This Marlborough College offshoot was established in Malaysia in 2012. It’s a fantastic school for those looking for a traditional British education, with a rigorous curriculum, excellent teaching, fabulous pastoral care, heaps of sport and space and the chance to experience boarding.
Built on a former palm plantation in Iskandar Puteri on the southern tip of Malaysia, this vast 90-acre campus is just 20km from the Singapore border. Marlborough College Malaysia (MCM)l is split into different sections: the nursery and pre-prep are together in a purpose-built ‘micro-school’ which consists of several buildings: Upcot (nursery and Reception), Hermitage (Year 1) and Priory (Years 2 and 3). The prep school (Years 3 to 8) has its own sports hall, swimming pool, libraries, dining hall and play areas. In the senior school (Shell, Remove and Hundred, which is Years 9 to 11), all the teaching buildings are dedicated to different subjects (for instance, Morris for art/D&T, Medawar for science). The sixth form (Years 12 and 13) is housed in a building called the Marlburian which is staffed until 6pm every day so that students can drop in and out. The outstanding facilities are one of the biggest selling points for sporty children – they include nine grass pitches, a 50m pool, cricket ground, athletics track, five tennis courts, netball courts, rugby and football pitches and an all-weather pitch for hockey.
Local families tend to drive children to school. The nearest airport is Senai International airport (a 30-minute drive) which serves regional airlines only, such as AirAsia from Ho Chi Minh City or Bangkok, or Jin Air from Incheon in Korea. Changi airport in Singapore is an hour’s drive (assuming the border crossing has no delays), once the border reopens.
British Simon Burbury is the master of college; he and his wife Jennifer joined MCM in August 2023 from Dollar Academy, an HMC co-educational boarding and day school in Scotland, where he has been Deputy Rector since 2020.
Nicholas Eatough is head of the senior school and he has been with the school since 2015. Mr Eatough arrived having been a housemaster and head of history at Millfield School in the UK.
MCM is academically selective, but it is also positively selective for those with talents in music, drama, arts, service and sport – it wants children who’ll make the most of opportunities. In addition, although it’s a non-denominational school it does make it clear that pupils must be ‘comfortable’ with its Anglican foundation and character. Registration can’t be made more than three years before the term of entry. Assessments (a morning of introduction and observation, including the potential pupil bringing an object for show-and-tell) are held three times a year ahead of each academic term. Don’t worry – the school does accommodate those who can’t attend the set entry dates.
There are waiting lists if demand for places is high, but offers can’t be rolled over – if you don’t take it up that year, you need to repeat the process again the following year. There is a separate assessment for those wanting to join the Accelerated English Programme based on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. Learning-support needs must be declared on application and reports included. Also, it’s worth noting that while MCM is very much considered part of the Marlborough family, it does not offer automatic entry into Marlborough College in the UK.
Scholarships are available to those entering at Year 9 (Shell) for academic, sport, drama and music scholars (both for internal and external candidates). There is a formal scholarship exam process in English, maths and science on a set assessment day. Scholarships are honorary and do not result in a discount on fees (drama/music/art/sport scholars get a credit of RM500 – about £90 – for books and exhibitions, as well as a place on the honours board and enrichment programme). There is also an MCM bursary fund.
The senior school (Shell, Remove and Hundred) follows the IGCSE programme and most pupils sit between eight and 10 subjects. Mandarin, Bahasa (Malay), Spanish and French are offered as the main languages. MCM is known for its small class sizes throughout (the staff to pupil ratio is 1:6). There’s a huge emphasis on the co-curricular programme and many families say that you only feel the full impact of these if you are a boarder (it’s what often prompts pupils to start boarding if they aren’t already). In 2020, 39 per cent achieved A*, 66 per cent A*-A and 97 per cent received A*-C at IGCSE.
The majority of staff have teaching experience in Marlborough College in the UK or other British independent schools. MCM has a first-rate learning support team and is good at identifying needs, although it says it is limited and on a case-by-case basis. The school will go as far as it can with its own resources before putting in a paid-for-plan: shadow teachers can be organised to help in class and outside educational psychologists can be arranged, both for an extra fee.
In January 2021, the school introduced an Accelerated English Programme which runs for one to three terms (it especially appeals to Malaysian families). EAL pupils are grouped according to their English ability and then into age groups. It’s a full immersion programme with 40 lessons a week in English, maths, humanities, science, art and D&T. Children also take part in games, swimming and activities, integrated with their year group in the usual timetable. Pupils can join the mainstream curriculum when they have graduated from the programme.
