Tanglin Trust: Meet the Head of Senior School

It would be easy to meet with Tanglin Trust’s head of senior school and talk solely about the school’s high-ranking exam results. However, Allan Forbes is very keen to focus our attention on how the school’s develops skills that go beyond the purely academic.
Tanglin Trust: Meet the Head of Senior School
By Carli Allan
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While Allan Forbes is undeniably proud of the school’s academic achievements, Tanglin Trust’s head of senior school has an energy and passion for supporting and challenging students to meet their full potential - that often lie beyond the academic...

Since joining the school in 2015, Forbes has seen the school hold onto its outstanding rating from British Schools Overseas (BSO) and expand with state of the art film and D&T facilities. Previously the head of upper school at Harrow School in Bangkok and head of English College in Dubai, Mr Forbes spoke to WhichSchoolAdvisor about pastoral care, outdoor education, and the choice between IB and A Levels.

With the opening of several international schools in Singapore, Tanglin Trust faces new competition. How are you responding to this?

We’re a very established school that’s been open since 1925, so we have the reputation and the heritage. While it’s exciting to have new schools opening, we’re definitely not at the troubled teenager stage. We have a tried and tested model, and we have learnt from our early mistakes. This increased competition ensures that we are not complacent, and we’re always looking to drive forward and improve.

Some schools will claim to be the best of everything. We aspire to be the best that we can be.

What defines the Tanglin Trust experience?

We want our students to leave here with the best academic results they can, as nice children, and with the life skills that will be useful to them in future life. We excel in three key areas. Firstly, we have a strong pastoral support programme, which ensures that all students are welcomed, then nurtured and then advised on those important next steps post 16.

Secondly, we are doing very well academically. While our high-ranking results would suggest that we’re a selective school, we’re not. We’re not just focused on students achieving those top grades; we support, enthuse and inspire students of all abilities to be the very best they can be. Yes, we’re very proud of our academic achievements, but we’re not only accepting those students who are very bright.

And thirdly, we excel in learning beyond the classroom. We want to go beyond students learning a sport or playing a musical instrument and get them developing skills as well. We offer some incredible outdoor education experiences and service opportunities to develop strengths such as teamwork, independence and other useful life skills. Students are just as likely to learn something amazing outside the classroom as they will inside it.

How is Tanglin Trust offering a well-rounded education that focuses as much on sport and the arts as academia?

We’re proud to offer sport for all. Whereas a few years ago our sports programme might have been a little bit elitist, we now have than 100 competitive teams and 750 students taking part, which is phenomenal. In the arts, it’s not always about the big productions; we have performances that involve as many students as possible up on the stage.

We know that some parents will choose a school based on the approach and reputation of its arts or sports programme. We can’t ignore this fact, and we don’t.

You say you are not selective, but to what degree is Tanglin Trust an inclusive school?

If we see a student struggling, we will offer them a guided pathway. Not all of our students will do 11 IGCSEs for example, some will do six or seven. In the IB, there’s the choice of a tough route where you do the sciences and maths, or a selective route that’s more accessible and focuses on film or humanities. The IB is not just there for the clever kids, it’s there for the students who work hard, have a B-C profile and want to keep it broad.

How is the school changing with the times?

Technology has a vital role to play in education, but we need to make sure it doesn’t replace great learning. You still need a great teacher to determine when technology will be useful and when to do writing, or book work. We’re ahead of the curve in terms of technology as we’re moving towards tablets with pen-enabled devices, which means that the power of ink is still there.

We've introduced design and technology courses, and over the next three years we will have a much broader approach to D&T. We will have an entire floor dedicated to D&T – it’ll be the size of a football pitch!

You’re unique in offering students the choice of either the IBDP and A Levels. Around two thirds of students at Tanglin choose A Level, and one third take the IB. How do you advise students which course to take?

IB or A Levels – it's a choice must be made by the student. Very broadly, if you know you want to be a doctor, a vet or engineer etc, then you choose the three or four A Level subjects that you need to access that course. If you enjoy doing everything, then the IB lends itself very well to that as you can choose six subjects including English, maths, humanities and a language; you’re covering every base.

Rightly or wrongly, IB is seen as what the bright kids do but I’d like to see more students happily accessing the IB programme. Parents can be nervous about the IB as it can be ‘unknown’ but we offer pathway meetings from Year 9 onwards to keep parents informed  about both avenues.

I believe that the ways in which the IB is delivered and assessed prepares you better for university study and learning. A Levels are changing but they are still a little bit directed.

Tanglin Trust has a large student body of nearly 3,000 students. How do you manage to shrink down a huge campus to a manageable size?

Yes, we’ve got 2,800 students but we’ve managed to maintain that ‘small school’ feeling and create a campus that’s welcoming and cosy. It’s also important to hold onto that whole school community, so we organise school-wide events – such as international days and eco weeks that bring all year groups together. We make sure there’s plenty of integration between juniors and seniors in terms of activities.

Tanglin Trust is often referred to as one of the British schools in Singapore. Is this a fair description?

I don’t think we are a British school, but we do have British values. We offer the international IB, and around 50% of students do not come from the UK. We embrace the 50-plus different nationalities with Tanglin. It might have a British feel as you walk through the school, but our approach is very global – and developing too.

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