• Large campus with plenty of outdoor space
• Plenty of room for development and growth
• Basic but well-maintained and creative use of resources
Middleton’s Tampines campus feels worlds away from its sister site in Upper Bukit Timah. As well as being located 30 minutes away from the leafy suburb of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, Tampines has a newer, much larger and more urban campus. While some families may not warm to Middleton’s more remote, stripped-back campus, others will be drawn to its affordability, strong community spirit, and outdoor space.
As the school is very keen to stress, it’s the teachers and students who “make a place” rather than the infrastructure and facilities. This really shines through at Middleton, which may not have a state of the art campus but does have a hugely welcoming site with plenty of smiling, engaged and happy students.
One Grade 4 student, perhaps the strongest advocate for the school, told us: “It’s a great school. I like learning because the teachers here make it really fun using games and other stuff.”
What strikes you first about Middleton is the huge sense of space. Compared to the much smaller campuses in the EtonHouse family – and to other affordable schools such as Invictus and The Grange Institution – Middleton has a 77,500 sq ft sports field, a nearly 7,000 sq ft multi-purpose hall and 3,000 sq ft library. Although it doesn’t have the charm and cosy feel of other schools, it does have the room to grow into a well-resourced school. The big question, though, is will it have the budget to do so?
• Limited facilities
• Friendly, enthusiastic faculty but limited number of specialist teachers
• Small classrooms
If there’s one thing that Middleton has plenty of, it’s space. The school is housed within two three-storey blocks, with a large play area in the middle and a vast sports field at the front. Formerly a purpose-built, government-run vocational institution, this campus has been renovated to meet the needs of an all through school. The school feels about 50% complete and the secondary block is 'a work in progress' as Middleton prepares to launch Grade 8 from 2020; the primary block, however, is much more developed with facilities and classrooms for nursery through to Grade 7.
Whole-school facilities include reception (where parents can buy uniform and school supplies) and a multi-purpose school hall. A school hall is often the heart of any school, and this room is constantly used for assemblies and shows, as well as doubling up as a canteen during lunchbreaks.
“We offer one standard meal or a vegetarian dish. We don’t have the budget to offer a large comprehensive menu of dishes, but then it only averages about $5 a day including a morning snack.”
Other specialist facilities include a library and makerspace that are both very much in the making – the shelves in the library are only lightly stocked with books, and the makerspace was still being renovated during our visit. There is a library lesson once per week, and students can choose to sit at desks, on a 'grass' floor, in a leaf-covered den and or in beanbags. The school is using its initiative to cut costs here, such as borrowing 300 books from Singapore’s National Library every eight weeks to ensure that its collection remains current and constantly changing.
There is a large art room, which is a flexible space that can used by one or two classes. It’s a well-equipped classroom that may not have a kiln or 3D printer but still has boxes of art staples such as glue, crayons and paper. And, judging by the volume and variety of the art work displayed around the room, there is no shortage of creative talent and enthusiasm.
Students have plenty of room for playing sport and recreation. As well as the 77,500 sq ft sports field, there is a large indoor flexi area where we saw students playing basketball during a PE lesson.
There’s also a large outdoor play area, which was very evidently popular with students. We saw children of all ages playing with tyres and oil drums, swinging on wooden chairs, jumping on logs, climbing the play structures, and building their own obstacle courses. It’s a huge space that doesn’t feel overcrowded and we can’t imagine it will, even when the school is at full capacity. During break time we saw the principal Atima Joshi mixing with students in the play area, which is just one of many indicators that she is certainly not a leader who hides behind her desk.
On the wall outside is a mindfulness-style Which Will You Choose? wheel designed by students, which gives students the choice of actions such as apologising, taking turns and using their words. It’s all part of the school’s commitment to student wellbeing and happiness.
• Pods for every grade
• Welcoming learning environment in every classroom
• Glass-fronted classrooms
Every Grade pod has the same format – a cluster of four classrooms around a small central area. The classrooms are smaller than you’ll find at some of the top tier schools in Singapore but with an average of 22 students per class at the moment, they did not feel cramped; this could change once class sizes reach the maximum of 28 students. Desks are arranged in squares and rectangles and, although the classrooms are small, they were decorated with student work, well-lit and relaxed.
With its glass-fronted classrooms, there’s a great sense of transparency and collaboration at Middleton. It’s a school where teachers will share ideas, students are not hiding behind solid walls, and the principal is frequently spending time in class. Far from getting distracted we saw plenty of classes where students were focused, engaged with their teacher, and working enthusiastically with their peers.
We felt that teachers were engaging, friendly and well-liked by the students, and the children came across as confident, happy and engaged in their lessons. We also saw great levels of energy and enthusiasm from the teachers we observed in the classroom, from a Grade 4 Chinese class where students of varying abilities were working in small groups on different projects, to a kindergarten art class where children were working at desks and on the floor, colouring and using iPads.
In a sense, you don’t feel that Middleton is focused on running an affordable school, it’s more about offering a quality education. Although resources are limited, it is not cutting corners on the delivery of education. It may not have the makerspace with 3D printers and gadgets, but it is teaching students to be innovative and creative.
“Parents need to know that when they find a school, that it’s the right fit for them. It’s not only about the pocket.”
We ended our visit to Middleton in the principal’s office, where the walls are covered in student work. This is a school where students are sent by the teacher to visit Atima Joshi’s office and present their projects. It’s a school that believes strongly in celebrating student achievement, however large or small. And a school where Joshi and her team are dedicated to proving that money can’t buy you happiness but a creative, back to basics education can.
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