Catholic Seisen International School (SIS) was founded after the Second World War when US Air Force families requested an education for their children. Set up by the Handmaids of Sacred Heart of Jesus, it was the first all-girls school in Asia to offer the IB Diploma Programme (IBDP).
The campus houses the whole school, from kindergarten to Grade 12 (it’s girls only from Grade 1). The middle school and high school classrooms are part of the original 1970s building, although the library, which holds inspirational literature by female authors, feels more modern. There is a chapel, a big cafeteria, good sports facilities (including a decent-sized sports field, tennis courts and a large indoor gym that doubles up for whole-school events such as graduation ceremonies and concerts). The school shares an outdoor track and swimming pool with all-boys St Mary’s International School in Setagaya city (a 10-minute bus ride away).
There is a school bus service (also shared with St Mary’s) which covers 11 main areas (including Roppongi, Shinagawa, Hiroo and Yotsuya). Yoga station is a 10-minute walk away and is served by the Tōkyū Den-en-toshi Line; the closest bus stop to the campus is Shingakuen-mae.
Ms Colette Rogers is the first layperson head and she has been at the school (in various roles) since 2015. We found her to be measured and focused, although we hear that she is game for a giggle: it is rumoured that she dressed up as a large Minion to help out with gate duty and no one realised it was her.
Admissions requirements include report cards for the past two years, standardised test scores and a reference from a current teacher. The applicant must also sit tests in maths, reading, language usage and writing.
Children must be: from an expat family moving to Japan with one parent who is able to speak and write fluent English; from a bicultural family where one parent speaks and writes fluent English; fluent in English; Japanese pupils who have spent two years abroad in an English-medium school; local Japanese children who are transferring from an international school and need minimum support; or an international pupil moving from another international school in Japan.
There are scholarships for those who are a part of the Corporate Contribution Plan, which is in effect a corporate scholarship for dependent children of the companies’ employees. If corporations belong to the CCP, this removes the additional income tax normally charged to parents paying school fees in Japan. This allows companies to make the agreed contribution and the school to fund corporate scholarships, which are awarded to the children of the companies’ employees. In addition to this, the school has an additional limited scholarship programme.
In high school (Grades 9 to 12), pupils follow the IB Middle Years Programme (MYP) followed by the IBDP which has three pathways: Seisen High School Diploma (HSD) and the IB Diploma; Seisen High School Diploma and IB courses; and the Seisen High School Diploma. 24 credits are required for an SIS HSD - credits are given for courses taken from Grades 9-12. One credit is equal to one school year with a final passing grade of 3 or higher out of 7. Seisen HSD and Seisen HSD and IB courses require the Creativity, Activity, Service programme (CAS) to be taken; as part of IBDP, pupils have to complete CAS, Theory of knowledge (TOK) and an extended essay. Students can take online courses through the company Pamoja if particular courses are not offered at SIS (there are additional costs for this).
The 2021 results were impressive. There was a 100 per cent pass rate, which included 25 bilingual diplomas. The average IB score was 36 points (against a world average of 33 points), with 11 students achieving 40 points or more and two pupils gaining the perfect 45 score.
For SEN, the Seisen Support Team (SST) consists of a learning support specialist, counsellors, school nurse and IB coordinators. SIS can support children with mild learning difficulties who need additional help, but are able to cope with mainstream classes. There are a limited number of spaces for English as an Additional Language (EAL): pupils either attend EAL classes (until they are ready to attend regular mainstream lessons) or receive assistance in class. Children who have EAL support are advised to attend summer school.
This year, a large proportion of graduating students chose to stay in Japan for university (37 per cent); the rest went on to universities in the US, Canada, UK, Europe and Australia. MIT, Oxford University and Boston University were included in the destination list.
Every spring, the IB art students' work (Grade 12 only) goes on display at an art gallery in central Tokyo. There are two music rooms on campus (one for elementary, one for middle and high school). The drama hall isn’t big, but the school thinks outside the box when it comes to putting on performances – a recent rendition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream took place in the elementary school playground.
Sport is strong, particularly volleyball, tennis and basketball. There are two types of extracurricular activities: SASA (Seisen After School Activities) and after-school sports (both are paid for). Pupils can also choose from options ranging from basketball, choir and Model United Nations to pottery, soccer, tennis and the student newspaper. There are pupil-led activities too, where they can create their own clubs. Residential trips include skiing and a visit to Hiroshima.
Around 25 per cent of pupils are Catholic, but all faith denominations are welcome. As you’d expect though, religion is an important part of the school and students have the opportunity to attend Mass once or twice a month (whole-school Mass is held in the gym; the chapel is more for quiet reflection and individual religious classes). There are nurses on site as well as counsellors and within the parent/student handbook there is a key section on safeguarding (including potentially vital Japanese phrases such as ‘I am being followed’).
The school supports significant events in the calendar that celebrate women. Inclusion is high on the list with a newly formed group I-DEA (inclusion, diversity, equity and anti-racism) tackling issues head-on.
A hot buffet lunch is produced on site by Cezars Kitchen, SIS’s chosen catering company. Children can also bring lunch in from home. From Grade 1, pupils have lunch in the school cafeteria (there is the opportunity for a hot breakfast too as they open at 7.30am).
Although on paper, nationalities are split evenly it seems to be weighted in favour of Japanese students (although they may be mixed nationality). There is an active SPA (Seisen Parents Association) which organises events such as the spring lunch and welcome coffee morning. We hear that the Ice Cream Bash for middle and high school pupils is extremely popular.
This is a small, nurturing school that makes the best of the space and has spiritual studies at its heart.