Nexus International School (Singapore) (NISS) is an all-through school in Bukit Timah that champions flexible learning spaces – and where a combination of the International Baccalaureate programme and the UK National Curriculum is taught within open plan, Google-style classrooms.
Personalised learning and collaboration. Nexus is putting these education buzzwords front and centre of its IB education for students aged three to 18 years. Using open plan classrooms and flexible learning spaces, Nexus has created a very child-centred school that can adapt to every student’s different learning styles and needs. And Nexus has knocked down the walls (literally) to create open-plan, Google-style classrooms where students can sit, stand, write, create, and work independently or within a group.
Learning spaces can change and move and there are very few traditional, boxed-in classrooms. It creates the ideal environment for a progressive school that is always developing new teaching models which support the inquiry-based learning of the IB programme. So, rather than finding a maths class working through a textbook of sums, you can expect to see students cracking codes to get into locked boxes. A science class may be developing a new green technology, and a language class could be following a Spanish recipe in the kitchen.
“We’ve been doing this for years, and we have schools from across Singapore visiting here to look at the learning spaces that we have.”
Opened in 2011, Nexus has a student body of 900 representing more than 50 different nationalities; the majority of students are British, Chinese and Australian. The class sizes range from 1:6 in nursery, 1:12 in Years 1-2, and 1:14 in Years 3-4 up to 1:19 in Years 5-6 and 1:24 in Years 7-13.
The school, which has a sister campus in Malaysia, is moving to a new purpose-built campus in Geylang in January 2020. As well as giving Nexus the capacity to increase its student body from 1,200 to 2,000, this new state-of-the-art campus has been designed to further develop the school’s strong focus on flexible learning.
There’s a real feeling that Nexus has learnt from the limitations of its existing space to design and build the ideal school for its flexible learning style.
"The whole school has been involved in the design process for the new campus, and our teachers have helped to design the innovative learning spaces. They know what spaces they need to teach and what our students need."
This all-through school follows the International Baccalaureate’s PYP at primary levels; Years 7-9 follow a modified English National Curriculum that works towards IGCSEs; and senior students study for the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP).
This is a hybrid curriculum that’s popular and widely adopted within international schools across Singapore. The British system and IB programme are both recognised globally, and combine the content and knowledge of IGCSEs with the higher-level critical thinking and analytical skills of the IB. By following the IB’s PYP, Nexus prepares students for the demands of the IBDP; for example, it gives students the research skills needed to complete the Extended Essay. Then, in the middle years, IGCSES are internationally recognised qualifications that offer students both breadth and specialisation; the exams also prepare them for the rigour of the IBDP.
The primary curriculum for three to 11-year-olds is based on the IB PYP, and follows Singapore standards for maths, UK and New Zealand standards for English, and the Australian Science curriculum. All children have the opportunity to learn French or Mandarin through intensive and immersive daily language lessons from specialist teachers. Other specialist classes include swimming, music, art. The key focus in the early years at Nexus, though, is play-based learning – and this is made possible in a dedicated nursery and kindergarten pod that is separate from the rest of the school.
In the secondary school, ages 11-16 years, students work towards their IGCSEs and then the IBDP in Years 12-13. In Years 7 to 9, teaching is based on an enhanced English National Curriculum framework, and covers the core subjects as well as the arts, PE and digital skills. In terms of languages, students continue to study either Mandarin or French, and in the IBDP they can choose Spanish as well.
As well as teaching a foreign language to all students from nursery through to Year 13, Nexus offers Mother Tongue classes after school. These change according to the nationality of the student body, but currently include Swedish, Polish, Russian and Tamil. There’s also an English class for parents, which highlights one of many ways in which the school is building its close-knit community.
Teaching here is guided by the so-called Nexus Way, which focuses on relationships, inclusion of all students ranging from the gifted and talented to those with learning needs, and innovation. The school is very keen to stress that innovation here is not simply about sitting behind a computer – instead it’s all about the teaching methods. Even without the most modern of campuses by Singapore’s standards, the school has created spaces to develop new pedagogical ideas – and we are excited to see how this will be developed even further at the new campus.
“Teachers teach in very different and unique ways here.”
Nexus supports this innovative approach to teaching with a very high training budget; for example, a team of teachers will soon be visiting an international school in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam to explore its innovative approach to learning in action. It’s positive to see Nexus learning from other schools in this way, as well as being so willing to share its ideas with the international school community within Singapore.
Digital technology is an integral part of the delivery of the curriculum delivery, and Nexus runs a 1:1 laptop programme from Year 6. It is an Apple Distinguished School, which highlights its efforts to create an innovative learning environment and use of digital resources and apps across a wealth of subjects.
The school’s makerspace is a hub for technology, and is equipped with CAD software, robotics, 3D printers, scanners and large format printers. More important than having the equipment, though, is knowing how and when to use it. What comes across at Nexus is that teachers are committed to integrating these innovative learning technologies into the classroom – and using them to aid learning in all subjects, in all year groups.
What does the school feel like? Get the Nexus Experience here.
Sport and the arts
In addition to the PE curriculum, Nexus has an impressive swim programme – and its squad is well-known on the Singapore swimming circuit. Swimming is taught from nursery, and there are opportunities for students to be selected for the school’s swim squad and its elite swim squad. As well as being a member of the Athletic Conference of Singapore International Schools (ACSIS), and entering squads in local, regional and global tournaments, Nexus is one of only a few international schools in Singapore to be approved for full membership of the Singapore Swimming Association (SSA); this allows its students to compete nationally and internationally.
