By blending the full International Baccalaureate curriculum and the American curriculum – with a healthy helping of innovation and technology – SAIS has the formula for a global education.
Looking for an all-through school with an international curriculum that’s rooted in American standards, champions innovation, offers multiple graduating paths, and has a strong world language programme? Well, Stamford American International School (SAIS) may just tick all the boxes.
The school enrols children aged 18 months through to 18 years across its two campuses – the Early Learning Village in Serangoon and the main campus for Grade 1-12 in the central district of Toa Payoh. The early years’ centre has been designed and developed exclusively for little people. Shared with Australian International School, another Cognita school, The Village is described as the largest pre-school campus in the world. The campuses are located just 10 minutes apart, and a shuttle bus service runs between the two sites.
The school says: “We’re one school across two campuses and the Early Learning Village is an extension of what we have here. For example, Pre-K will visit the campus here for different events, our older students act as mentors, and we hold annual events such as the International Fiesta on both campuses.”
Read more about the SAIS Early Learning Village here.
Students at the main campus follow the IB’s Primary Years Programme (PYP), Middle Years Programme (MYP) and International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP). All teaching and learning is based on the challenging American Education Reaches Out (AERO) standards, a US framework for curriculum consistency in Kindergarten through to Grade 12. And SAIS is the first and only school in Singapore to offer students a choice of the IB Diploma or Advanced Placement (AP) programme, as well as pre-university testing from Grade 8 to graduation.
The school brings innovation to the fore at its unique Innovation Centre, where it works with Bloomberg and Microsoft to “make amazing things happen.” Innovative learning focuses on robotics, 3D printing, electronics, computing and much more. Activities here range from participating in a LEGO Robotics Sumo Competition to designing a new light table for an early years’ classroom.
Established in 2009, SAIS is a relatively new kid on the block. However, it has quickly earned itself a reputation for high standards and innovative learning. SAIS is part of the international Cognita group of schools, which has headquarters in the UK and educates 40,000 pupils in 70 schools worldwide.
Today, more than 3,000 students are enrolled at this leading US-centric school. There are more than 75 nationalities in the school but it’s unsurprising that the highest percentage of students are from the US; it’s also popular with British expats, as well as students from Asia, Australia and Europe.
It’s hard not be dazzled by the educational and recreational facilities on SAIS’ cutting edge $300 million campus, which it moved to in 2012. With one of the largest investments in an educational facility in the Asia-Pacific, SAIS offers some impressive facilities – from a state-of-the-art technology centre and professional theatre through to swimming pools and a golf academy swing studio.
SAIS is one of seven international schools in Singapore to offer the IB continuum; teaching all three IB programmes can really help students to develop the skills and knowledge base needed to meet the demands of the IBDP. And, by following a curriculum that’s based on the AERO and Common Core Plus frameworks, you can expect a strong focus on the arts, language, maths, science, PE and social studies here. It also means that an SAIS education is consistent with American stateside schools.
Students’ progress is tracked by US-led Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessments twice a year in maths and reading; Grades 3 and above are also assessed in science. Class sizes are capped at 24 students, which is smaller than some other top-tier international schools in Singapore.
In the elementary school (KG to Grade 5) the IB Primary Years Programme (PYP) covers the core subjects, social studies, art, music, dance, PE and library. From Grades 6 to 10 students follow the IB’s Middle Years Programme (MYP) – with subjects including language and literature (English), maths, science, individuals and societies, language, the arts, design and PE. Unlike some other IB schools in Singapore, though, SAIS does not offer the option of taking IGCSEs.
The school says: “The PYP and MYP is enough to prepare students for either the IBDP or the AP pathway, and they still have access to UK universities without having IGCSEs.”
In the last two years of secondary school, students decide whether to follow either the IBDP or AP pathway; in Grades 11-12, students can choose from more than 40 IB courses or more than 15 AP courses. All students graduate with a US accredited High School Diploma, if they qualify.
The school says: “We’re currently heavy on the IB programme, and 75% of our students are taking this pathway.”
A standout feature of SAIS curriculum is its World Language Programme. Elementary students have daily Mandarin or Spanish lessons, with every child being streamed into one of seven ability groups for each language. There’s also the option of signing up to a bilingual programme in Mandarin and English for KG to Grade 5, and an after-school mother tongue programme offering lessons in more than 15 different languages including French, Russian, Hindi, Hebrew and Dutch.
