Steps to Setting Up a New School in Singapore
If you are considering setting up a new school in Singapore you certainly have a lot of things to consider. We have done this many times and in many unique locations.
We are here to help you along the way and have put together this quick summary to help you get started.
Feasibility Study and Market Research for a New School in Singapore
It is essential that the process of setting up a new school in Singapore begins with this important step. Most countries are unique, such as Singapore, and making assumptions can be expensive. A comprehensive study will minimise risk and also maximise your chances of success. Even if it is already clear that the school will go ahead, this research will influence many decisions in the set up process including Vision/Mission, Financial Planning, Curriculum, Admissions and more. Singapore has a long history of international education as a truly international hub for global business and it is important to understand the past as well as the future growth potential for education.
There are over 80 international schools in Singapore serving expatriates so competition is strong, but demand is increasing.
Is there a demand for new schools in Singapore?
In 2022/2023 the demand remains very high and is increasing for quality international schooling. One huge factor is the large number of expats and companies leaving Hong Kong and moving to Singapore. (learn more)
“A recent survey of 260 executives (in Hong Kong) by the European Chamber of Commerce showed that nearly half of the businesses were considering moving elsewhere next year.” (source)
We expect that expatriate demand for schools will continue to increase. Setting up a new school in Singapore should focus primarily on this market.
(There are some restrictions for Singapore citizens. Singapore Government regulations require citizens to attend MOE schools. Schools may not offer a place to a Singapore Citizen of Primary 1 age and above without first obtaining a waiver from the MOE for that student to attend.)
Licensing and Accreditation for new schools in Singapore
All private schools must register with the Ministry of Education (“MOE”) There are several important standards that must be met including the curriculum and pre-approval of all teachers with clear standards. The private company owning the school must be registered and all documentation must be verified in a submission including appropriate governance policies. Facilities are a crucial consideration and plans must be approved and inspections must comply with these standards. of Setting up a new school in Singapore requires a focussed attention to these standards.
Facilities – an important consideration for setting up a new school in Singapore
In Singapore you can only use premises that are approved for educational activities by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA). It is important to check with the landowner to makes sure the premises you are planning to lease can be used for education purposes.
If you want to renovate an existing structure, it is necessary to apply for a construction work permit from the Singapore Building and Construction Authority. Once the building tasks have been completed, you will need to get a license from the BCA before occupying the space. (Temporary Occupation License and the Statutory Completion Certificate).
You also need to acquire a Certificate of Fire Safety from the Civil Defense Force of Singapore. You can only get this through a registered engineer or architect. All renovation projects must be performed by a licensed or certified contractor. All business signage on the premise also requires a License of Advertisement from the BCA as well.
Vision and Mission – “The Voice”
Although to some a school vision and mission may seem like an obligatory message on a feature wall, when you are of setting up a new school in Singapore, these statements are invaluable. We prefer to describe this step as identifying the school’s unique “voice.” It is important that the school voice is clear and that all decisions about school design, curriculum, choice of staff and policies reflect a unique plan. Project forward to a time in 20 years when graduates return to the school and share stories of great times. How will they describe the school? What is unique about it? How will people distinguish your school from others? What are the “Signature Experiences”?
Financial Planning – The Business Plan for of setting up a new school in Singapore
Both non-profit and for-profit schools need to have a comprehensive business plan that outlines a sound financial strategy both short and long term. We recommend a comprehensive 10-year plan with knowledge that it usually takes 3 – 5 years for a school to reach a sound financial position. Malaysia has unique characteristics in terms of legal authorities, governance and policy and there are risks associated with this. All these differences need to be taken into account.
Long-term planning is essential as it is easy for school leadership to become reactive and move attention away from the end goal. Schools are busy, complex and stressful places, but good management focuses on strategic planning at least 5-10 years in advance. It is also key to look in depth to the future as many new schools do not begin to make significant profit until after operational year 4.
International Curriculum Accreditation: Use of an international curriculum such as Cambridge from the United Kingdom, a United States curriculum, or a framework such as International Baccalaureate (IB) will also require programmes meeting standards that will be checked and monitored by the Ministry of Education (MOE) . Most of these accreditations are best achieved by good education management principles and these begin right from the early planning stages. Education documents and the appointment, and approval, of a fully qualified education management team are required.
School Accreditation Options: A school might choose to pursue external accreditation as a way to validate quality. There are many to choose from and in Singapore a number of these are worth considering.
The key forms of accreditation can include:
- Local Education Ministry License (required as above)
- Curriculum accreditation eg. Cambridge, Oxford, EdExcel or others
- Partner standards and accreditation eg. an overseas school brand or other form
- International accreditation eg. WASC, CIS or others (3-4 years)
All schools are different and the school design will reflect both local needs as well as the nature of the curriculum and the school’s vision and mission. Before you begin working with an architect, you must first engage a school operator who understands the school curriculum and the key teaching and learning priorities. Gone are the days when architects line up boxes with a corridor down the middle. You also need to consider capacity, class sizes and future needs. These include both educational as well as business decisions. An educator must be part of this process. Singapore is a very built up city and innovative solutions might be needed. It also has unique architecture however that can be incorporated into any designs as a functional and marketing tool of the school.
