The family of Anglo-Chinese Schools, as we know it today, began with a Providential call to Methodist Reverend William Fitzjames Oldham, to establish a mission in Southeast Asia. At that time, there were few educational opportunities for the many children in the city-port of Singapore. Oldham’s vision was to provide a quality education for the young boys he saw wandering aimlessly in the streets. On 1 March 1886, he founded Anglo-Chinese School (ACS) with the purpose of nurturing students to be of service “for God and humanity”. The school, established in a small shophouse in No. 70 Amoy Street began providing instruction in English and Chinese to 13 children of Chinese merchants. Gradually, its high quality of education became known to the local community. Student enrolment grew so quickly that additional classroom space became urgently needed, and the school moved to a purpose-built school house at Coleman Street.

Early Years Through to the 1910s

Though fairly young, ACS quickly became known for its significant academic achievements. By the 1910s, it had recruited a large number of well-qualified foreign educators, and under the tutelage of these educators as well as missionaries with college degrees, it succeeded in producing a good number of Queen’s Scholars (the present-day equivalent of the President’s Scholars). The School went on to introduce the Cambridge Junior and Senior examinations. Under the leadership of Reverend J.S. Nagle, the Old Boys’ Association (OBA) was set up on 10 July 1914.

1920s and 1930s

The 1920s and 1930s witnessed another milestone in the tradition of ACS. Under the leadership of Mr T.W. Hinch, the Principal from 1929 to 1947, the foundation of a distinctive tradition that we now call ‘the ACS Spirit’ was laid. This included the ACS Anthem, written by Mr H.M. Hoisington, which continues to bond ACSians together, and the House system to encourage sports and healthy rivalry among students during annual Athletics championships. The Houses were named after Bishops Oldham and Thoburn, the Rev. Goh Hood Keng, Mr Tan Kah Kee and Mr Cheong Koon Seng, all of whom were part of the ACS family who had demonstrated great passion for the school. The House system, which all ACS schools observe, has today expanded to include Dr Lee Seng Gee, Dr Shaw Vee Meng and Tan Sri Tan Chin Tuan.

The Second World War and the Post-War Period

The Pacific War years and the Japanese Occupation of the early to mid-1940s forced the closure of the School until after the Second World War. But the immediate post-war period saw a massive building program that transformed the Barker Road campus into a fully equipped secondary school with its iconic clock tower. In tandem with this development was the expansion of the Primary and Junior Schools at Coleman Street, where the original buildings were torn down and rebuilt to cater for much increased enrolment.

The 1950s – 1970s

In 1950, Pre-University classes were set up and the first batch of female students was enrolled in ACS. Two years later, Mr Thio Chan Bee, an Old Boy, became the School’s first Asian Principal. On 7 January 1955, ACS became the first Methodist school to have a Board of Governors (BOG) which served to provide guidance and support to the school administration.  The Board comprised, as it still does, representatives from the Methodist Church, the ACS OBA and the ACS family.

The attainment of self-government and political independence in the 1950s and 1960s raised educational horizons and schools in Singapore began expanding and building new facilities to meet the changing educational needs. The first ACS Fun-O-Rama was held on the Barker Road campus in 1956 to raise funds for the Pre-University block which was fully equipped with science laboratories and a library. The Sports Complex and gymnasium, and an Olympic-sized school swimming pool, were also constructed during this period.

In the 1970s, even more dynamic changes to ACS followed. The school embraced the trend of introducing Junior College education and the Anglo-Chinese Junior College (ACJC) was established in 1977. 

Transition to Independence

On May 30th 1985, the then First Deputy Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong challenged school principals to accept a mandate to go independent, “… to dare to try out new ideas” and to empower Singaporeans to face the challenges of the 21st century.  ACS was among the first schools in Singapore to take on the mandate and on 2nd January 1988, ACS became ACS (Independent).  Becoming an independent institution allowed ACS to exercise greater flexibility and autonomy to innovate and experiment with curriculum and staffing, while maintaining the traditions and cultures unique to the school.  Under the guidance of the Board of Management (BOM), a new administration team was formed and Associate Professor Lawrence Chia was appointed the first Principal of ACS (Independent).

On January 9th 1992, ACS (Independent) made its move to a new campus at Dover Road with facilities and a boarding school. This campus was officially declared open on Founder’s Day by Dr Richard Hu, then Minister of Finance of Singapore, on 1 March 1993. The following year, in 1994, ACS (Barker Road) was established as a full government-aided school catering to both Primary and Secondary students.

In January 2004, the Integrated Programme (IP) was introduced – a 4-year course offered to ACSians beginning from Secondary 3 right through to pre-university level where they would sit for the IB Diploma examinations. ACS (Independent) officially became an accredited International Baccalaureate (IB) World School in April 2005 after being assessed in the preparation and readiness for the programme, and is the first national school in Singapore to offer the IB Diploma. It officially became a 6th Form School in 2006, with female students bringing a new dimension to the ACS (Independent) campus life. The first cohort of IB diploma students graduated with excellent results in 2007. Each cohort since then has maintained the high standards set by their seniors and continue to perform exceedingly well. 

The Future Ahead

As ACS (Independent) faces the challenges of the 21st Century, the school continues to strive towards fulfilling Bishop William Oldham’s vision.  According to Oldham, an education should transcend mere acquisition of knowledge and skills and go beyond the preparation to carve out a livelihood; an education should instead broaden the mind and nourish the soul.  With this vision guiding us, ACS (Independent) seeks to continue to be a beacon of truth and light, nurturing ACSians to be catalysts for change with Godly values and robust character, equipped and willing to serve and lead in the family, nation and global community.