Annex 4: Note of the Committee's visit
to Singapore, 5-8 February 2012|
This note offers a record of the visit to Singapore
undertaken by six members of the Education Committee. The visit
aimed to establish greater clarity over Singaporean attitudes
to, and policy regarding, teacher recruitment, training and retention,
so that the UK might learn from such a high-performing education
Members in attendance: Graham Stuart MP (Chair),
Alex Cunningham MP, Pat Glass MP, Ian Mearns MP, Lisa Nandy MP,
Craig Whittaker MP
SINGAPORE MINISTRY OF EDUCATION
Ms Ho Peng,
Director General of Education, Ministry of Education and other
Mr Mano, Executive Director,
Academy of Singapore Teachers
The Ministry of Education (MoE) directs the formulation
and implementation of education policies. It has control of the
development and administration of the Government and Government-aided
primary schools, secondary schools, junior colleges, and a centralised
institute. It also registers private schools.
The Academy of Singapore Teachers (AST) was set up to
spearhead the professional development of MOE staff. AST
together with the other teacher academies aim to build communities
of practice for like-minded professionals of subject disciplines,
for teachers to come together and learn from one another,
developing stronger camaraderie.
The stated Functions of the AST are to:
- Champion the ethos of the profession
- Foster a teacher-led culture of collaborative
- Build a culture of continuous learning and improvement
- Build a culture of care and support
Ho Peng began by welcoming the Committee to Singapore,
and emphasising that the Singaporean education system "bears
the imprint" of UK practice. MoE colleagues explained that,
between 1979 and 1996, Singapore operated an 'efficiency driven'
education system, which became an 'ability based, aspiration driven'
system from 1997 until 2011. Now, Singaporean education has entered
a phase which officials described as 'student-centric, value driven'.
Singapore places great importance on having a 'national education
system', with a range of options (including vocational education)
for different students.
Singapore does not operate school inspection in the
same way as the UK, but nonetheless has clear accountability for
schools: superintendents mentor clusters of schools, and MoE officials
visit schools every five years to validate self-evaluations of
performance. People are seen as Singapore's only natural resource,
and great emphasis is therefore placed on their developmentincluding
of the 500,000 or so children in the country. Spending on education
has risen in recent years and now has one of the largest budgets
of any Government department. Learning from international evidence,
Singapore has developed a set of 'twenty-first century competencies'
for schools, and is now undertaking further work on how to measure
and evaluate these most effectively. Central to this vision is
a strong concept of 'character and citizenship education', where
ownership is school-based. (One colleague present noted that top-down
imposition rarely works in such fields.)
The school curriculum in Singapore includes tuition
in both English and 'mother tongue': students' cultural heritage
is deemed important. The Singaporean economy and opportunities
for employment have necessitated a strong focus on maths and science
in the curriculum, which in turn have strengthened the economy
and Singapore's international standing. However, there is a recognition
that, as one official said, "not all children will be good
in academic areas", and resultantly Singapore has developed
its curricula in the arts, sport, and vocational subject in recent
years. In this, and other regards, officials explained that the
Singapore system is not complacent despite its high ranking
in PISA tablesand believes that "there is always room
Schools' outstanding performance is recognised through
a range of accolades, including the School Excellence Awards and
School Distinction Awards. Teachers, too, have a number of entitlements
or privileges which have helped to make the profession attractive
to graduates and respected by society. These include an entitlement
to 100 hours of professional development per year, and a personal
budget of Sing. $400-£700 to spend on development (for example,
through purchasing computer equipment or subscriptions to learned
journals). Performance-related bonuses provide an incentive to
improve one's teaching. After ten years, 70% of Singaporean teachers
are still within the profession.
Mr Mano explained that there are currently 31,000
teachers in Singapore, and that the culture of professional excellence
is very much driven by them. Efforts have been made for teaching
to be seen as a fraternity and network ( "teachers need to
learn a lot from each other"), and to develop career routes
for all teachers, as leadership roles account for just 2% of the
workforce. Teachers also need to be seen as community figures,
Mr Mano argued, as this helps to support disadvantaged or troubled
Reception hosted by Ms Sim Ann MP,
Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education
Ms Sim Ann worked in the civil service for 12 years
before standing for election for the ruling People's Action Party
in the Holland-Bukit Timah Group Representation Constituency in
the General Election of 7 May 2011 (which her team won with 60.1%
of the vote). On 21 May 2012 Ms Sim Ann was appointed Senior Parliamentary
Secretary for Law and Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education.
