Lorna Whiston School - a leader in English language education for students of all ages

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Joint CEO for Lorna Whiston Schools, Helen Marjan, talks to theAsianparent about the high standard of English language education they provide and more...

Lorna Whiston is a well-known and trusted name in English enrichment and education in Singapore.

With an immaculate track record in delivering quality English language enrichment programmes to a wide age range of students, this 35-year-old school has impressive plans in terms of growth for this year.

Helen Marjan, Joint Managing Director & Director of Studies for Lorna Whiston, talks about exciting developments in their programme and more.

The following interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

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Helen Marjan

Q: Tell us about your students’ remarkable PSLE results in English.

A: Each year we collect and collate all the results from our students so we have a measure of how they’ve done.

When the PSLE results came out at the end of 2014, there was a 100% improvement rate in the results, with 85% scoring an A or an A*.

Q: How do you achieve such incredible results?

A: Unlike many big tuition centres we don’t just take in only A or A* students who are already doing well, and are therefore highly likely to do well at exams too.

Instead, we accept students of all abilities — the high flyers, as well as the middle and lower ability students. We strive to help them significantly improve their English language skills.

So given our intake policy, I think our students’ PSLE English results are really quite exceptional.

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Students at Lorna Whiston can expect to see a steady improvement in their English language skills

Q: How are your PSLE students coached?

A: Our aim with the PSLE students is to first build their confidence. Perhaps because the general education system puts them under a bit of pressure to perform well, a lot of kids – unless they’re number one in class – are quite lacking in confidence.

While boosting their confidence and motivation to build their language skills, we also equip them with what we call “exam skills”. This includes how to do well in exam situations, time management, stress management and so on.

Ultimately, we develop in our students a strong skill set in terms of language proficiency, confidence and exam skills.

To find out more about Lorna Whiston’s PSLE programme, please go to the next page…

Q: What can students expect from your PSLE programme?

A: Our PSLE English programme is rigorous and prepares the students thoroughly for their exams.

Our teaching in general promotes critical and creative thinking and this is extended to our PSLE students.

They can expect to do six to seven interrelated activities during their class that promote the development of crucial English language skills, and which are all linked to the requirements of the PSLE exam.

Also, the teachers of this programme are all familiar with the PSLE syllabus and they get a lot of training from us on the requirements of the programme.

Of course, we do keep in mind that these requirements change all the time. So we always keep abreast of these changes and make sure we’re in line with them.

One way we do this is by working very closely with local schools and organisations.

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Lorna Whiston teachers work closely with local students in local school settings

Q: Could you describe the kind of work you do with local schools and other government bodies?

A: We work in two ways with a lot of primary and secondary schools in Singapore:

First, our teachers travel out into the schools and they conduct programmes within the local school environment, with local students.

Secondly, we work on a lot of teacher development programmes with local school teachers. Schools in Singapore are given quite a generous budget by the government each year to spend on outsourced training for their staff and look for providers who can offer quality programmes – such as Lorna Whiston.

All this really helps us to get a very good insight to what is required in relation to the English language curriculum, and what kind of approach to take with regard to our students’ English language needs.

We also work with the Education Services Union. For instance, they recently engaged us to run a training workshop for their union members, many of whom are teachers themselves.

A typical Lorna Whiston English class is described on the next page.

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Watch your child’s confidence levels grow steadily with exposure to the Lorna Whiston pedagogy.

Q: What do you offer students in your regular English enrichment programme?

A: Our English enrichment programme covers each of the four main language skills: speaking, listening, reading and writing.

However, the way in which we teach those skills is quite different to many other centres in Singapore, which often advocate a rote learning and memorisation approach. For example, children will memorise whole lists of verbs or vocabulary lists… sometimes even whole compositions!

What happens with this type of learning approach is that while the kids might be able to pass an exam, they get quite bored with their lessons. Also they are learning without any real understanding and they often can’t adapt what they’ve learned to other situations.

Ultimately, I think what it engenders is learners who can’t really communicate or engage with text well, nor write expressively.

What we aim to develop among our students is critical and creative thinking skills. There is a lot of educational research out there that suggests that kids who are equipped with these skills are the ones who will excel in school and beyond.

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A typical Lorna Whiston English class is fun and stimulating but at the same time teaches kids crucial English language skills

Q: What’s a typical Lorna Whiston English class like?

A: Our programmes are fun, engaging and interactive, at the same time assisting children practise important English language skills.

Taking a Primary 1 enrichment class as an example, typically we would use a thematic approach, because a theme gives children something to get interested in.

We use a lot of stories at a younger age level because stories naturally engage children and they’re a great vehicle for language learning. So a typical class may feature quite a few different activities, all of which are linked.

For instance, there might be a vocabulary game introducing the children to some of the language they’re going to listen to in the story. Then, the children might listen to the story, answer comprehension questions, and discuss certain pictures.

Following this, the children might play a synonyms game where they match words, building their vocabulary skills.

Then they might do some comprehension work in pairs, and engage in co-operative learning to answer the questions – following which they do a feedback in the form of a team race.

Finally, we might bring them all together to review some of the language items that they learned in class.

Please go to the next page for information on teacher training and more…

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The staff at Lorna Whiston are meticulously trained in key aspects of the Singapore education system

Q: What kind of training do your teachers undergo and how do you maintain the quality of your programmes?

A: We have a very stringent recruitment process and recruit in the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. We look for teachers who have a minimum Bachelor of Education (a 4 year teaching degree), a Post Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) or an equivalent.

When the teachers come to us, they undergo a really intense induction programme on the Singapore education system.

Then throughout each academic year, we run a number of what we call in-service training sessions for our teachers in various important areas related to the Singapore education system, in particular the English language curriculum.

All our teachers also undergo formal observation once a year on classes they don’t know they’re going to be observed on. Following this, they’re evaluated and they also self-evaluate, setting targets for improvement for themselves.

We also write our extremely detailed curriculum ourselves and we regularly evaluate it, thus further ensuring the high quality of our programmes and the education we offer.

We also have external accreditation like Singapore Quality Class (SQC) with SPRING Singapore, where we are audited in relation to matters like financial management and business practices.

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Lorna Whiston runs a distance learning Masters course in collaboration with the University of York, UK

Q: Do you work with any foreign universities? What are they and how can students benefit from these partnerships? 

A: In conjunction with the University of York, UK – which is one of the country’s top universities for Education —  we run a Master of Arts in Teaching English to Young Learners by distance learning.

Young learners are defined as children between 13 to 16 years old, and people doing the course can specialise in whichever age group they have an interest in. This two-year-long programme has been running since 1997, and has been offered in Singapore since 2005.

We have students from all over the world enrolled in the programme and it’s a great way for teachers worldwide to be able to develop their skills professionally.

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April is currently a medical student in the UK

To find out more about April’s experience as a student at Lorna Whiston, please click this link

Q: What’s in store this year for Lorna Whiston in terms of growth and development?

A: We’ve just opened our first franchise in Hong Kong, which is really exciting. Lorna Whiston English, our Hong Kong branch is an early years enrichment centre that offers speech, drama and enrichment for two- to six-year-old children.

Then we’re looking to grow further and expand regionally, particularly in Malaysia and China. We’ve already got a couple of language schools in Kuala Lumpur, but we’re looking to do a lot more.

Does your child go to Lorna Whiston? Do leave a comment below telling us about your child’s experience there.

You’ll also be happy to know that Lorna Whiston conducts information sessions and workshops for parents on a regular basis. Please click on this link for more information. 

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