The expat guide to schooling options in Singapore

1) International Schools

I cannot offer a better list than what wikipedia already does so I shall point you to that instead.

The more popular ones are Tanglin Trust School, Singapore American School and United World College. They also incidentally are the more expensive ones. Then there are the slightly cheaper options like Chinese International Schools which may be a cheaper option for expats who are put off by the popular schools’ fees but yet don’t like the overly rigorous local syllabus or some aspect or the other of the local schools. Expats from certaion countries may also wish to put their children in international schools running the syllabus in their home country in anticipation of returning to their home country in the near future.

2) International arms of local Schools

There are 3 local independent schools that have an international school arm: Hwa Chong International School (; ACS International (Anglo Chinese School International) (; St Joseph Institution International (

To my mind, the quality of the local school arms of these schools are in the exact order set up above. HC followed by ACS folled by SJI. That’s not to say the international school is the best though, because for the local schools entrance is merit based so when you start with a bunch of bright students you end up with good results regardless of teaching standards. But the international school its attended by whoever can afford the fees and entrance is not as merit based I would think. I’m also biased of course because I attended Hwa Chong Junior College which was one of the schools that merged to form Hwa Chong Institution. But I do have some objective basis for what I say as the ministry of education releases school rankings back then (doesn’t anymore) and in the few years where I did watch school rankings, generally Hwa Chong Junior College was ranked either 1st or 2nd, Anglo-Chinese Junior College was ranked something like 7th and St Joseph Institution does not have a Junior College. At the secondary level, again around the time when I was watching the rankings The Chinese High School (the other school that merged to form Hwa Chong Institution) was ranked roughly between 2nd and 4th. ACS has 2 schools, the better of which (ACS independent) is ranked maybe somewhere around 15th, the other (Barker) was ranked low enough to be off my radar screen. Ditto St Joseph’s institution, off my radar screen. I say they’re off my radar screen but they’re still ranked above average among hundred odd Singapore schools and they all used to (before my time) be attended by the well to do so have a lot of alumni in high places in the political and business arena.

Even though MOE stopped releasing official school rankings, we Singaporeans cannot do without our lists so there are still “rankings” sorted based on the entrance criteria ( which I guess roughly reflects the popularity of schools but not necessarily the quality or output. In any case its still a rough guide – Hwa Chong 5th (sobs, how did it drop to 5th??) ACS(I) 9th, SJI 20th, ACS Barker 79th (oops, that’s seriously low down the list. And this is the ORIGINAL ACS! How times change……)

The SJI International seems to be best in marketing though because a lot of expats I’ve spoken to think it is great and for some reason believe that SJI is one of the top schools in Singapore. I guess “top” is relative. Another reason for its popularity is that it’s the only one that runs an elementary school. The other only provide high school education, so SJI has the advantage of tying in the younger ones who then will be likely to continue there at the high school level.

Do note, however, that these school have the “advantage” of offering the IB program but they are ultimately quite local in the sense that a larger proportion of their teachers will be local (for parents concerned about accent / Singlish) and management will be local so I would think the structure of the classes would not be completely free of local educational standards’ influences.

3) Local schools

At the primary one level, admission is via this complex system that is only relevant for local children which I may go into in a separate post but generally is not relevant for expats. Foreign students are given last priority in the system, which is fair because local education should provide for locals as a priority. This does mean that expats wishing to enter local primary schools have little chance of getting their school of choice. This may not matter as entrance is not merit based and teachers are centrally assigned to schools by the ministry of education so there is theoretically little reason for one school to be much better than another. Yet historical trends do show that some schools consistently outperform others so you’ve got to make your own assessment. Getting priority by any backdoor method including donations or via connections is strictly speaking not allowed but stories of that happening continue to spread among the public. If you have friends who are part of school management of school advisory committee or high up in politics you can try asking. I do not personally know of any such avenues.

After the primary one entrance, it is possible to ask for transfer to a different school if the school of choice has vacancies. An entrance exam is typically required and officially priority is supposed to be given to Singaporeans. However, as the transfer process is administered by teh schools themselves, there may be more flexibility, especially at the independent schools.

At the high school level, entrance is entirely by merit based on primary school leaving exam grades though there are stories galore of entry into certain of the independent schools by donation. I have no idea how this is done. From the unverified stories I heard, for some schools you apparently just need to hint at it to people sufficiently senior in the school (Principal, head of department etc) and the amount doesn’t need to be ridiculous (5 figures?) while for other schools you need serious connections to twist the arm of the Principal and be prepared to come up with 6 figures. But these may well be urban legands.

If the child didn’t go through the local system at the primary level, the official way to get into local high schools is to apply through the school, if there are vacancies they will allow applicants to sit for an entrance exam. Local students who didn’t get into their school of choice based on primary school leaving exam results also try to get transferred into their school of choice via this route.

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