She divides her time between the two Ministries.
Committee members informally discussed a range of
themes, including those pertinent to teacher training and supply,
with the Minister and other colleagues from the MoE.
NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF EDUCATION
Professor Lee Sing Kong,
Director, National Institute of Education
Professor Tan Oon Seng,
Dean, Teacher Education
Professor Paul Teng, Dean,
Graduate Studies & Professional Learning
Professor Lee Wing On,
Dean, Education Research
The National Institute of Education (NIE), an institute
of the Nanyang Technological University, conducts professional
training for teachers. It is the only teacher training institution
in Singapore and currently has around 6,700 students. It
provides all levels of teacher education, from training for trainee
teachers to continuing education for serving teachers and principals.
The triangulation between the Ministry, NIE and schools is seen
as the key to developing a successful workforce.
NIE offers programmes at diploma, bachelors, masters
and PhD levels on a full-time or part-time basis, as well as various
special training programmes, such as school leadership. The institute
has also established itself as a leading provider for customised
leadership and professional educational courses internationally,
reaching out to many regions including the Middle East and North
Professor Lee Sing Kong began the discussion by emphasizing
that teachers are the essence of the Singaporean education system,
and that initial teacher training needed to be relevant both to
the system and to the twenty-first century. BA courses, he explained,
were "intensive", featuring both academic and pedagogical
content. However, there was a strong recognition at NIE that teachers
might not be academic but still have great potential in the classroom.
A teacher, he said, is "first a teacher of the learner and
second a teacher of the subject". Training, therefore, reflects
this balance of skills and knowledge. A good teacher, colleagues
said, knew how and what to teach, and was focused on the learners.
Great importance is placed, in Singapore, on equipping
teachers with values, including the care of and belief in learners,
reflection on one's own practice, and a strong sense of community.
Teachers are seen as role models for learners, and as the "custodians
of the values of society and the nation".
Teachers are also seen as "change agents"
who can innovate and help schools prepare for the challenges of
the future. As NIE colleagues emphasized, a student beginning
primary school will not graduate for twenty years, by which point
the world will have changed considerably: the emphasis is therefore
on recruiting adaptable and resilient teachers with strong literacy,
numeracy and core values, which will always be relevant.
Professor Paul Teng, responsible for the NIE's professional
development programmes, explained that CPD is not seen as a means
to raise one's salary in Singapore, but rather a core principle
of teaching. This was reflected in the 100 hours annual entitlement
common to all teachers, which Professor Teng explained could be
taken through flexible opportunities such as evening classes.
Some CPD offered certification, whilst other opportunities did
not: the entire programme is designed simply to "meet teachers'
needs". MA courses are one, more formal, aspect of that,
and could be taken both in subjects (for example, a masters course
is offered in teaching maths) or in themes of education (such
as assessment or the curriculum). For leaders, there are mandatory
courses similar to the NPQH, as well as close links with business
leaders. These enable potential heads to see how top leaders perform,
to understand the needs of employers in recruiting students, and
to develop stronger understanding between different sectors. However,
business is not involved in the actual design of NIE programmes.
Professor Lee Wing On explained that NIE's research
programmes are closely aligned with Ministry plans, and were designed
to "think big, start small, move fast". Influence on
policy and practice were fundamental principles of educational
research, and close international links are maintained to ensure
that best practice is reflected (as well as to ensure, in Professor
Lee's words, that Singapore "gives back what the world gave
In discussion, NIE colleagues confirmed that retention
is strong amongst Singaporean teachers, although there are key
'attrition peaks', largely after completion of the 'bond' (contracted
period of initial teaching post-qualification), in the late 30s
(because of parenthood) and mid-40s (when many are required to
look after their own parents, a key value of Singaporean life).
