the teachers will all be primary specialists whose skill and experience is in teaching all subjects to primary aged children, and school leaders often have extensive primary phase experience. All resources and facilities will also be fully geared towards the primary age group, and students will have sole use of these rather than having to share them with secondary and college-age students.
Whereas government-run primary schools in countries such as the UK will have all-rounders who can teach any subject, privately-funded primary schools in Singapore will hire primary specialist teachers. This means that in many international primary schools here, your child will be taught by a specialist teacher in subjects such as Singapore maths, music, art, and Mandarin.
All-through schools can enrol more than 2,500 students on vast campuses in Singapore. By comparison, a smaller, dedicated primary school can often provide a more primary-centred environment for young children and a closer-knit community.
Students will leave primary to move to a new secondary school or campus, where the surroundings, people and routines can be unfamiliar; for some children this may be unsettling and affect their productivity throughout Year 7. At the end of Year 6, parents will need to choose and enrol their child into a secondary school; there is no guarantee of a place, and there can be the additional cost of admission and enrolment fees. Also, it can be inconvenient for parents with children attending a primary and a secondary school to have to manage two different school drop-off and pick-ups.
Students at a standalone primary school may not have access to all the specialist subject teachers (PE, music, etc) that you would find at a secondary school, or specialist facilities such as science labs, makerspaces and drama studios. They also won’t benefit from the mentoring and leadership of senior students in a secondary school – everything from reading sessions to buddy systems.
In terms of teaching, all-through schools allow teachers to share good practice across all year groups, including ideas for effective curriculum planning and delivery. An all-through school can deliver more cost-effective professional development and teacher training across primary and secondary. And it may use its whole-school resources to deliver a more solid inclusion programme for students with EAL, disabilities or additional learning needs.