Skip To Main Content

Our student-led approach to achieving excellence

Barnaby Sandow explains how his school encourages students to drive their own progress and achievement.
Nestled on the rugged and abundant island of Borneo, students at Jerudong International School (JIS) can experience the biodiversity of the rainforest and the luxury of a tropical beach, while getting the most from the curriculum of a British international school.

In common with other international schools, our student population is a vibrant, cultural melting pot of around 55 different nationalities – 60% expatriate children and 40% Bruneian.

But as an ambitious school, we’ve recently introduced a tranche of measures to put students at the centre of their learning and bring our motto ‘Achieving Excellence’ to life. And it’s making a real difference.

The driver for change 

The spark for doing things differently came after we began comparing trends in our students’ attainment with information from cognitive abilities tests relating to their potential. 

This revealed a gap between what some of our students were achieving in relation to what the data suggested they were capable of. So, we set out to identify and break down the barriers that were holding these children back.   

The power of debate

In this part of the world, respect is so deeply ingrained in the culture that there are children who are often quiet in class or may be reluctant to participate fully in group discussions. We have introduced a number of different techniques, used both inside and out of the classroom, to help these students come out of their shells and show their true potential. 

One of the most popular with the students is to ask them to sit in a circle and discuss an age-appropriate topic or unpack an idea – for younger children, this might be the question ‘Is Batman a superhero?’. 

There are no right or wrong answers, but the task really sparks students’ imaginations and we’ve found it a great way to encourage them to share their opinions. Watching the flurry of hands shoot up in their desperation to be the next person to contribute is wonderful to see.

But we didn’t stop there.

Putting students at the heart of learning assessment

To embed our student-focussed ethos further, we encourage the children to assess their own achievement to find a level of learning that they feel is appropriate for them.

I recently saw this approach in action during a badminton lesson, where the students made the decision to play on a choice of four different courts – from one where shorter handled rackets were on offer, right up to high levels of competitive playing. 

What struck me was the remarkable accuracy the children showed in choosing the level that was fitting for them. It gives us a real understanding of our students’ mindset and attitudes to learning, which is essential for unlocking their potential. 

Breaking down barriers

Language ability was another key issue that we wanted to prevent from becoming a barrier to achievement. 

English can be the third, fourth or even fifth language for students at JIS. They may speak it at home, or it may not be either parent’s native tongue. On monitoring the linguistic patchwork of the school, we identified a group of students who would benefit from some extra support with their language skills. By spotting this and taking appropriate action, we have created the best possible environment for them to achieve more. 

The importance of data

Key to the success of this student-centred approach has been the crucial insight we’ve gained from the data in our management information system (ours is from SIMS Independent). Being able to monitor achievement across the school and highlight specific skills we need to work on with groups of students, we are seeing some very interesting results.  

‘Achieving Excellence’ is so much more than a motto in our school. By understanding what support our students need and putting them in the driving seat of their own progress, we are helping to create an environment where every child can thrive. 



Barnaby Sandow is principal at Jerudong International School, Brunei, which is attended by 1,640 day and boarding students. For more information on the management information system from SIMS Independent, visit:

  • Assessment
  • Borneo
  • Data
  • EAL
  • Jerudong International School
  • Language
  • Learning