Singapore’s only school to offer an Australian curriculum-based education is proud to be a non-selective school that doesn’t believe in intellectual ability alone.
The selective vs non-selective schools debate continues worldwide. Here in Singapore, where more than 80% of students are in academically selective schools, the non-selective Australian International School has an open doors policy. As well as being the only school in Singapore to offer both the IBDP (International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme) and the HSC (New South Wales Higher School Certificate) curricula, AIS offers opportunities for all students regardless of their academic abilities – and its outstanding results speak for themselves.
Read about our tour of the school here.
AIS is a school that aims to work for everyone, from academics through to those who excel in sports or the arts. In principal Andre Casson's words,
“AIS is a microcosm of Australian society. No matter who you are, or what you want to be, AIS is where you want to be.”
This Serangoon-based school, which takes students on a learning path from two through to 18 years, describes itself as “globally focused and distinctly Australian”. As well as celebrating the diversity of Singapore’s expat community, AIS has a warm, welcoming and friendly environment that is rooted in Australian culture. It offers an education that’s underpinned by Australian curriculum standards, and shares the very best of Australia from swimming through to indigenous art. There’s also a strong sense of community that shines through at AIS, which parents and teachers like to call the ‘AIS Spirit’.
With a large student population of over 2,600, it’s important that AIS does not follow a ‘one size fits all’ mantra. The school promises to focus on individual learning styles to help “your child become an active, compassionate and lifelong learner”. It’s a philosophy that runs throughout the school’s education programme, which begins with a Reggio Emilia-inposred curriculum and the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program (PYP) from kindergarten to Year 5, continues with the Australian Curriculum for Years 6 to 8, Cambridge IGCSE in Years 9 and 10, and rounds off with the Higher School Certificate (HSC) or International Baccalaureate Diploma Program (IBDP) for Years 11 and 12.
The IB PYP is a curriculum that focuses not only on what is taught, but how it’s taught. AIS is committed to allowing students to be actively involved in their own learning and to take responsibility for that learning. In addition to developing proficiency in core subjects such as English, maths, science, technology and humanities, children study specialist subjects including Mandarin, PE, music, library and the visual arts.
During the elementary years (prep to Year 5), teachers claim to focus on discovering a student’s “individual strengths, passions and interests” – and then developing them. There’s a strong emphasis in the curriculum on critical thinking, problem solving, teamwork and leadership during these years. The elementary curriculum is mapped to the Australian curriculum in maths, languages, science, history, geography, music, visual arts and PE.
AIS then follows the Australian curriculum for Years 6-8, and languages offered include Indonesian, French, Chinese or the child’s mother tongue.
The school says,
“We don’t do the IB's MYP as we don't believe it's cultivated enough to prepare students for the IBDP. Instead, we follow the Australian national curriculum, which has the measurement tools in place to prepare students for the the two-year IGCSE programme and public exams in Years 9 and 10.”
In Years 9 and 10, students study for their IGCSEs; languages include Chinese, French, Indonesian and Spanish, and electives include cover the arts, humanities, technology and PE. At the start of Year 11, students have the choice of studying for the International Baccalaureate Diploma (IBDP) or the Australian Higher School Certificate (HSC). This choice allows students to select a curriculum that’s suited to them – the academically rigorous IBDP or the more vocational HSC. As part of the HSC, students can study Vocational Education and Training (VET) in constriction and hospitality. All students receive careers counselling from Year 10 to help them choose the academic programme that's best suited to them.
Unsurprising for an Australian school, sport and physical education are an important part of life at AIS. A Smart Steps gym is used to develop teamwork and motor skills from a young age, and AIS offers 100 competitive teams in sports ranging from athletics and football to swimming and netball. Whether competing in a regional fixture or taking part in a curriculum PE lesson, you get the feeling that students feel a great sense of pride when wearing the green and gold AIS sports jersey.
It also runs the first-of-its-kind elite Athlete Development Programme in secondary school which develops athletes for university scholarships and competitive sport.
The school says,
“The athlete development programme is for students who show a particular talent in a sport. It's a rigorous training programme that covers strength, fitness, psychology, nutrition, injury management and coaching methods. They undergo training in the gym as if they were a professional athlete.”
AIS offers a well-rounded education where visual arts, music and drama are nurtured as much as academic learning. This is achieved through the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts (LAMDA) Speech and Drama Programme and the Orff Music Literacy Program, which both start at just 18 months. Throughout their AIS journey, students are encouraged to join one of 17 music ensembles, and talent is showcased annually in four drama productions, three art exhibitions and a music ensemble evening.