Colleagues also confirmed that parental involvement in education
is a key to Singapore students' success, but that a focus on improving
the quality of teachers should nonetheless be a priority for any
country wanting to learn from Singapore. Teachers, colleagues
said, needed to be celebrated more in the UK, rather than "bashed";
better career progression opportunities were a key part of that,
as was ensuring the starting salary was comparable with other
graduate professions. The role of teachers - "to mould the
future of the nation" - should be articulated as clearly
as that of doctors and engineers. However, colleagues also said
that many countries are weak when it comes to teachers' subject
knowledge, which was very important.
These factors had been the keys to Singapore's increased
success in recruiting teachers - from a position where there were
5 applicants for every 6 teaching jobs, to the current state of
play with 10 applicants for every job. Political consensus around
education was another key ingredient to system success, as were
long time-scales around educational planning. PISA success was
attributed, also, to a clear curriculum with clearly-stated desired
National Junior College
The National Junior College (NJC) is one of Singapore's
top-performing A-level institutions. Its pupils go on to fill
the highest-level jobs in Singapore. Ms Virginia Cheng,
Principal, explained that NJC was the first Junior College
to be established by the Ministry of Education in Singapore, in
1970. There were now 18 Junior Colleges.
Students entered the College directly following
the Primary 6 exam (aged 12). The College consisted of Junior
High (4 years, to O-level) and Senior High (2 years, to A-level).
Most students took Cambridge O-levels at the end of Junior High.
In 2004 the College also started the four year Integrated Programme,
a scheme which allows the brightest pupils at secondary schools
in Singapore to bypass O-levels and take A-levels, International
Baccalaureate (IB) or an equivalent examination directly at the
age of 18 after six years of secondary education.
The NJC selected students based on tests, assessments
and interviews. It took on two hundred students each year. Admission
to primary schools in Singapore was on the basis of location (proximity
to the school), but admission to secondary schools was based on
academic merit, largely measured by the results of the Primary
School Leaving Examination (PSLE) aged 12. Secondary schools could
choose to select based on particular criteria, for instance a
Junior High students could board for one term each
year, which allowed them to participate in an extra-curricular
programme. The NJC was also paired with a military group, with
which they conducted joint programmes.
The College was a Centre of Excellence in Science
and Technology and conducted outreach to primary schools in science
and maths. However, the college also recognized that academic
gifts did not equate to social competency, and therefore placed
great value on development the wider child. This included time
set aside for "extra curriculum" and for broad curriculum
areas such as 'Man and Ideas', 'Drama in Production' and 'Research'
to be explored. The school places a key focus on leadership potential,
and is proud of its many political and business leader alumni.
As part of that ethos, there are strong links with schools abroad,
including in Russia, Korea and Japan.
Ms Cheng said that no students were expelled from
Committee members were given a tour of the College
facilities, including the Science Sigma labs, and spoke with teachers
and students on a range of themes.
Strand Tutorials School
A high proportion of students in Singapore have additional,
private tuition outside the school day at some point during their
school career, and so the tuition business is a significant industry.
Strand Tutorial School was founded in September 2004
by Associate Professor Patrick Ong, its Principal and Director,
who retired from a teaching post at Nanyang Technological University
to found the school. The centre caters for all science and mathematical
subjects from Secondary 1 up to JC 2 (A-level).
Professor Ong considered that Singaporean schools
were unable to meet the needs of some of their students, especially
in maths and science. There was great pressure placed on schools
and teachers by parents and the Government, and schools were often
a highly pressured, competitive environment for students. 'Weaker'
students from economically disadvantaged families tended to have
more private tuition.
In his view, with the possible exception of the very
top schools, the public education system in Singapore was 'a mess',
and it struggled to cater for the top achievers. The education
system was excellent for churning out good exam results but was
less good at supporting non-academic achievement. Despite efforts
by the Ministry of Education to implement policies to promote
pastoral care and students' wellbeing, these policies were not
being effectively implemented.
Students who attended the tuition centre for three
months or so started to see results. The centre had two or three
active teachers and a couple of postgraduate students, so five
tutors in total. Tuition sessions were 1.5 hours each, and cost
S$380 for four group sessions. Students tended to attend tuition
at least once a week.
Reception with educators at the British High
The Committee attended an informal evening reception
at Eden Hall, Residence of the British High Commissioner, Anthony
Phillipson, and held discussions with teachers, headteachers and
academics, including Britons living and working in Singapore.
