The School Debate: Singapore vs. The UK

The School Debate: Singapore vs. The UK

I’m not homesick exactly. But this week the reality of what life in the UK would have entailed has been inescapable. For this week, had we remained in the UK, Clara would be starting school. And I’m not sad that she isn’t exactly. It’s not that simple. I don’t wish we were back there either. But there’s something about watching the lives of her little friends back home moving on to school that feels like the chasm of distance is widening more. Even if we weren’t going down the home schooling route, Clara would still be in pre-school here. And she’d be in pre-school until 2020!!! How very different those two lives seem all of a sudden.

Her friends from home, or at least the children of my friends, are flooding Facebook right now. So many nervous little faces looking squeaky clean and ready to take the next big step into childhood. You’ve seen the pictures I’m sure. Neatly pressed school uniforms bought in a size that includes “growing room”, and shiny black shoes from Clarks. Every child has to go through the humiliation of the doorstep photo shoot. It’s part of childhood. But not a part of childhood for Clara. Not for a long, long time anyway. In a way she’s missed out on something that Finn’s had. Granted, he didn’t have a first day at school photo either but he had a first day at pre-school photo which was broadly similar. Or at least, he was wearing a slightly baggy uniform and seemed far too little to be sent marching into a classroom.

Even if we did decide to send the kiddies to an international school here, the doorstep photo wouldn’t be the same. Not even close. Lack of physical doorstep aside, they’d be in Singapore appropriate uniform. Absolutely no chance of shirts, ties, and wool blazers here. In fact, even wearing black school shoes seems to be optional with most kids in white trainers. It’s not the same. But then, very little is when you live thousands of miles from home. I know it sounds so silly, I do appreciate that. I’m having a blub over the fact my daughter isn’t starting school this week, meanwhile in the UK there are parents everywhere biting their lip as they wave goodbye to their four year olds. To be honest, I’d probably shed a tear if we were there too.

Clara is my baby and she (we) are having a whale of a time at home still. I’m not sure she is ready for school, which isn’t a decision I’d have been easily able to make in the UK. The school year starts in September and a delayed start (to the following January for example) is only granted at the discretion of the school. Clara is a bright little spark (I know, we all say that about our offspring), but emotionally she’s not ready. She would be fairly young in her school year and I think it shows. And no, I don’t think by being available to her for a while longer at home is perpetuating this problem. I just think I still have work to do to set up to be ready for a formal education setting.

My personal feelings aside, the age at which a child should start their formal education is a hotly debated topic. A recent report from Stanford University suggests that “kids whose parents waited to enroll them in kindergarten by age 6 (instead of 5) had measurably better scores on tests of self-control by the time they were 7 and 11”. And yet the majority of British kids start school at age 4 and will turn 5 during that academic year. In Singapore the age for compulsory school is the year (Jan-Dec) in which the child turns 7. This means a cohort of 6 year old’s, and using Finn as an example, the occasional 7 year old (he has an early January birthday). I can’t imagine starting my formal education at age 7. By being in Singapore rather than the UK Finn has managed to acquire an additional three years of childhood. 

Singapore’s schooling is intense, but that combined with a delayed start has meant an education system consistently ranked as one of the best in the world. In fact, Singapore came out on top in last years Pisa rankings and is far ahead of the middle-ranking UK. What is most interesting about this data though, aside from the age question, is that Singapore manages to achieve top results in all areas with no correlation to the socio-economic status of students. And trust me, there are plenty of disadvantaged families here too.

I don’t know whether we’ll still be living in Singapore by January 2020 when Clara would be starting school. It seems too far away in the future to know for certain. But as September 2017 brings the predictable onslaught of first day pictures, I’m quietly pleased that Clara isn’t one of them. Unintentionally we’ve gained more years of childhood freedom than I ever thought we would have. And whilst we are in the throes of home schooling with the intention of slotting Finn and Clara into school at some point, the question very much remains- when and where?





  1. September 7, 2017 / 12:59 am

    Interesting read and most certainly a debatable topic among many. I’m an elementary teacher in the U.S. and the demands are high for our youngest children. They are expected to do so much but there are so many gaps in learning. Teachers are struggling more than ever to meet the demands of the educational system. Do what you think is right for your little one.

  2. Shell
    September 7, 2017 / 2:18 am

    I found our schools in the US lacking for my son with special needs so we homeschool him…. follow your heart and you will find the right path for your little one…

  3. Priyadarshini Rajendran
    September 7, 2017 / 5:22 am

    I have read your posts about living away from home earlier too and I totally agree with your perspective. School is something even I as an expat have strong feelings about.

  4. margsstu
    September 7, 2017 / 4:20 pm

    That is really interesting. I think in the US I just missed the cut off for being held back, and sometimes I wonder if I would have done better had I been older. But I suppose every child is different.

    • The Expat Mama
      September 8, 2017 / 6:57 am

      Yes and I think that’s the crux of it all- every child is different and some thrive in each education system.

  5. Bianca
    September 7, 2017 / 4:20 pm

    I have family in Singapore and their schooling system is super nuts. My cousin had an early morning physical education class at like 6 AM for a few years while she was huskier. She also has a passion for art, which I guess school in Singapore don’t support much so she is looking to go to a university in the US. Though, she would be a 16 year old in college so not sure how that would work.

    • The Expat Mama
      September 8, 2017 / 6:55 am

      Yes it’s pretty intense! And I don’t think the system values creativity enough, at least certainly nowhere near as much as the UK and US for example. The academic results are undeniable, but at what cost?

  6. September 7, 2017 / 5:20 pm

    Education is so important. I enjoyed reading your perspective and opinion on this topic. There is a lot to think about but I know you will make the best decision for you and your family. Whatever you choose, go boldly and be willing to learn along the way. Much Success.

  7. September 8, 2017 / 12:32 am

    Such an interesting perspective and fascinating topic. This definitely is a difficult decision, but I am certain that you’ll follow your heart to make the best possible decision for your children.

  8. September 8, 2017 / 4:42 am

    This was such an interesting read! Thanks so much for sharing your perspective on this topic.

  9. September 11, 2017 / 12:44 pm

    I don’t know if I’d say it is hotly debated… All the research seems to support a later start, similar to in Singapore. It’s just the practice in many countries that is different. But I agree that it can be tough raising your kids in a different country than your peers–it always seems that I can’t/don’t meet the standards of my home country (U.S.) or adopted one (currently Norway, previously the Czech Republic) and sometimes it makes me feel very alone.

  10. September 16, 2017 / 7:47 am

    Oh this is a great post and very interesting read. I am debating the home schooling vs school route and am also concerned about schooling from auch a young age which has widely been proven to be detrimental to children. However, I wonder if in Singapore children are in preschool full time? In much of Europe although they don’t start formal schooling until 6 or 7 they are often in preschool from aged 3 full time.