Technology and innovation
There are plenty of opportunities for students to explore technology in the school’s well-equipped makerspace and Innovation Centre. Also, e-learning at SAIS is not just an add-on, it’s an integral part of most lessons. The 1:1 iPad programme from Kindergarten to Grade 5 and the 1:1 MacBook programme in Grades 6 to 12 allow teachers to customise learning experiences; this is supported by Apple TVs in every classroom and video conferencing with international guest lecturers via Cognita iLEarn.
Some parents may be concerned that children from as young as five are working on their own iPad. It is reassuring though to hear that the school is a strong advocate of the Common Sense Digital Citizenship programme, which focuses on issues such as online safety, cyberbullying, plagiarism and the invasion of privacy.
STEM is certainly not an isolated lesson at SAIS and it is “entwined in everything the students learn”. Teachers appear to be well-equipped to integrate technology into the classroom, thanks to regular on-campus training and the support of a strong IT team. There are also plenty of examples of how SAIS students are actively encouraged to be innovative and forward-thinking.
Students compete in an annual innovators competition, which sees them develop their own apps and compete against peers in the UK. The school adopted a project put forward by an MYP to install solar panels on every rooftop that generate power for the campus. And Grade 4 and 5 children can apply to join Techspert, a student-led technology leadership group; this groupo of 12 students teach their peers and faculty, organise after-school parent sessions, and speak at conferences, schools and companies.
Looking ahead, SAIS will be a hosting a week-long Young Explorers event that’s focused on space and STEM. Schools from across Singapore will be invited to attend workshops hosted by astronauts, engineers, pilots, mathematicians and more.
The school says: “We have the makerspaces, we have the innovation centre, and we’re a 1:1 school because we’re not thinking about the now, we’re thinking about the future. Whereas out generation may be using technology for productivity, our students are using it to create. That’s the real difference. We’re not using tech for tech’s sake here, and that’s really important.”
Sport and the arts
As you’d expect from a school with such a big American ‘heart’, there’s a strong focus on sport. There are two large indoor gyms, one for elementary and one for the high school, a fully equipped gymnastics centre, sports pitches, two swimming pools, rooftop tennis courts, dance studios and a rock–climbing wall.
International schools in Singapore have some truly outstanding sports facilities but not many, if any, can boast having their own golf academy with putting greens and a swing studio. As well as teaching golf as an extra-curricular activity, SAIS celebrates popular US sports such as baseball and softball; after-school, it also offers year-round gymnastics classes and a soccer programme that’s run by the Real Madrid Foundation Football School. The school fields teams in SESAC and the Athletic Conference of Singapore International Schools (ACSIS) and, judging by the trophies on the wall, their Lions teams are doing very well.
The performing arts also play a key role in the SAIS curriculum. The International Baccalaureate programme dedicates both time and resources to the arts – and the school has the facilities to deliver this.
The IB’s Primary Years Programme includes dance, drama, music and visual arts. During the Middle Years Programme (MYP), all students study three arts programmes from Grades 6 to 8: one visual arts, one performing arts, and one design course. Students then go on to study one of these fields during Grades 9 and 10, and end the programme with an art showcase in Grade 10. Students can make full use of the school’s 500-seat theatre with a 60 sq m LED backdrop screen, and art, music and drama rooms.
Many schools will offer nursery and primary students the opportunity to learn an instrument. But SAIS is the first and only school in Singapore to offer the world-renowned Suzuki Violin Programme from the age of three, with the option to progress to the cello from the age of five. As well as music lessons, there are more than 20 choral, string, orchestral and rock ensembles within the school, and several concerts and plays are staged annually. Middle and high school students take part in a school performance at the end of every semester, from tap dancing in 42nd Street to singing in Grease.
The school says: “The students can try everything here from working in make-up, to working on lighting and sound in the control room, to singing, acting and dancing on stage.”
Beyond the classroom
SAIS goes the extra mile to inspire its students to be global citizens. As well as teaching Mandarin or Spanish from as young as 18 months, its field studies programme takes students outside the classroom to engage with real life problems; previous trips have included Cambodia, Thailand and Nepal. There are also opportunities for students to attend exchange visits with students from other Cognita schools, which is a benefit of being part of a global education group.
The school aims to connect students with the “best and the brightest” from the outside world through various programmes, which have seen industry experts such as Nobel Laureates, poets, artists, authors, the Bloomberg chairman and Olympic medallists meet students face to face. There’s also a mentor programme that brings in parents to present workshops during the school’s Career Week. Admin staff and teachers also mentor students, and even the superintendent Eric Sands and the CEO of Cognita Chris Jansen mentor some Grade 5 students.
