Family & Education

The ex-JCOSS teacher running a Jewish school in Singapore

Elaine Robinson moved her family from Hampstead Garden Suburb to 'grow the school into an outstanding international school with a rigorous curriculum, strong Jewish values and education'


When Elaine Robinson, head of Jewish studies at JCoSS since the opening of the cross-communal school, left last year, her next job took her nearly 7,000 miles away.

In September she became the principal of the Sir Manasseh Meyer International School (SMMIS), the Jewish school in Singapore.

She credits “the incredible lessons of headship” she learned from JCoSS headteacher Patrick Moriarty for giving her the confidence to take on the role.

It was Mr Moriarty who encouraged her to apply for the position after he was headhunted for it.

“I was really happy at JCOSS, but had been there for eight years and was ready for headship,” said Ms Robinson. “It was a convergence of right place, right time and right experience.”

The Liverpool-born educator was recruited to lead SMMIS during “a growing phase” with its trustees and senior management hoping to raise the school’s profile internationally.

“It can be a little daunting, but I’m so excited by the challenge,” she says. “It’s a head’s dream to turn a school around.”

Since moving from Hampstead Garden Suburb with husband Richard and their two young children, she has been implementing new systems to “grow the school into an outstanding international school with a rigorous curriculum, strong Jewish values and education”.

Named in memory of one of Singapore’s most prominent Jewish philanthropists, the school was founded 10 years ago, having formerly been a Jewish learning centre. In May 2016, it moved to a new site in Sembawang and today accommodates around 150 pupils from pre-school age to the end of year nine.

According to Ms Robinson, the SMMIS, which is heavily funded by trustees, is truly international, with children coming from Korea, Japan, Brazil, Israel, France, Russia and the UK, as well as a number from the local Chinese population.

“In the same way that JCoSS meets the needs of different streams of Judaism, so do we. Not all the children are Jewish, but we are one big community and celebrate all festivals together.”

The Jewish education and Ivrit curriculum is particularly strong and many pupils leave the school fluent in Hebrew. One of the advantages of leading a non-UK school, she says, is “not being constrained by the national curriculum”.

It follows the UK syllabus for English teaching, the Singaporean system for maths and the International Primary Curriculum (IPC) for subjects such as robotics and dramatic arts.

Aside from strengthening the academic side of the school, Ms Robinson intends to build partnerships with external organisations, such as World Ort, to enable pupils to meet their counterparts from other Jewish communities.

She would also like to put more emphasis on social action. “The children are so privileged, we need to do something to instil in young people a feeling of responsibility.”

Possible projects include going to Thailand to help build a school. “I want our pupils to be outward-looking menschlich students.”

She has retained strong links with her former JCoSS colleagues, occasionally calling on them and heads of UK Jewish primary schools for advice.

With no plans to return to the UK in the near future, if and when the time comes, Ms Robinson says it will be “with a wider perspective”.

In the meantime, she is enjoying the benefits of her headship at SMMIS, such as her own children attending school in her place of work.

“Halfway through the day, they can run up to me and give me a kiss.”


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