Tampines Primary School
Miss Veronica Tay, Principal
Tampines is located in East Singapore and was the
first community school in Singapore, and the first to get a 'black
box' drama studio. Students were drawn from the local estates,
and the school had classes from grade P1 through to grade P6.
After the school day Tampines' facilitiesincluding its
gym, indoor sports hall etcwere open to local residents,
and evening classes were conducted on the premises.
Around 5% of students had Special Educational Needs,
including dyslexia, physical disability, ADHD or were on the autistic
spectrum. Support was integrated into the classroom, but there
was additional learning support provided in particular subjects,
such as maths.
Committee members conversed with staff and students,
on a range of themes pertinent to teacher training and supply.
Key themes raised at the MoE and NIE were apparent in discussions,
including the great importance placed on teacher development (post-training).
Teachers also noted the importance of robust performance management
arrangements, which include strong mentoring and development plans
for weaker performers.
Xinmin Secondary School
Mrs Ong Hong Peng, Principal
Xinmin is located in the Hougang area of Northeast
Singapore. It currently has around 1,500 students and 100 teaching
staff. During and following a tour of school facilities, Committee
members were able to talk to students of various ages, in class
and discussion group contexts, and to meet staff. The Committee
also observed part of an outstanding English literature lesson,
where the emphasis placed on the use of technology was apparent,
and where members were able to see in action the 'twenty-first
century classrooms' demonstrated at the NIE.
Institute of Technical Education
Mr Bruce Poh, Director
The Institute of Technical Education (ITE) is a post-secondary
institution in Singapore that provides pre-employment training
to secondary school leavers and continuing education and training
to working adults. ITE was once popularly dubbed 'It's The End',
meaning that the students going there were seen to have failed
to meet the grades necessary to go on to A-levels. However, Singapore
is proud of its multi-pathway system of education, in which ITE
performs a key function of providing technical expertise for the
economy and in which ITE students can still go on to A-levels,
Polytechnics and Universities.
Most courses offered by ITE last two years, and include
programmes in hospitality, engineering, life sciences, information
technology, and design. Across the three colleges collectively
known as ITE, there are some 14,500 students aged 16+, who are
drawn from the bottom 25% of the school cohort based on academic
results; there is currently a fairly high dropout rate of 1 in
6 students, although youth unemployment overall in Singapore was
noted to be very low (around 2-3%).
The needs of industry are critical to curriculum
design. Courses offer a keen focus on practical learning, with
classrooms offering a simulation of life in business or industry
(for example, ITE includes functioning bars and restaurants and
design and engineering laboratories). Life skills are also taught,
including writing and communication skills. Committee members
were able to visit various state-of-the-art facilities (including
in engineering and hospitality departments) and to meet and talk
with students and staff.
ITE offers its own teacher training programmes, separate
from the NIE, which last for 40 weeks.
Meeting with Government Parliamentary Committee
The Committee met with Parliamentarians from the Government Parliamentary Committee on Education: Mr Lim Bo Chuan MP (Chair), Ms Denise Phua MP (Deputy Chair), Mr Edwin Tong MP, Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar MP, Mr Ang Wei Neng MP and Ms Irene Ng MP.
The Government Parliamentary Committee on Education is Singapore's nearest equivalent to the Education Select Committee. The Singapore Parliament has a single House and, together with the President of Singapore, forms the Legislature. The parliament is modelled after the Westminster system, with significant alterations. These include the fact that most MPs are elected collectively in groups of between 4 to 6 MPs, known as Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs), the creation of a number of 'Non-Constituency' MPs positions for the best performing runner up candidates in elections and the attendance in parliament of 'Nominated' MPs, chosen by a Special Select Committee of Parliament after an interview process. Non-Constituency and Nominated MP are unable to vote on certain motions, such as a money bill, a vote to amend to the constitution and a vote of no confidence.
Singapore last held a General Election on 7 May 2011. Opposition parties collectively gained almost 40% of the vote, their largest share ever, and also won their first GRC. This meant an overall swing away from the People's Action Party (PAP) of 6.5%, although the PAP still won 81 of the 87 elected seats in the unicameral Parliament due to the first-past-the-post system (down though from the 82 of 84 seats the PAP held in the previous parliament). The 12th Parliament of Singapore opened on 10 October 2011, five months after the election. The next election need not be called until five years after the opening of parliament.