There are plenty of opportunities for art out of the classroom: making stage sets and props for drama productions; after-school masterclasses; visits to museums and art exhibitions in the region; and competitions as part of COBIS (Council of British International Schools). There’s also a great D&T lab (there are two IGCSE options: D&T Graphic Products and D&T Resistant Materials). Every week, MCM runs 280 instrumental music lessons (we’ve heard that singing is top-notch too) and there are stacks of ensembles and events from lunchtime concerts to assembly performances. The senior school musical takes place every two years. There is tons of drama and theatre, all to a very good level. The school prides itself on being inclusive, so everyone who auditions has the chance to perform.
Lots of families are drawn to MCM for the sports and space. Boarders can also make the most of the facilities at the end of the school day – whether they want to play out on the fields or participate in other sports such as cricket.
One parent told us that because it’s a small school, everyone gets thrown into sport so even if children don’t really like it, they’ll still play a lot and be in a team for matches. This means that they don’t always win, but it gives pupils a chance to see that losing is as valuable and that it’s all about the team spirit. Cricket is very popular, as is the Straits Tournament, a rugby and netball tournament which, pre-Covid, attracted lots of the Singapore international schools as well as the local schools in Malaysia.
Co-curricular is a huge part of what MCM is about and the school is very proud of its timetabling, which sees activities run throughout the whole day not just as a bolt-on. There’s a real emphasis on the fact that boarding enables pupils to do so much more with the school day and how this is what gives the opportunities to develop (many parents tell us that they began boarding because their children felt like they were missing out).
Barton Farm is the school's organic sustainable farm which the sixth-formers started a couple of years ago as a way of creating an additional educational resource for biology, chemistry, geography and business studies. Now it’s one of the school’s main outdoor education and community resources: pupils sell produce back to the school’s kitchen.
Boarding is only offered from Year 5 onwards, but it is heavily encouraged once pupils move into senior school and especially in the sixth form – this is the school’s USP. It is an authentic boarding programme and while the boarding houses don’t look like those in the UK (they are purpose-built to suit a tropical environment), they are run in the same way with housemasters, dames, dorms and exceptional pastoral care. Pupils can choose between full boarding, weekly boarding (Sunday night to Friday afternoon) and day boarding (a minimum of three days a week).
Each boarding house is under the leadership of a housemaster or housemistress and mentorship of resident house tutors and visiting tutors. In the senior school, there are two houses for girls and two for boys. The average house size is 60 pupils. In addition to the boarding houses, there are also houses for day pupils. Inter-house competitions range from debating to drama to help develop relationships between pupils and there is tremendous hype about the house cup, awarded at the end of the year.
Sports fixtures take place most Saturdays. Full boarders may return home every three weeks (although they can request ‘privs’ to leave on other weekends, at the discretion of the housemaster). Weekend activities are laid on and include everything from mangrove conservation projects, outings to the cinema and rock climbing to kayaking, fishing trips and a sixth-form games night. Pupils are even offered the chance to spend the evening in Johor Bahru or at the local Puteri Harbour and can use school transport to nip into Singapore on some weekends.
There are 44 nationalities throughout the school which attracts a wide audience across Asia. It really trades on its British roots and there are lots of families who love that typical traditions and activities – Burns Night, debating club, black tie dinners – take place. Pastoral care is a big plus for the school. Families rave about MCM, especially the tutors and housemasters, and the level of care, attention and support they get. Communication with parents has improved since Covid-19, which the school handled superbly (MCM managed to negotiate a special quarantine facility for its pupils, staffed by school employees to reduce parental concerns about children being stuck in a hotel on their own).
Parents tell us that children are really happy here. The MCM ‘family’ is a huge strength – many of the teachers live on campus and, alongside the local parents, this creates a real community feel.
Alumni join the Marlburian Club and are eligible to become members of several private London clubs for networking opportunities – although it’s important to note, you only become an OM and join the Marlburian Club if you’ve graduated from the sixth form. Friends of MCM is very active, organising events such as the annual ball, coffee mornings, and quiz nights. It raises money which is channelled back into the school to support the bursary fund and for non-essential equipment for pupils such as bicycles and play furniture.
There is a separate canteen for the prep and senior school (staff eat in the latter). The canteen is the most traditional of dining halls that we’ve seen in any international school, with long wooden tables and benches. There are no daily meals in the boarding houses, but they do put on ‘dorm dinners’ as a treat.
MCM brilliantly balances a British ethos in an international context, appealing to parents for its small class sizes, great sports facilities, the boarding experience and strong pastoral care. Its location – not actually in Singapore and not in Kuala Lumpur either – may be off-putting for some, but the campus itself is amazing.