• Green campus with natural surroundings
• New, clean design
• Strong European feel
What strikes us first about this school is how green it is. GESS is located opposite Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, and it is bordered by trees, which helps to create a very calm, quiet learning environment. This new campus has been brought to life with living walls, a peaceful rooftop garden and a green and brown colour palette.
Walk around GESS and you can feel the European influence. All signs are in both English and German; there is wall art by European artists on every floor; and messages of hope and diversity by inspiring leaders such as the world professional snooker champion Ken Doherty around the campus.
“We celebrate our German and European heritage. We don’t want people to think that we are just a German school, for German-speaking students. We want families to see that we also offer the IB programme taught in English.”
Open less than 12 months ago, GESS still has the hallmarks of a new purpose-built school. There’s no clutter of some of the older campuses in Singapore, you don't see student work posted on every wall, and the design feels slightly more functional than fashionable. While some families may welcome the lack of distractions around the campus, others may prefer a school with more student-directed displays.
Read our review of GESS here.
There are still some parts of the school that feel slightly ‘bare’, but we’re confident that GESS will eventually make full use of every space. As a school that only opened in August 2018, it needs time to get that lived-in feel after all. The advantage is that GESS is equipped with new facilities that give the school the space and resources it needs to offer two curricula, increase its student body, and roll out new STEM programmes.
“It was purpose-built for us, so we could design it exactly to our needs.”
• Plenty of wide, open green space
• Dedicated areas for learning and play for all age groups
• Well-equipped specialist classrooms
• Impressive sports facilities
GESS may have moved to a shiny new campus in Dairy Farm Road, and left behind its older site in nearby Bukit Tinggi Road, but this school is still holding on to tradition. An example of this is The Forum, which has always been at the heart of this school. At the new campus, this is a shaded green atrium where you can expect to see anything from dance performances and art exhibitions to students casually chatting in groups, playing during break times, or simply reading a book. While The Forum looks impressive and certainly seems to be popular with students, it does mean that students have to walk around in circles (literally) to move between classes.
“It’s a key space, and we feel that it’s really essential to a community school like ours as it gives students the space to come together.”
As you’d expect from a school with 1,500 students, GESS has a large campus. It has been designed using a “schools within a school” model, with the pre-school, primary and secondary schools each having their own classroom ‘blocks’ and dedicated play areas. We liked the self-contained pre-school with its own dedicated entrance; a real effort has been made here to make the learning environment for GESS’ youngest students feel small, welcoming and familiar. It will certainly add to the appeal for families contemplating whether to send their child to this pre-school rather than a standalone nursery.
“We wanted to keep the pre-school self-contained and self-sufficient, and on a day-to-day basis they have everything they need. However, they will still come to the main campus for celebrations and whole-school events so they do get that sense of familiarity.”
For a school with such a large campus and even bigger aspirations, GESS is managing to build a close-knit community. New students are helped to settle in using a student buddy system, the Student Council takes ownership of their school by playing an active role in decisions such the new uniform, and parents are frequently seen across the campus throughout the school day.
“Parents are very heavily involved in the school, whether as part of the PTA, on an events committee or as a school governor. We live by the saying that it takes a village to raise a child, and we really want our parents who have come from overseas to feel a sense of belonging here.”
GESS’ caring side shines through during our visit. For example, it takes an active stance against bullying – which is brought to the fore at an annual Pink Shirt Day – and it has a Buddy Bench that encourages students to reach out to others in need of friendship.
Specialist learning facilities include science labs, art rooms, a 400-seater auditorium, design technology and visual arts studios, music studios, a black box theatre, a cooking lab, and makerspace. Here’s a school that certainly has the space and resources to offer students a host of learning opportunities that meet the needs of the rigorous IB and German curricula, as well as after-school activities.
There are three libraries – pre-school, primary and secondary – which are designed to encourage a love for reading for each age group. Both the pre-school and primary libraries have two designated reading rooms, comfy cubby holes for reading in, a stage area for library performances, and colourful book character themed activities on display. The secondary library is designed for study and research, and includes quiet, interactive and collaborative zones. To encourage collaboration between the two streams, German and English books are arranged together by subject or author on the library shelves.
There is a purpose-built three-storey building dedicated to sports facilities. These are impressive from top to bottom, and include rooftop sports pitches with a running track, long jump and shot-put areas, sports hall, gym, 50m swimming pool and learner’s pool.
Elsewhere on campus there is a large outdoor court and several indoor sports courts. Housed within an enormous, almost industrial-styled building, there are three full sports courts which can be partitioned off into six courts for different lessons. During our visit we saw gymnastics, basketball and badminton classes being held simultaneously, and heard about recent football tournament involving schools across Singapore. This is where a school of GESS size can be such an advantage as it can comfortably host inter-school tournaments and remove any restrictions on space needed by different PE teachers.
Other facilities include a modern canteen, which is used by primary and secondary students at staggered break times. There is also a rooftop garden, where there are plans to introduce a butterfly garden.
• Flexible seating arrangements
• Shared learning pods for German and English streams
Classrooms are spacious and well-lit with space for students to get together, exchange ideas and hold grade level presentations. In every grade, you’ll find flexible classrooms where the layout can be changed for different learning activities and there are a variety of seating options; this is particularly suited to the inquiry-based learning approach of the IB programme.
During our visit to the school, we heard how the German and European streams are brought together in various ways. Each primary school class within the German stream is assigned a buddy class from the IB stream; mixed groups work together for events such as project week, sports day or swimming week; and learning pods are shared in every grade between classrooms in both streams.
GESS is a Best of school, a ranking determined by parent surveys on the site. It can be found in the following Best of rankings:
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