Outside school hours, Stamford's Athletics Programme fields 91 competitive teams in sports including soccer, basketball, swimming, tennis, rugby, touch rugby, volleyball, cross country, track and field, badminton, gymnastics, softball and golf. There are also more than 350 CCAs offered every semester, so students can’t really complain that there’s nothing to interest them!
The school says: “Everyone can find a passion or a niche that interests them. They don’t get forced into athletics or music, they can all find something from them. There’s a wide choice of activities to choose from.”
“One of the first things I think the students would say if you met them on the school gate would be that SAIS has a warm and welcoming community. That passes from the students to the teachers to the parents.”
These words by superintendent Eric Sands are certainly backed up by one Grade 12 student who, when speaking at the Cognita Leadership Conference 2019, said:
“Not only does Stamford provide world class amenities for students to indulge in their passions and create an impact on the future world through their excellence but also provides a family to every single member.
"Stamford is a place I genuinely like to go back to every morning, it’s a place where every turn I there will be someone smiling or waving or ready to make sure that you’re at home.”
In terms of student wellbeing, SAIS is eagerly following the Cognita’s group strong lead on pastoral care. As an example of this, it will be taking part in Cognita’s annual Be Well Day in September, when all lessons are put on hold while students take part in mindfulness classes, and attend workshops about health and wellbeing.
“We then need to make sure that the pattern of behaviour that we start here continues, because we know that it’s important, particularly with the schedules that our students have.”
Parents are also extended a warm welcome into the school community. As well as having an active PTA, where every country represented by school has an ‘ambassador’ “help all parents feel connected”; there are plenty of school events and volunteering opportunities; and SAIS can even offer you a coffee at one of the parent cafes on campus.
Parent boot camps and PT sessions in the mornings and afternoons, helping to bring families together, and in elementary every class has a room parent who stays connected with the parents on events such as a class picnic. The school runs bi-monthly Parent University morning sessions, where parents can learn about issues such as education, the IB programmes, university applications and Singapore laws, which attracts around 250 students every time.
The school says: “It’s important for the parents to understand the how and the why of what we are teaching. Because we have such an international student body, families are coming here with very different educational experiences.”
"As an international school where people come from everywhere, we become the family. They need somewhere where they belong, so what we do for our school community is important."
Leadership and faculty
Superintendent Dr Eric Sands says: “We have students from 77 different nationalities and faculty representing 15 different countries. So, when hiring for SAIS, we’re not only looking for the best teachers but also complement the blend of needs that we have here as a result of the different nationalities.”
The school’s third Grade 12 cohort graduated from the IBDP in 2019 with an average score of 31; the previous year’s score was 32.2. This is higher than the global average, but short of Singapore’s highest performing schools. The AP cohort in 2019 achieved an average score of 3.58 out of 5.
• Average score: 31
• Pass rate: 90%
• Highest score: 40
• No. students achieved the bilingual diploma: 13%
High School Principal, Ocki Fernandes, said, “I am delighted by the results of our fourth graduating class. The number of students taking IB exams almost doubled in one year and I attribute the success of all of our students, to hard work, commitment and effort.
"Moreover, the strong and positive relationship between students and teachers led to 90 % of our students' final scores being within 1% of their predicted grades. Colleges and universities value schools which accurately and consistently predict grades and academic achievement."
90% of students were accepted to their first or second choice university. Students went on to study at universities in the US, UK, Canada, Netherlands, Australia, Singapore, Switzerland, Spain, India, Japan and the Philippines.
Conveniently located in central Singapore, the main campus is a short drive from most expat communities, and the Early Learning Village is only a ten-minute drive away. First-class facilities across the school’s two campuses include three swimming pools, two rooftop tennis courts, an all-weather sports field, two rock climbing walls, two indoor sports arenas, and a golf academy. There’s also an Innovation Centre, makerspace and 500-seat Reagan Theatre equipped with an LED backdrop screen.
What does the school feel like? Get the SAIS Campus Experience here.
Admission and fees
Fees at the Woodleigh Lane campus range from $37,594 for Grade 1 to $42,590 for Grade 12, which includes an annual technology fee. There is an additional fee for mandatory academic field studies from Grade 3 to Grade 12, which ranges from $191 to $3,797, and a facility fee of $6,490.
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