There are 7 Standing Select Committees appointed for the duration of a Parliament to undertake various functions, including:-
- Committee of Selection
- Committee of Privileges
- Estimates Committee
- House Committee
- Public Accounts Committee
- Public Petitions Committee
- Standing Orders Committee
Besides the Standing Select Committees, Parliament sometimes forms ad hoc Select Committees set up on a motion approved by the House to deal with Bills or other matters referred to it. Select Committees are mostly set up to discuss the details of a Bill which affects the everyday life of the public, such as the Goods and Services Tax Bill, Maintenance of Parents Bill and the Advance Medical Directive Bill.
There are also ten Government Parliamentary Committees, made up of backbench MPs from the ruling party, who examine the policies, programmes and proposed legislation of a particular government ministry to provides the ministry with feedback and suggestions. The Government Parliamentary Committees are part of the ruling People's Action Party, first established by the party in 1987, and are not required under the constitution of Singapore or any constitutional convention. The current ten Government Parliamentary Committees are:
- Community development, youth and sports
- Defence and foreign affairs
- Finance, and trade and industry
- Home affairs and law
- Information, communications and the arts
- National development and the environment
In discussion between members of the two Committees, the following points were raised:
- All members of the Government Parliamentary Committee on Education are backbench members of the ruling party. Each ministry has a corresponding GPC.
- With the exception of ministers and parliamentary secretaries, Singaporean MPs were part-time politicians and also held down outside jobs. The MPs came from a range of different backgrounds, including lawyers, managing SEN charities and a special school, lecturing at NIE, director at a public transport company, and journalist on the national paper.
- The MoE was trying to increase teacher recruits from 2,000 to 3,000 per year.
- Teaching offered good prospects for promotion and professional development. Because the country was small, all teachers could train centrally . Teaching attracted the top 30% of each university cohort.
- Asked what their one criticism of the education system would be, the Singaporean MPs responded that they would like less stress for students (one MP called the system "tremendously stressful"); a greater focus on holistic education and humanities/arts rather than only academic subjects; more time for students to develop character and enjoy learning, rather than just acquiring technical knowledge; and a move away from high-stakes examinations towards formative assessment.
- Changes would be hard to make, not least because parents' expectations were very high and they might be suspicious about a move away from traditional teaching and examinations based around didactic teaching and drills. One MP commented that the pressure in the system "comes from the parents".
- Government Parliamentary Committees felt able to speak freely and criticize Ministers when necessary. It was seen as an advantage to be part of the ruling party, as this helped to get their voices heard and to effect change behind the scenes. It was felt that the system was less politicized, closer dialogue with ministers was possible, and that there was more space to debate 'rationally and based on the facts'. Often a letter to the minister was successful in changing something the committee disagreed with. By and large the GPC judged MoE policies to be correct: changes sought by the committee tended to be modifications to policies, not whole-scale revision. The committee did not meet in public session.
- Special Educational Needs (SEN) had changed greatly over the previous seven years. The government budget had increased.
- Given the small size of Singapore as a country and an economy, the education system was vital in ensuring that the workforce was well-trained with the necessary skills for the economy. The state tracked social mobility closely, for instance measuring what percentage of the poorest cohort of children went to university.
- Singapore tried to learn from best international practice in developing education. The MoE travelled around the world to observe different methods and structures. However, whilst Singapore drew on such comparisons, ultimately it needed to develop its own model.
- Singaporean examinations were high stake. It was common, for instance, for mothers to take 3-12 months off work to coach their children for the Primary School Leaving Exam. The government was trying to develop alternative pathways in education, for example encouraging the most academic to take the Integrated Programme to A-level, and a more vocational track for others.
- There was no class system in Singapore, so education was the pathway to escape the poverty cycle and enhance social mobility. In fact (unlike the UK) it was considered 'cool' for children to be clever, and the popular kids tended to be those who got best grades.
- There was close dialogue between industry and government about the skills needed for the economy in the future.
Whilst in Singapore, the Committee also visited
the Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board. Discussions there
focused exclusively on topics pertaining the Committee's concurrent
inquiry into the role of awarding bodies in the UK, and on wider
issues of assessment, and notes of the meeting will therefore
be included in the Committee's forthcoming report concluding that