So how to stand out from the crowd? To match what the other schools in the market are doing is one thing, however it’s worth considering strategies to excel or be unique in a particular area that no other school has adopted. One of these recommendations could be a unique STEM/STEAM LAB that could be placed on a platform and showcased as best practice to the consumer. Effective utilisation of space is important also.
Like everywhere, Singapore has its own construction standards, costs and processes. This specialist field requires experts to closely monitor. If construction costs blow out or there are time delays, it will cost you dearly. Employ a very good project manager with an attention to detail. Micro manage and follow project timeframes carefully.
We can recommend some excellent Architects, Engineers and Project Managers in Singapore. Contact us for details.
There are important design considerations when decisions are being made about internal facilities, materials and resources. Upfront costs are a factor as well as maintenance and function. This is a chance for the educator and the architects to be creative and exploit different characteristics of a building. For example at one unique GSE school, Primary classrooms were 120m2+, incorporating a mezzanine floor and a slide.
Branding and Marketing
Schools, and what they offer are a very different “product/service” than you might expect. A parent and child is joining a community. You are not selling a car. How you brand and communicate your key messages must reflect a deep understanding of education and what expatriate families in Singapore value, all within the local context. Study carefully and seek out expertise. It will make a big difference. We advocate strongly in the use of social media; the modern day “word of mouth.” In Singapore digital leads are a primary focus of good marketing plans.
Building a strong brand image in Singapore includes aspects such as:
- A well regarded education management brand
- Overseas brands, pathways and study programmes
- A quality Principal with an excellent profile and strong governance/management team
- High quality native speaking English teachers or very competent non-native teachers
- Partnerships within the local community
ICT is an expensive upfront investment and it is expensive to maintain. Get an expert involved. It will save you money by making good decisions right from the start.
Determining what you need and when you need it can be very difficult. Be careful also about the differences of opinion that may exist between your key staff. These decisions about what is needed and what is best use of money can be quite subjective. We suggest starting with a core list of resources and then expanding it based on need.
Any research will tell you that school management is the number one factor that will determine success in a school. It is essential that your leadership is underpinned by education expertise. Put in place a quality management team.
Admissions processes must be clear and have an educational rationale for placement. Your goals should be to accept children “whose needs you can satisfy.” Create admissions tests that are credible and use these as benchmarks for determining grade placement.
Your staffing plan will be determined when you create your financial plan. The ratios of staff to students as well as your support and administration staff must be calculated carefully. As the school grows these ratios will become more efficient so seek good advice in your planning process. There are many ways to recruit with varying costs but, as always, you will often get what you pay for. The best teachers work through the best channels. Also, be aware that as a new school you are marketing yourself to new staff also, not just students. Build a great website and promote yourself well to this audience also.
Also see our top tips for staff retention specific to schools.
In this initial planning phase you will not create a detailed curriculum but you must begin outlining the general curriculum plan. This will be different depending on your key priorities for pedagogy (how you teach) as well as your curriculum choice; be it British, American, Australian, IB or any other.
Standard school handbooks containing school policies can range from 20 pages to 100+. This comprehensive handbook takes time to produce but also must reflect local laws and government policies as well as the standards set by accreditations you have or are seeking. GSE builds handbooks, policies, procedures and systems for schools.
School Review Processes and Action Plans
To be the very best, a school must have review processes and internal standards by which it is measuring itself. A 10-year strategic plan must be broken down into an annual plan, term plans and, sometimes, weekly action plans to achieve key priorities. When a school owner does not have a strong education background, engaging an education management team will be important.
Training and Development
Employ great teachers but then train them. Respond to internal school review processes, academic data and feedback by adjusting practice. The most valuable resource within a school is its Human Resources and investment in this is important.
Timelines for setting up a new school in Singapore
A tough question! Many and most of the above will happen concurrently. The different stages of accreditations may depend on each other as well as your recruitment of a strong team. GSE has a 100% success rate with accreditation. In fact we have a reputation for being very fast given our experience in the education industry. The building process may take anywhere from 6 months to a year depending on the size and location of the construction and the length of time it takes to complete additional approval processes. Building certificates and certifications are the responsibility of construction contractors and in Singapore this is where there may be higher risk of delays. If you are using an existing facility or refurbishing one, then that might be easier for you, but just like any renovation, you can run into problems. Plan for this part of the process to take longer than you expect as you are depending on factors out of your control, such as government approvals or the weather.
Even if it is just to share ideas and gather informal feedback on a potential new school project we are happy to discuss over a coffee some time. Whether it is of setting up a new school in Singapore or any other location, contact us to explore your ideas.
Who is Global Services in Education (GSE)
Global Services in Education is a company led by education experts. They are proven education leaders who know how to set up and manage international schools. GSE can lead the project from the initial idea to set up and full management. Kindergarten, Primary, Middle and High School, Universities and Adult education.
throughout Australia, the Middle East, the United States, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and China. Recognised for his numerous contributions in the education arena, Greg has received the Ministers Award for Excellence in School Leadership based on improvements in school performance and a range of successful principal training and leadership development programs, as well as the School of Excellence Award for Industry/School Partnerships and the School of Excellence Award for Technology Innovation. His company GSE (Global Services in Education) has been recognised as having the Best Global Brand in International Education 2015 and 2016. Considered one of the premier experts in his profession, Greg has trained teachers and principals throughout the world in areas such as critical thinking, language development and leadership. His expertise in school start up projects, leadership and curriculum development, has made him a sought after authority in these disciplines.