In Focus interview with Paul Friend, Principal of North London Collegiate School (Singapore)



This article was originally published in Orient magazine, June 2020.

Inspiring and building confidence in students is at the heart of the ethos for new British school in Singapore, North London Collegiate. In this issue our Editor Lucy Haydon interviews their Principal, Paul Friend, who has been leading schools in overseas posts for over twenty years.

How would you describe the NLCS student experience and spirit for those who are unfamiliar with the school in the UK?

We are an academic school. We believe in academic rigour and academic structure. We believe that children need to be inspired, stretched and challenged in every lesson if they are to reach their fullest potential. For us, academic excellence is not just about educational outcomes like exam results or university matriculation data. Academic excellence is about the culture of the school, it’s about what we believe in and what we value.  For us, creating and nurturing a culture of genuine academic scholarship is our main priority.

In our recent newsletter, we asked a student from NLCS Jeju, South Korea, to share a typical day as an NLCS student, as we wanted to give our new students in Singapore a sense of what to expect. The student’s response captured the NLCS experience really well as they explained that there is no typical day at NLCS. They really captured the essence of the huge range of enrichment opportunities available and how students are encouraged to get involved with so many different things. This student also spoke about our passionate teachers and explained that when they joined the school, they really disliked physics, but they went on to explain how they found the passion of the teacher for the subject infectious and inspiring. That was really heartening to read because every school has its own ethos and philosophy, and what really matters is that you put that into practice. For me, the student experience is about making sure that our ethos is delivered in every classroom, everyday.

What do you look for in prospective students and new teachers to ensure that this spirit continues to thrive?

I am a big believer in the importance of fit in education. We want to make sure that every student we enrol here is going to thrive and flourish in our environment and culture. We are looking for students with academic potential but also students who are inquisitive, curious about the world, and who like to ask questions and search for answers. That raw material is the type of student that is going to really do well in our school and make the most of all the opportunities that we provide.

Our teachers, as with any school, are our most valuable resource. In my opinion, you can’t have an outstanding school without outstanding teachers. I find the NLCS ethos hugely compelling and inspirational and that ethos is brought to life by our teachers. It is not me and the leadership team in the boardroom writing policies and directives that will make our school outstanding, it’s the teachers in the classrooms, corridors and sports fields that really make that ethos meaningful. We look for teachers who are excited by academia, teachers who have retained a connection with their own academic subject and really love their discipline, as subject-specialism is very important to us. We want our students to be excited and inspired in every single lesson and that will only happen if our teachers are excited and passionate about what they are teaching.  We also require our teachers to be fully committed to our philosophy of pastoral care. At NLCS, we often remind our teachers that no teacher in our school is either just academic or just pastoral. We require every member of academic staff, regardless of their role in the school, to be equally committed to both areas.

Your previous roles have taken you around the world, in particular Asia. How has this experience enhanced your career in education?

My international experience has certainly helped me to grow as an educator and as a leader. I remember teaching in the UK and talking to students about diversity and celebrating different values, but that can become quite an abstract subject when you are living in a broadly monocultural community. On the international circuit, the mix of different cultural, ethnic and religious backgrounds provide a deeply enriching experience for the children and it has also been incredibly rewarding for me. When you feel, as an educator, that your own thinking, perspectives and attitudes are being broadened, it is a really fulfilling and enlightening journey to be on, and I think it can only benefit the students when teachers are going through that journey.

The point where you realise there are other perspectives and attitudes in the world is significant. The framework of beliefs and perspectives that you have built up because of your culture and your context is not the only way; there are alternatives. And when you reach that sweet spot of real open-mindedness and embracing not just other cultures but other attitudes, perspectives and ways of viewing the world, I think that is incredibly enriching.

What can new students and their families look forward to seeing when the NLCS (Singapore) campus opens this summer?

They are going to see a brand-new, purpose-built building, with state-of-the-art facilities along Depot Road. But we’re most looking forward to seeing what goes on inside the building when we’re open. We will see happy, fulfilled students who are always busy with opportunities to explore, discover and be productive. We will see students who are excited about learning and advancing their own knowledge. We will also see a very caring and respectful community.

Personal conduct and behaviour are very important to us and we promote qualities of citizenship, service, treating each other with respect, as well as celebrating and appreciating difference and diversity, so there is a unique culture that you feel within the NLCS environment.

It is always interesting when many of our colleagues travel between the NLCS schools. When we walk into NLCS in London, Jeju or Dubai, we are obviously in a different school but it feels strangely familiar, and not just because the children are wearing the same uniform or because of the logos on the doors – it is the attitudes and values you see. The way the children are empowered and how leadership is promoted, it is a feeling of being somewhere new but completely familiar. And when that NLCS ethos is present in the corridors and classrooms in Singapore, that is what we are looking forward to seeing.

Which moments stand out for you in your time as an educator?

A powerful word in that question is “moments”. I have a long history in boarding schools, and I have developed special moments there. Nothing compares to the relationship you develop in that boarding setting with students. I often say - if you are in this game because you genuinely find it a privilege to be forming relationships with young people, influencing and guiding them, then there is no scenario that beats being in boarding.

My first overseas post – 21 years ago this year – was at Dulwich College in Thailand, the very first UK school to be franchised overseas. I was the Head of Boarding there and I am still in touch with the students, who are now in their mid to late thirties and have their own families. We keep in touch through regular messages on Facebook. When we find ourselves in the same city or location, we make sure that we connect. This speaks to the many special moments that we have shared, and moments that will last forever.



About North London Collegiate School (Singapore)

North London Collegiate School, founded in 1850, is one of the pre-eminent schools in the United Kingdom. The school has an outstanding record of the highest intellectual achievements, and a strong tradition of providing an unparalleled academic education, while encouraging the development of individualism and a pioneering spirit among its students.

North London Collegiate School (Singapore) will open its doors to students in August 2020, after phenomenally successful openings in Jeju, South Korea and Dubai. It is conveniently located on Depot Road and boasts a built-up area of approximately 300,000 sqft, with a diverse array of learning spaces required to deliver an outstanding world-class education which caters to every possible interest and talent. NLCS (Singapore) retains a deep connection with NLCS (UK) through teacher recruitment and regular monitoring visits and inspections. Visit for more information.

On Social Media

  • Twitter: @Paul_Friend @Principal_NLCSS
  • Facebook: @nlcssg
  • Linkedin: @nlcssg | paul-friend-fcct-9aa61242