The school also offers two-year swimming scholarships to its Elite Swimming Programme, which entitles students to up to a 50% reduction in their tuition fees, free swim training sessions, and a dedicated mentor to advise them on diet and nutrition. Looking ahead, the new campus has been designed to improve training opportunities for all swimmers. For example, the swim centre will have a training pool for its elite athletes and there will be a shallower learner’s pool.
There’s no denying that Nexus also respects and values the arts as an essential element to any well-rounded education. With facilities including music practice rooms, art rooms and a theatre – and specialist teachers for music, art and drama – there is plenty of opportunity for students to explore their artistic interests through productions and concerts, exhibitions and competitions.
Music education is available at most schools – if you’re prepared to pay for it – and Nexus is no different. The school works in partnership with the highly regarded Aureus Academy to offer instrumental lessons for students in kindergarten to Year 13. Lessons are either held after school or during the school day; if the latter, lessons are usually scheduled on a rotating timetable to ensure that students don’t consistently miss the same class.
Once again, we can see examples of Nexus bringing the student community together, whether by staging a whole-school production of the Wizard of Oz or by hosting a family festival where all school choirs, bands, ensembles and parent bands will be performing.
At the new campus, we can expect to see jam rooms, recording studios, mixing desks, kilns, two black boxes and a theatre. There are also hopes that the new central site will bring students closer to local arts groups in the Geylang area, so parents can expect to see more artist in residence workshops and events.
“Art and sport are equally weighted here. Just as you’ll see the swimmers training in the pool before school, you’ll find the choir practising from 7.15am.”
Beyond the classroom
Students are encouraged to take the lead and leave the classroom at Nexus. For example, Year 4 students are expected to organise their own sleepover for their annual overnight trip; students have built a vertical garden in the school lobby; and young entrepreneurs can often be seen squeezing fresh oranges at the front of school and sell juice. And, unlike most typical school tours which are led by admissions staff, school tours on open days are hosted by the students themselves.
“The children very much lead on what we do here.”
In addition to the core curriculum, there are regular field trips and Nexus encourages students to participate in a wide range of after-school activities; there are more than 90 after-school activities available, which are as varied as Dungeons and Dragons to taekwondo.
The cheerful blue and white exterior really sums up the positive, happy environment you feel at this school. As well as providing a welcoming environment for students, Nexus has built up positive relationships with its parent community. This is a school where parents organise BBQs for swim galas, the school hosts workshops for parents, and the Nexus Parent Group has its own Facebook page.
Nexus is optimistic that, while it will be slowly increasing its student body at its new larger campus, it can hold onto its strong community spirit. For example, the new swimming pool will have shaded parent seating and access to a parent café, and there will be parent lounges and workspaces for mums and dads to use for working lunches, while waiting for pick-ups etc.
In terms of pastoral care, Nexus makes the effort to ensure its students are happy and settled socially. For example, mindfulness classes are held throughout the school, and an annual Are You Okay? mental health awareness week is run by a student council group. The school also embraces its international student body by celebrating a host of different global festivals, giving children the exposure to many different cultures.
“Our families really value the different cultures represented at the school.”
Leadership and faculty
Principal Judy Cooper joined Nexus in 2017 and is described as “very present and in the classrooms”. She leads a team of international teachers and, based on the high staff retention rates – there is just a 10% turnover for the 2019-20 academic year – teachers here are clearly happy in their job.
Nexus International School provided WhichSchoolAdvisor.com with its IB Diploma results for 2018, a level of transparency that we encourage and applaud. Whilst no school should be judged by academic results alone, they are inevitably an important consideration for parents when selecting a school.
The official IB results, as evidenced by the IB system, are as follows:
This is an impressive set of results. Nexus is an inclusive and non-selective school, with a diverse group of learners who achieved an average of 33 points, 3.2 points above the global average. Four students (11%) of the cohort achieved 41 points. A pass rate of 75% is slightly below the global average, but an achievement of 41 points is significantly above the global average and places the students concerned among the top 5% of students worldwide. 25% of the Diplomas awarded were bilingual, which is a considerable achievement.
“We are inclusive and holistic – and still getting the results.”
Nexus students come from across the world; this particular cohort has nationals from Australia, Russia, China, Canada, Singapore, Malaysia, UK, Norway, India, Japan and Cambodia. Graduates have been accepted to London School of Economics (Accounting), University of York (Politics & History), and Nangyang Technology University (Artificial Intelligence), as well as universities across Europe, USA and Canada.
Campus and facilities
The school will move to a new vertical campus in Geylang in January 2020, where the primary school will be based on the lower floors; a double-storey library, sports halls, play deck and other communal areas in the middle floors; and the secondary school on the upper floors.
Get a sneak peek at the new Nexus campus here.
Admission and fees
Nexus fees range from $21,666 in nursery up to $38,584 in Year 12, which places it in the mid-range schools’ bracket. There’s also an annual capital levy of $1,712, which is lower than at many top-tier schools.
The school says that "there are no plans to make significant changes" to fees once Nexus moves to the new site, and hopefully parents can expect to pay the usual annual fee increase only.
Both academic and swimming scholarships are available, and the school does offer sibling discounts.
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