Read our review of The Perse School, Singapore here.
The question for parents is whether they are searching for the look and feel of a UK school or the rigour and style of education that it offers?
The Perse can hopefully deliver the latter; as a school that has managed to keep its costs lows by renovating an existing building, it simply cannot have the turreted English architecture of Dulwich College (Singapore) or the bells and whistles of the new NLCS (Singapore). While environment is important, it’s essential to look at what is being taught inside these classrooms too.
There are 20 classrooms spread over three floors, all with modern furniture. While some are well-lit rooms with large windows and views across to the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, others have no windows and rely on artificial lighting. Yes, there are schools in Singapore with larger, naturally-lit classrooms and huge breakout areas – and yes, The Perse may feel too compact for some. However, it’s important to remember that students are moving around the campus throughout any school day. While core subjects are taught within a form room, specialist subjects such as Singaporean maths, Chinese, science, art, PE and music are all taught within dedicated rooms.
These specialist classrooms are definitely equipped for their purpose. There’s a music room filled with ukuleles and even handbells, giving students the opportunity to try a new instrument every term. But what really stands out here are the two science labs, which are a rarity in standalone primary schools.
Equipped with bench-style seating, Bunsen burners, beakers, test tubes, goggles and lab coats, these two labs are certainly a jewel in The Perse’s crown; as founding principal Claire Bell (who has since left the school) proudly tells us, The Perse UK “loved them so much that they copied the designs and built them at the Cambridge campus.” Used for experiments ranging from slime-making in chemistry to evaporation in action, the labs give students hands-on experience of the science curriculum.
“We want them to feel like little scientists when they come in here, and test themselves as much as possible. Primary children don’t normally have access to hands-on science like this”, says Bell.
Someone with a keen eye for design has successfully managed to transform a commercial space into a modern school – and it’s now hard to imagine the area being used as a showroom for sofas and dining tables. While the school has not dared to be too adventurous, it feels practical with some elements of fun. There’s an activity room where students can play basketball, giant Connect 4, draw on walls, play floor games and read books; the Reading Room with rugs and shelves of books; and a Think Pad carpeted with fake grass.
As you’d expect from any school in the affordable sector, it doesn’t have the Olympic-sized swimming pool, athletics track, professional theatre or FIFA-style sports pitches. The real issue for some parents though will be the complete lack of outdoor space – there’s no climbing equipment for a physical workout or playground to enjoy the fresh air. Instead, students can (and do) walk to the nearby Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, which has an outdoor learning area, accessed by a bridge across the Upper Bukit Timah Road.
Bell adds: “There are a number of areas that the students can use inside the school for break times, and we’ve tried to give them activity areas where they can let off steam and calm zones for some quiet time.”
The Perse has needed to be creative with its use of limited space. Everything in its multi-purpose hall is portable, so there are partition walls, plenty of storage and stackable chairs and tables. It also comes across as a very neat campus, where resources are tidied away behind white cupboard doors in a very orderly Singaporean way.
Every classroom is unique to the teacher and age-appropriate, and while some have rows of individual desks others have u-shaped formations of tables. Bell adds: “It all comes down to how the teacher is comfortable teaching her class.
"The main thing is that we have as much continuity in their learning throughout the school. So, in every classroom, every teacher will put up their WALT – What Are We Learning Today?”
We visited the school only four weeks after it opened, and The Perse is still in its infancy. Without the presence of many students in the classrooms and corridors, it feels new and functional. The classroom walls are still bare, but Bell assured us that these will soon be filled with learning displays and students’ work. For example, students will soon be creating their own splatter wall to brighten up the art room, and they will paint the countries on a world map that has been sketched on one of the corridor walls.
“We don’t want a school that looks too sterile and we need to incite the children with their learning. We need displays that are both relevant to the students’ learning and involve the students’ work. We’re only a few weeks in, though, and we only have a few children at the moment,” she says.
Located along the busy Upper Bukit Timah Road, The Perse has limited parking; once the school is at full capacity of 400-plus, it may get very congested at the front of the building during drop-off and pick-up times. In terms of security, the school has a keypad door entry system and the reception desk is at the very front of the building. Once inside, the school is easily accessed by the stairs and lifts.
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