Brighton College opened a nursery and primary school for students aged 18 months through to 11 years in Singapore in August 2020.
This British public-school export, which we have seen thrive in locations across the UAE and in Bangkok, retains major elements of Brighton College UK’s DNA; it limits classes to three per year group with maximum of 22 students per class; and it delivers a strong Mandarin programme. This all comes at price, and the school’s annual tuition fees of $34,000 position it as one of the top 15 most expensive schools in Singapore.
Brighton College (Singapore) is something of a contradiction. While it promises to offer a “nurturing, village-school environment”, the school is located on one of Singapore’s largest campuses. Brighton College’s pre-prep (pre-nursery to Year 1) is spread across a dedicated floor of the Early Learning Village (ELV) currently shared between the Australian International School (AIS) and Stamford American International School (SAIS). The prep school (Years 2-6) are in a newly renovated building next to the Early Learning Village and AIS, both located in Serangoon.
This is made possible as all three schools – AIS, SAIS and Brighton College (Singapore) – are 100% owned by the Cognita global schools group. Brighton College leads the educational philosophy, school ethos and UK curriculum of the new school, which replicates the authentic Brighton College experience from the academic rigour of its British curriculum through to the traditional house system. Cognita, which operates more than 70 schools across eight countries – including Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, and the UK – will manage the day-to-day operation of the campus.
At the moment, Brighton College feels a bit shoe-horned into a site that is dominated by the vast AIS school and its 3,000 students. However, a huge benefit of this location is that Brighton College can – and does – share the facilities on the AIS campus including playing fields, an indoor sports hall and swimming pool. Does this mean that Brighton College can offer the best of both worlds? A village primary school experience with access to all the facilities of an all-through school? Only time will tell…
Teaching at Brighton College follows the UK’s Early Years Foundation Stages (EYFS) and the UK National Curriculum. It opened in the same year as two other British public-school experts – NLCS (Singapore) and The Perse School, Singapore – and there are already three existing British curriculum schools in Singapore. So what makes Brighton College different?
Founding headmaster Paul Wilson, who has moved across from Brighton College UK, describes the school as, “an outward-looking school that prioritises emotional well-being and fosters a lifelong love of learning.”
He adds: “When you think of primary education, you think of a nurturing school. We can offer a really nurturing primary school environment where children will feel really well-known and well-loved, and they will have a great ability to flourish both academically and socially. That’s where I think we really stand out in Singapore.”
Historically, there have always been long waitlists at Singapore’s top tier British schools – Tanglin Trust, Dulwich College (Singapore) and Dover Court. 2020 could start to change that. Whereas before parents looking for a UK curriculum school here didn’t have the luxury of choice, they now do. For such a small school, Brighton College could make a huge impact.
Children in pre-prep follow the EYFS from pre-nursery through to reception, before starting their first year of the UK National Curriculum in Year 1. Throughout these years, PE, swimming, music and art are taught by specialist teachers. Moving up to the prep school, and the UK curriculum covers the core subjects of maths, English and science, as well as geography, computing, history, PE, swimming, music and art.
One of the key differences to the curriculum offered by its UK school is Mandarin, which Paul Wilson says is “front and centre” of the curriculum. Brighton College offers a dual language Mandarin programme from pre-nursery through to Year 1, where native Mandarin-speaking teaching assistants will work alongside the classroom teacher to teach the curriculum in two languages.
From Year 1 upwards, daily Mandarin classes are streamed by ability; from Year 3, all children have twice-weekly French classes taught by a native speaker. Brighton College joins a substantial number of international schools offering dual language programmes, where both languages are taught in the same classroom.
Brighton College’s academic credentials are impressive. Its GCSE and A Level results are consistently high; and it was ranked as the Top Co-educational School in England in 2019 and named Independent School of the Year by The Sunday Times. This isn’t enough to guarantee the strength of the primary education offered by Brighton College (Singapore), but it does help to set a high standard for the school to follow.
Will the quality of education be comparable with the original UK ‘brand’ is a question that needs to be asked of any UK school opening internationally. Founding headmaster Paul Wilson is committed to replicating an authentic Brighton College experience, and not only in terms of its academic excellence.
Wilson says: “As well as being known as an academic school, Brighton College is famous for its cultural kindness. We will deliver a consistent culture of kindness, curiosity and confidence.” And having spent the past 15 years at the UK school, Wilson says that these values are “in his blood”.
