Jerudong International School in Brunei offers an enviable learning environment for the 1,640 children who study there. Located on the lush island of Borneo, both boarding and day pupils take advantage of the 120-acre campus nestled in an area boasting rainforest, beaches and the cleanest air in Asia.
The school represents a vibrant cultural melting pot of around 55 different nationalities – 60% are children of expatriate families, and 40% come from the small state of Brunei itself. Many students go on to gain places at top universities around the world, including Oxford and Cambridge.
There is a strong emphasis on delivering world-leading teaching and learning – the motto, ‘Achieving Excellence’, is integral to every part of the school – and SIMS is the cornerstone upon which this strategy is built.
Jerudong’s aspirational objectives are realised by gaining a deep insight into the needs of students and using this as a basis for decision-making.
As part of this, SIMS is supporting the introduction of a set of new academic and pastoral aims, which sit at the heart of the school’s provision. Barnaby Sandow, Jerudong’s principal, explains.
“Our newest academic aims – to develop children’s thinking and language skills, and encourage active engagement – have come about after comparing trends in our students’ attainment with information from cognitive abilities tests relating to their potential.
“This has helped us to see where individuals and groups might benefit from additional support to achieve all they are capable of. We used the data in SIMS to highlight specific skills we need to work on with our students, such as developing language ability and critical thinking skills, to ensure they progress, and it’s making a real difference.”
Tailored support for every child
Jerudong’s international student intake enriches the school community many times over. But for some students who speak a variety of different languages, a little extra help might be needed to ensure they make good progress.
“Students will always join with very different language abilities,” says Barnaby. “English could be their third, fourth, even fifth language. Our teachers use SIMS to track this linguistic patchwork and ensure students get extra support, if necessary, to strengthen their language skills so they can fully access the curriculum and communicate clearly inside and outside lessons”.
There is a focus on respect in the Asian culture that can result in children being reluctant to participate in lessons too. The school wanted to encourage greater engagement and critical thinking in students, and SIMS has helped.
“We used the enhanced feedback from the examination boards at GCSE and A level to evaluate how children answer different types of questions, and could see it was their higher order thinking skills we needed to work on. Then by using the trend analysis tools in SIMS, we were able to identify that the group of children who were not meeting expectations were also shying away from actively engaging in lessons. Knowing this has helped us to foster critical thinking across the curriculum.”
The school uses a number of techniques to encourage children to participate and share their views, as Barnaby explains, “The younger children sit in a circle and they are set a topic or open idea to unpack. One of the real favourites is the question, ‘Is Batman a superhero?’. There is no ‘right’ answer to this but it connects with the children’s imagination and everyone has an opinion that they are actively encouraged to share. Watching the children’s hands shoot up, desperate to be the next person to contribute, is wonderful to see.
“We know that not all children will be naturally outgoing when they join the school. Some of them start Year 7 as quiet as mice. We can now see even the most introverted student confidently standing on stage, reciting Shakespeare with gusto. These are the magical and transformative journeys I enjoy witnessing the most.”
Self-assessment for learning
Students have driven forward the school aims in gratifying and innovative ways, such as through self-assessment.
“I recently watched a badminton lesson where the children decided which ability level they felt was right for them. They then moved on to four different courts – some chose to use shorter handled rackets, for example, right up to those opting for higher level competitive playing.
“Their accuracy on what level was appropriate for them was remarkable. This stems from the work staff have been doing to help them develop their self-assessment skills for learning.”
Recognising and rewarding
After Year 8, students can lose interest in gaining merits. But an idea proposed by Jerudong’s sixth formers to revamp the rewards scheme ensures students are recognised when they so something in line with the school’s new aims.
Now, every time a student achieves all six aims in six classes, they are given one US dollar, which goes towards vaccinating a child in the developing world against polio.
“The new rewards scheme has embedded deeply what we are trying to achieve as a school. When a child presents an idea like this, even the most cynical teacher would feel motivated to make it happen,” says Barnaby.
“Being able to stand up at the end of the year and tell the children that as a result of their outstanding efforts, 4600 other children will be able to go on and do outstanding things too was an amazing thing.”
Staff are essential to helping the school meet its objectives, so teachers are encouraged to take on academic, pastoral, personal or leadership tasks which are aligned with faculty development plans. These tasks are recorded in SIMS and progress towards them is tracked within the SIMS Personnel and Staff Performance modules.
“An academic goal might be to look at a particular section of science in Year 8 and ensure children from different cultural backgrounds are getting the most from what we’re teaching, using techniques such as pre-learning vocabulary,” says Barnaby.
"SIMS makes it straightforward to identify which staff are working towards similar school aims, even if they work in completely different parts of the school. They can then work together sharing information, observing each other and feeding off different ideas.
“With SIMS, it’s easier to collaborate and align what’s happening in lessons with our targets to directly support whole school aims.”
SIMS supports Jerudong’s initiative and aims. As Barnaby states, “It’s so simple to record on SIMS. We can award achievements against the six school aims, and when children in your class achieve, you simply highlight those children, select the skills they’ve achieved, and it’s done.
“We have the tools to assess where we were and what we wanted to achieve, as well as the methodology to drive change and measure the impact. SIMS has given us the focus to pursue our school aims and continue our journey to excellence with purpose and clarity.”