Technology is integral to all lessons, including music and art, and the 1:1 iPad programme from kindergarten to Year 5 and the 1:1 MacBook programme in Years 6 to 12 are used to encourage exploration, research, communication. Back to basics, there’s also a strong reading culture that’s fostered through library sessions, author visits and literary events.
The school runs an outdoor education programme from prep through to Year 10, which ranges from camping trips and wildlife tours through to adventure weekends and jungle treks. Children progress from den-building and nature spotting to rock climbing and abseiling.
The school says,
"We operate with a 'challenge by choice' ethos, never forcing students to take risks, but encouraging them to push themselves outside of their comfort zone and 'have a go'."
AIS is part of the international Cognita group of schools, which has headquarters in the UK and educates 40,000 pupils in 70 schools worldwide. It’s a school that has invested in its future. In the last decade, purpose-built facilities have been completed at the existing site, including a dedicated science and technology area, five libraries, and the AIS Inquiry Centre; the Early Learning Village opened in September 2017. Boarding is offered at ACS Oldham Hall in Singapore.
AIS has come a long way since it was founded in 1993 with just 32 students. After outgrowing various premises across Singapore, the school now teaches more than 2,600 students from over 50 different countries at its purpose-built campus. Around 65% of the student body are Australian.
The academic year follows the Australian calendar and runs from January to December, which is ideal for the majority of families who will eventually return to Australia as they can easily slot back link the national school system. It does makes AIS different to the majority of schools in Singapore, however, which run from August to June.
There's a close-knit community within this large campus, aided by a house system within each school, students captains and a bust programme of events. Also, during the elementary years, students can enrol in the Buddy Programme and mentor a younger student on a regular basis.
The school offers counselling services to all year groups as part of a strong pastoral care programme. Most recently the school introduced Project ROCKIT from Australia in Years 8 and 9, which tackles bullying, cyber bullying and leadership. the school says,
"Our students have participated in a number of online workshops on how to deal with common cyberbullying situations and standing up for what you believe in with a real emphasis on being a bystander who makes a difference."
Is this drive to bring out the very best in every student reflected in the school’s grades though? The 2016 results for Year 12 IB students show a 100% pass rate and an average score of 34.5, which is 10% higher than the global average. This is just short of Singapore’s highest performing schools with an average of around 38 points. The HSC cohort also had a 100% pass rate and eight students made the coveted NSW HSC Distinguished Achievers List.
The IB and HSC and IB results are converted into an ATAR score for each student, and this ranking system is used to measure a student’s overall performance and eligibility for entry into Australian universities. AIS students had an average ATAR score of 84.87 out of 100.
In the Year 10 IGCSE results, 90% of students achieved five or more A* to C grades, which is considerably higher than the UK average of 58%. A breakdown of these results shows above average performance: 19% of students awarded an A* (UK average of 6.5%), 39% were A* or A (UK 20.5%), and 64% were A* to B.
The numeracy and reading results for NAPLAN, an annual assessment for students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9, were more than 20% higher than the Australian national average.
AIS is located within a pleasant residential neighbourhood in Lorong Chuan, and is well connected to the rest of Singapore by car or public transport. It is a purpose-built campus divided into three schools - early years and lower elementary, upper elementary and lower secondary, and upper secondary. Facilities include sport fields, swimming pools, indoor gyms, specialist visual arts, music, drama and technology rooms, libraries, and a performance hall.
A brand new Early Learning Village at the campus brings education for two to six-year-olds all under one roof. This Reggio Emilia-inspired school has child-sized doors, an outdoor learning space for every classroom, and clusters of classrooms with dedicated teaching kitchens, mini-libraries and resource centres. Known as The Village, this pint-sized campus also has a dance studio, Smart Steps movement room, multi-purpose gym, 1,500 m2 covered play space with sensory play equipment, water play, bike tracks and sandpits, and a 22m swimming pool for first swimmers.
Outside school hours, students can choose from CCAs including sports, community and services activities and general interest groups such as chess, robotics debating and cookery. There's a popular mother tongue programme, offering after-school classes in languages including Spanish, Korean and Mandarin.
Health and safety
Each school within AIS has its own dedicated health centre and all members of staff have first aid training. There are security guards and barriers at every entrance to the school; all AIS families are issued with two parent security passes, which must be worn on campus.
Contributions to the community
There’s a growing trend for Singaporean schools to adopt ‘values in action’ programmes that develop social skills and global awareness. AIS puts this into practice with a programme of community projects, both locally and overseas. Each year group focuses a particular charity or cause for 12 months: litter picking in the school, reading books and playing sports with students in Malaysia, raising funds for and working at a social centre in Vietnam, and joining a house building team in Cambodia.
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