One of Brighton College’s strengths is that it is purely focused on primary education, which means that all resources, teaching and facilities within the school are geared towards the 5-10 year age group. There are no immediate plans to open a secondary school, but it is a possibility.
In the meantime, Wilson is confident that Brighton College can prepare every student for the secondary school that is right for them. “You have the opportunity here to have a fantastic academic experience in a really nurturing environment that will open up the door to a secondary school that will suit your child after Year 6.”
The school day runs from 9am to 3.30pm, with an option to do extra-curricular activities until 4.30pm, and the academic year is August to June with three terms.
Brighton College is the latest addition to the Cognita-run family of schools in Singapore, and it adds a British curriculum choice to Cognita’s existing portfolio of Stamford American International School and the Australian International School (AIS).
We’ve seen the Brighton College model work well internationally. Brighton College Abu Dhabi is a WhichSchoolAdvisor.com Top School, and it has been rated Very Good by the Abu Dhabi Education Council; its sister school in Al Ain is rated Outstanding. We’ve also seen Cognita manage two competing schools in the city-state, and we will be watching to see how a third school will fare.
The school plans to take full advantage of its links with Cognita, by taking part in the group’s global initiatives such as Be Well Day. However, it will also remain true to its Brighton College roots and the links between the two will be upheld through termly visits from the UK school as “they are really invested in making this something that they are proud of.”
By recruiting the school’s founding head from the UK, Brighton College has ensured that they have a true understanding of what a Brighton College education is. The founding principal for Brighton College (Singapore) will be Paul Wilson, who joins the school from Brighton College in the UK, where he has spent the last eight years.
“My vision for Brighton College in Singapore is for a forward-looking school that prioritises emotional well-being and fosters a life-long love of learning: a school where pupils look to the needs of their classmates, but are also engaged with their local community and are aware of global issues; a school where pupils are resilient, confident and grateful for their opportunities; and a school where teachers stoke the children’s natural curiosity, fuelling their desire to investigate and understand the world around them."
Although Wilson moves over from a position as boarding housemaster and secondary trained, he believes that this is a strength on the pastoral side. Deputy head Lois Pugh moves over from NLCS Jeju, bringing with her the experience of an international school that Wilson does not yet have, as well as the knowledge of integrating a dual-language programme in NLCS’ infant and junior schools.
Wilson adds: “A key part of a school’s success is its teachers. We have a dynamic, forward-looking team of teachers giving us the ability to deliver a really great curriculum.”
Brighton College is promising a nurturing primary school environment that will certainly appeal to British families looking to replicate that village school experience. We are looking for the school to create that intimacy and feel that you do not get in all-through schools. And we would expect there to be a strong and active parent community. How Brighton College creates that warmth and a ‘village school’ feel amidst the busy university-style campus of AIS can only be seen once the school opens.
Brighton College, a very British school, is moving into a space that has a dominant Australian culture. There are kangaroo sculptures, messages of Distinctly Australia on the wall, and an earthy decor of browns and greens across a campus that is well-established and immensely proud of its Aussie heritage. This is changing to a degree as Brighton College puts its own stamp on the site with its logo, school values and maybe even the Union Jack. But what are the advantages of having a school with such a strong British identity being located next to schools that are so proudly American and Australian?
Wilson sees this as an opportunity to bring cultures together:
“Cognita have chosen three cultures that are quite distinct and we all hit different niches. I don’t feel that my brand is being squeezed squashed by AIS; they slot side by side, and there’s enough space for us both.
"We are not in competition with each other. When parents come to us, they are looking for a British curriculum and the style of teaching associated with a prep school.”
Brighton College is currently open from pre-nursery (18 months) through to Year 4, with around 150 students. It’s a selective school, meaning that from from Year 1, children “undertake basic testing in English and maths to ensure that they will be able to thrive in our academic environment”.
As Brighton College (Singapore) has not yet received EduTrust certification, it cannot yet accept applications from students who require a Student Pass to attend school in Singapore (those with parents do not yet have a Work Pass).
Fees start at $34,050 for reception through to Year 2, and rise to $35,010 for Years 3-6. There’s an application fee of $1,000, enrolment fee of $3,500, one-time development fee of $3,000, as well as an annual facility fee of $3,250. So, for a child joining in 2020 for Year 1, the starting cost would be $44,800.
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