Choosing A Primary School for your Child

Motherhood, Preschooler & Up | March 26, 2012 | By

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In less than two months, your child’s education foundation will be decided when you register him for primary education in Singapore. So how do you choose the right school for your child? What kind of school would be better: a brand name school or a heartland one? To be sure that you have done all you can do to ensure he gets into the most suitable school, there are a number of factors to weigh.

First, the basics. Know the basic phases of primary school registration set by the Ministry of Education (MOE):

Phase 1: For a child whose sibling is currently studying in the school.
Phase 2A(1): For a child whose parent is an alumnus, or a committee member.
Phase 2A(2): For a child whose parent or sibling ever studied in the school, or whose parent is a staff of the school.
Phase 2B: For a child whose parent has volunteered 40 hours for the school, is a member of a church or clan linked to the school, or an active community leader.
Phase 2C and beyond: For a child who is eligible for Primary One in the following year and who has not yet registered.

1. Distance From Home

As more schools gear up to become single-session schools, it makes sense to enrol your child in a school close to home. This way, he can sleep in longer in the morning, and will not have to spend precious hours travelling to and from school each day.

To find schools in your neighbourhood (based on the address in your Identity Card), check the List of Primary Schools by Planning Area at the Ministry of Education (MOE) website.

Once you have located the schools within your planning area, shortlist them by distance using OneMap SchoolQuery. This provides information on whether the school is within 1 km, or between 1 and 2 km of your home.

It is important to know this as your child may have to ballot for a place in the school of choice if there are more applications than vacancies available. Balloting is conducted according to the following order of priority:

• Children living within 1 km of the school
• Children living between 1 km – 2 km of the school
• Children living outside 2 km of the school

Details on balloting procedures can be found here.

2. Type Of School

child head think graphicImage cc licensed (CC BY-ND 2.0) flickr image child head by Charly W. Karl

Level of Autonomy

Based on level of autonomy, most primary schools in Singapore are either government schools which are fully funded by the government and which follow MOE’s rules and guidelines closely, or government-aided schools which are partly funded by the government and which maintain some autonomy over their operation management. You can find out more about the different schools at the Ministry Of Education’s School Information Service (SIS) website.

Religious/Clan Affiliation

If you are a member of a clan association, or if your child belongs to a religious group (document proof required) you can register your child at an affiliated school. The Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan’s six affiliated schools are Tao Nan School, Ai Tong School, Chongfu School, Nan Chiau High School, Nan Chiau Primary School, and Kong Hwa School. If you are a member of the Hokkien Huay Kuan, you will be able to register your child under Phase 2B.

Mixed or Single Gender

Parents opt for a single or mixed gender schools for different reasons. However, since younger siblings can gain entry to the same school as their older siblings under Phase 1, parents with a son and a daughter (or more) may prefer to apply to a mixed gender school for practical reasons.

Single or Double Session

Some schools operate on double session-mode because of limited classrooms. In these schools, the morning session gives way to the afternoon session. Some parents prefer to enrol their children in a single-session school so that they can enjoy Co-Curricular Activities (CCA) or other learning activities in the afternoons.

You can check the operation mode of all primary schools in this academic year here.

3. Mother Tongue

Bilingualism is a key feature of compulsory education for six to 15-year-olds in Singapore. English is the official teaching and learning language, but all students are required to take a mother tongue language, either Chinese, Malay, or Tamil. This is also one of the examination subjects for the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) at the end of six years in primary school.

Not all schools offer all three languages. Chinese is offered in all primary schools, Malay in all except Special Assisted Plan (SAP) schools, and Tamil is offered in most schools. Check the SIS to find out if your preferred school offers the Mother Tongue subject you require.

If your child will be taking Chinese as a second language, you may consider enrolling him in a SAP (Special Assistance Plan) school. These schools offer Higher Chinese from Primary One, and aim to promote the study of Chinese language and culture in students from a young age. You can find out more about SAP schools here.

4. Academic Excellence

When the PSLE results are released each year, there is extra attention given to primary schools which have produced many graduates with high total scores (275 or above). Schools with more well-performing students are considered top schools. These schools are popular and less easy to get into.

MOE does not rank primary schools (see why) but you can easily Google for unofficial rankings.

Graduation Hats
5. Support for Special Needs

Currently, all primary schools have at least one Allied Educator (Learning and Behavioural Support) in their staff. They were previously known as Special Needs Officers. Their role is to support students with mild dyslexia, autism, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. They are an educator, an advisor, a coordinator, and a facilitator rolled into one. Among other things, they provide in-class support and small-group coaching so the child can fit in socially and academically.

Some schools are equipped with full handicapped facilities and welcome physically challenged students as well. And to find out if the primary school you are zooming in is affiliated with a secondary school which offers support for students with mild autism or dyslexia, you can view the list in this link.

6. Further Education Options

If you expect your child to do well through primary school and bypass the ‘O’ Levels to get to the ‘A’ Levels, you may want him to attend a primary school that is affiliated with secondary schools which run an Integrated Program (IP) scheme. Check here to confirm which secondary schools offer this scheme.

7. The School’s Unique Strengths

Depending on your child’s interests and talents, you may want him to be in a school that has good programmes in a specific sports or activity. In the Primary School Registration Info Sheet, listed under “Niche”, you can see the specific programmes which differentiate one school from the other.

The schools’ performances in these programmes are evaluated annually and Programme for School-based Excellence (PSE) Awards are distributed to the high achieving ones. Last year’s award winners are listed here.

8. Ease of Getting In

The most hassle-free choice is to choose a school where you, as the father or mother, was an ex-student, or where your older child is currently studying. But if these options are not available, then you may want to choose a school that you perceive is best from the list of schools that are less than 1 km away from home. Being a close neighbour of the school gives you the best chance of getting in.

If you are neither an alumnus or neighbours with the school, you will need to contact the school to register as a parent volunteer at least a year before your child is due to register. This could boost your chances as it qualifies you to enrol under phase 2B. However, it still does not guarantee a place for your child in the school.

Active community leaders, those who are currently serving as executive committee members of the Residents’ Committee (RC), Neighbourhood Committee (NC), Citizen’s Consultative Committee (CCC), Community Club Management Committee (CCMC) and the Community Development Council (CDC), also have better chances.

If there are vacancies left after all the above phases are closed, there will be balloting. The first balloting gives priority to children living within 1 km of the school, and then to the ones within 2 km. Singaporean children have an edge over permanent residents here as available places will be given to the former first. Remaining places, if any, will then be open to permanent residents.

After all is said and done, what you can now do is to prepare your child for P1. He has to learn discipline and self-reliance. He will also have already know the basics of English (be able to read simple stories), mother tongue (have a good foundation in hanyu pinyin) and Mathematics (able to add/subtract up to 100). Some parents even send their children for Primary One prep classes!

Ultimately, you yourself have to be prepared to set aside time and efforts to help your child with the transition to Primary One. The journey starts here, and hopefully the primary school your child gets into will be the right one for him or her.

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