Established in 1908 by four sisters, the International School of the Sacred Heart (ISSH) is part of the global network of Sacred Heart schools, whose ethos is to meet girls’ educational needs in a changing world. This Catholic school’s mission also includes working towards gender equality and smashing stereotypes.
A large, green campus in Tokyo’s Shibuya district houses all years, from the co-ed pre-kindergarten and kindergarten (ages 3 to 5) to the all-girls Grades 1 to 12. There’s a large music room and recording studio, and a trio of art rooms, one of which is purely for pottery. The Field (separate from the playground) is where PE lessons take place, and it includes long-jump and shot put sections. There are also two floodlit tennis courts and a large indoor gym.
As you’d expect, there is a chapel on site and it can hold 700 (weekly worship is offered to the community). ISSH shares it with the University of the Sacred Heart.
The closest subway station is Hiroo on the Hibiya line, which is a three-minute walk away. There is no school bus service.
The school plans to expand and refurbish the middle and high school facilities. The project will consist of three new buildings in three phases, including an auditorium (currently ISSH doesn’t have one). Ferocious fundraising is under way for this.
Since 2008, softly spoken Scot Yvonne Hayes has been in charge. She previously held several roles at ISSH, including science teacher and principal of the high school. For the past decade, Charmaine Young has been high school principal.
ISSH accepts boys in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten (ages 3 to 5). From pre-kindergarten to Grade 6, the applicant and at least one parent must hold a non-Japanese passport in order to apply, and at least one parent (from kindergarten to Grade 8) must speak English, the language of instruction. Applicants from schools where English is not the language of instruction sit an English assessment test.
ISSH will accept students who transfer from another international school within Tokyo on a case-by-case basis. Siblings of current pupils and children of alumni are given priority. An application’s success does not depend upon its date of submission. Instead, the school takes into account the balance of educational ability and English proficiency within each class. The school must be informed before admission if a child has received additional support for learning, speech/language and OT needs, or for being gifted/talented. Pupils take an assessment test in maths, English essay and reading comprehension. There is a student scholarship fund available.
The ISSH academic framework is based on the American, UK, Canadian and Australian curricula. High school begins in Grade 9. Grades 11 and 12 can choose from 21 Advanced Placement (AP) courses, including Japanese and French language and culture. Students graduate with an HSD (High School Diploma) but in order to graduate G12 students are required to complete Theory of Knowledge alongside Personal Finance. After-school tutoring by either a staff member or a student tutor can be requested and approved by the principal for those in Kindergarten through Grade 12.
In 2021, the average AP result was 4.21, with 95 per cent scoring grade 3 and above. The High School Diploma is awarded to students who earn at least 22 credits. Middle and high school pupils can do ‘Options’, which teach them new skills and in high school count towards credits. Options for high school – which include eco-fashion and textiles, photography, vocal music and writers’ lab – are run for a semester or a year.
ESL is available to those who are learning English from Grades 5 to 12 (applicants without an English will be accepted up to Grade 10 on a case-by-case basis).
There is plenty of further-education support, from counsellor conferences with parents and students to explore options to university presentations. Grade 12 also has a weekly class to work on college applications and examine topics that cover issues such as the shift from high school to college and living overseas. ISSH has a 100 per cent university placement and is proud of this fact. Most go on to study in the US, followed by the UK and Canada.
A key player on the school arts scene, for 33 years ISSH has helped coordinate Artscape, an event that exhibits artwork by Grades 5 to 12 from a selection of schools at a public art venue in central Tokyo. Music is off the charts here, especially when it comes to the junior and middle/high school choirs – the ISSH Vocal Ensemble has bagged gold at the International Choir Competition in the Netherlands. An impressive Christmas choral event takes place in the chapel. Orchestra is open to Grade 5 upwards.
Orchestra is open to students from Grade 5 up. High school students can take part in the annual Vocal Solo and Ensemble Festival, organised through the Kanto Plains Association of Secondary Schools (KPASS), of which ISSH is a member.
The association also holds a drama festival and sports competitions for Grade 6 upwards in disciplines such as volleyball, soccer, tennis and cross-country. Basketball is played competitively both in the KPASS league as well as the Far East sports tournament, and there is a high school tennis team.
High school extracurricular activities cover areas such as leadership (student council), social awareness (GIN club – Global Issues Network), art, music and sports. External providers run a range of activities from aikido to tea ceremony and self-defence (activities are aimed at different age groups).
Charitable service is active for high school students, who can propose any good cause they would like to support. There are annual excursions within Japan, from Fujisan in Grade 5 to Hiroshima in Grade 12.
Safety and pastoral care are priorities for this community of 41 nationalities. There is a nurse’s office on site, and three counsellors are on hand to cover any social or emotional needs. The school is aware of those pupils who need to fast for religious reasons and makes adaptations for them. Pupils commuting to and from school by themselves are given safety advice.
There’s an orientation morning for new middle and high school pupils at the start of the academic year, and peer support is encouraged – current pupils look out for newbies during their first few weeks to ensure they feel welcome. There are coffee mornings for parents, who can also make use of facilities such as the gym and tennis courts when not in use.
The parent advisory committee meets to discuss issues four times a year, and the parents’ board organises ISSH community events, including a ‘break the ice’ party, a fun run and a family festival. Every year, the SOFIS event brings together all the Sacred Heart schools in Japan – representatives meet at one of the schools for the three-day gathering, which looks at specific social issues.
A café on site caters for the junior, middle and high schools.
This is the oldest girls’ school in Japan and stands out for its excellent focus on each individual. The buildings might be a little tired, but planned renovations are sure to give ISSH a new lease of life.