A new international primary school is offering a ‘back to basics’ education and Singapore’s lowest fees.
There’s a new school on the block and, rather than dazzling parents with a glitzy campus and state-of-the-art facilities, it’s promoting itself as Singapore’s most affordable international school. With annual fees of $17,000, it is certainly a cheaper alternative to rival schools charging $30,000 and upwards.
Read our school tour here.
Invictus International School opened the doors of its Bukit Merah-based campus for the first time in August 2016, offering just 75 places for children in Grades 1 and 2, aged six to eight years. In 2017, it relocated to a new campus in Dempsey Hill and now offers classes for just under 200 students in Grades 1-5; it plans to extend this to Grade 6 from August 2018. As well as remaining one of Singapore’s smallest schools, it’s also one of only a few schools to offer the International Primary Curriculum (IPC) – others include St Joseph’s Institution International School.
Back to basics
Invictus has received widespread media coverage, not only for its low school fees but also for its ‘back to basics’ style of education. Founded by South African entrepreneur John Fearon (a parent who felt so disgruntled with the cost of education in Singapore that he decided to found his own school), Invictus offers a private education without the frills.
In the words of founding principal Mary Ann Davies, the school believes that quality education is simple.
We don’t believe that this simplicity needs the embellishment of a multitude of expensive out of classroom experiences for our children.
Instead, it claims to concentrate on learning within the classroom, and leaves the extra-curricular activities at the parents’ front door.
There are no futuristic innovation labs or canteen serving designer menus (although catered meals have recently been introduced as an alternative to packed lunches). There are no shortcuts in terms of teaching staff either, who are all trained professionals from New Zealand, China, the Us, the UK, Australia and Canada. Instead, Invictus has been able to keep costs low by ditching the auditoriums and sports stadiums, and focusing purely on English, maths, science, maths, geography, PE, creative arts, IT and social studies. Instead of having a large expensive library, the school walks its students to the local library 2km away to borrow books and bring them back to campus. And rather than investing in expensive facilities, the school uses commercial spaces such as ballet and art studios located just a five-minute walk away.
Invictus is filling a gap in Singapore for moderately priced quality schools, just like The Independent Grammar School: Durham is doing in the UK and GEMS Founders School is in Dubai.
As a dedicated primary school rather an all-through school, the question parents may ask is where will my child go next? Some will prefer this small and intimate environment for young learners, others may only be here for the primary years anyway. The school is also fully aware that some families use Invictus as a 'holding school' while they wait to get a place at their preferred school.
The school currently offers the IPC from Grades 1 to 5 (this will eventually run through to Grade 6,) which is known for its creative and thematic approach to teaching. This is supplemented by what Invictus describes as “rigorous” English and Mandarin courses and an MOE Singaporean maths curriculum. While Invictus is school is slowly introducing more iPads and laptops to the school, don't expect a strong focus on technology-based learning here. For a school with such low fees, though, that's hardly surprising. The school says, "We are working on getting more technology but it will never be the focus of this school."
Students have three weekly Mandarin classes, and can sign up for advance Mandarin lessons held four days a week after school at an additional cost. All lessons, including specialist classes such as music and art, are taught by the classroom teacher.
International teaching staff
The school is run by the founding head teacher Mary Ann Davies, a British-born educator with experience working in schools across the UK, China, Qatar and now Singapore.
Read our interview with vice principal Allison O'Reilly here.
Invictus has just under 200 students from more than 45 different nationalities, which is very diverse for such small student body. It is popular with families of twins for reasons of cost perhaps, and the majority of students have two working parents, which can be unusual in Singapore's expat community. The school says,
"We have a lot of South East Asian nationalities here who can’t afford bigger schools but they can afford us."
Class sizes are certainly not the lowest in the region with 25 students in each of the three classes, and an average teacher to student ratio of 1:18. However, thanks to its small student population and open plan layout, Invictus prides itself on creating an intimate, home-like learning environment. It’s not exactly home away home, but it looks pretty close.
After-school activities are limited to advanced Mandarin, coding, writer's workshop, and swimming. Parents are given the opportunity to sign up for co-curricular activities in sport, music and drama, which are outsourced by the school; students are walked to these after-school classes by Invictus teachers and then collected by parents afterwards.
Invictus moved from Bukit Timah to a slightly larger and much greener campus in the neighbouring community of Dempsey Hill in August 2017. The school is located within a newly-renovated and incredibly charming black and white heritage building that was formerly occupied by Tanderra and Between Two Trees Preschool. It is just a quick five-minute walk away from the trendy coffee shops of Dempsey Hill, where parents can often be seen post drop-off and pre pick-up.
The small and cosy campus has a playground, playing field, sandpit, school hall and a swimming pool. Looking ahead, the school plans to expand by opening several smaller campuses rather than one large one. It all seems to be part of the school’s masterplan to keep things small.
Admission and fees
There is a standard annual fee of $17,000 for all years, which is payable in five instalments throughout the year; this is really handy if you need to budget. Are there plenty of hidden fees to surprise you though? Thankfully, no. Budget for an additional $2,700 to cover the assessment test, academic field trips and uniform, and an optional $2,000 for IT equipment and $2,000 for co-curricular activities.
There are currently places available in all grades, although only a few spots left in the very busy Grade 3.
Cost aside, will Invictus measure up to other schools in Singapore? Only time will tell, but we will certainly be watching closely.
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