Choosing a Primary School in Singapore
(Updated 17 July 2009) For many Singaporean parents, choosing a Primary school marks the beginning of the period of a very different kind of stress that they have been used to since their children were new-borns. No longer are their children allowed to continue living the carefree and unchallenged lives they have been enjoying. Now they will be entering the system to be processed and measured against other children in their cohort.
While parents had full control over the choice of their children's pre-school education, deciding on which child care or kindergarten their children should be attending, switching them to new ones with impunity, the tables are now turned. The selection of a suitable Primary school can be a highly involved and frustrating activity.
The frustration stems, in no small part, from the almost complete lack of an official data source that allows parents to compare the performance of schools from various angles. The conventional wisdom is that by not ranking the schools, parents would not be able to compare and will simply go for the schools nearest to their homes. However, it is also true that the nearest schools may not necessarily be the most suitable for their children. Some schools are strong academically, others in sports, or in character development or the arts. Not all parents want to send their children to top schools, which are invariably more stressful than some other schools, and also difficult for their children to do well relative to others in the classes, thereby making their children lose self-esteem even if their standards would rank them top of classes in the less academically-established schools.
The fact is, while there is no such thing as a bad Primary school in Singapore, not all Primary schools are "born" equal, and some are definitely head and shoulders above others in various aspects. Granted that it is difficult to compare Primary schools as a whole, most parents generally would want to know the relative strength of the schools in terms of:
- academic excellence
- athletic excellence
- richness of aesthetics programmes
- character development
At the same time, parents' decisions are tempered by the constraints imposed by the system to manage the scarce "premium primary school" resources. The over-riding principle is to give priority to children who live in the vicinity of the schools. This is a very rational measure taken by the education authorities - the only caveat being that in practice, the system becomes highly complex and difficult to understand to most new parents.
In general, the best advice we can give to parents is to prioritize their selection based on the following 2 key rules:
- Choose schools where parents were ex-students, or where siblings are currently or have been studying in. Unless the school is too out of the way, this is the best choice that parents can make if they want a hassle and stress-free registration process.
- Choose the best school that is less than 1km away from where the child is staying. This gives you the best chance of getting into the school. At the same time, the child will spend less time travelling, which translates to more time for doing more constructive things than sing songs or fight on the schoolbuses.
To measure the distance between your home and the schools, please refer to the Measuring Home-School Distance section.
Application of the above 2 rules will ensure that parents have the BEST chance of getting into the school. Oftentimes, however, parents may be unable to do so for various reasons. In such cases, it is then necessary to choose the best school nearest to the child using other methods.
Some issues to consider:
Types of schools
You should start by getting some understanding of the different types of schools:
- Level of Autonomy
- Government schools
- These are schools that are fully funded by the Singapore government. They follow strictly all the rules and guidelines dictated by the Ministry of Education (MOE).
- Government-aided schools
- These are schools which has a significant part of their funds coming from the Singapore government. These funds are supplemented from other private sources such as fund-raising activities. Many of these schools form part of a group of schools that cover from Primary up to Junior College and even tertiary education. Such schools maintain a certain level of autonomy over how they operate. For example, they can choose to offer class sizes that are different from that recommended by MOE. Some parents prefer these schools because of their flexibility and affiliation to a certain brand of education.
- Government schools
- Secondary School Affiliation
- Some schools are closely related with specific secondary schools which give preferential admission criteria for gradulating PSLE students to enter the secondary schools. This is highly desirable for parents since their children will be more or less warranted a place in a good secondary school as long as they perform reasonably well in PSLE.
- There are a handful of integrated schools where the same principal runs both the Primary and Secondary schools within the same compound. Such schools are also known as Full Schools.
- Religious affiliation
- There are schools that have been aligned with specific faiths and beliefs. These are generally schools with a very long history and follow the faith of the founders. Parents like these schools as they offer additional religious lessons to their children catering to their faith. It is also believed that these schools provide very good moral and chacter-building education.
- Regardless, all religious schools are required to practice religious tolerance and students can be exempted from religious lessons according to the wishes of their parents.
- It should be noted that most religious schools for Catholic, Methodist, and Buddhism faiths offer priority registration for Primary 1 students who are from related Churches or Temples. Parents are allowed to register their children under Phase 2B.
- Mother Tongue focus
- Certain schools focus on creating strong cultural bonds between students and their mother-tongue language (MTL) which can be Chinese, Malay, or Tamil. In particular, Special Assisted Plan (SAP) primary schools offer Higher Chinese from Primary 1. Higher Mother Tongue (HMT) is usually offered to capable students after Primary 4 in most other schools. So effectively, in SAP schools, both English and Chinese are offered as 1st Languages. The idea is to promote Chinese and its culture to students from a very young age.
- Chinese is offered by all Primary schools
- Malay is offered by all EXCEPT the SAP schools
- Tamil is offered by most schools
- Single sex vs mixed (co-ed) schools
- Some parents prefer single sex schools so that students can be treated uniformly across the entire school. Some believe that single-sex schools allow their children to focus and excel in their studies.
- Mixed schools have the advantage if parents have both male and female children. They allow parents to just go through the Primary 1 registration hassle just once instead of twice for their children, since both brothers and sisters can attend the same school.
- Single vs dual sessions
- Most primary schools are dual sessions where P1-P2 classes are held in one session and P3-P6 in the other, but quite a number of government-aided schools have converted to single session attended by all levels of the Primary school.
- It is believed that single session schools allow for a more wholistic education experience and bonding with the school, since children get to spend more time in school. Regardless, single session schools start at 7:30am in the morning while dual session schools allow for school to start at 12:30pm for afternoon sessions. In general, P1-P2 classes usually start in the afternoon sessions, and P3-P6 classes start in the morning.
- It is MOE's goal that all Primary schools will eventually be single sessions. To realize this goal, MOE has converted most Government schools to "partial single session" where only P1-P2 classes operate in the afternoons, so that the spare school facilities can be used for CCA activities for P3-P6 students in the afternoon. In this context, "double/dual sessions" normally means "partial single sessions".
- Schools that support children with special needs
- These schools have Special Needs Officers that can assist children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or dyslexia integrate into the school environment.
- There are also schools with full handicap-friendly facilities.
- Refer to this for more information.
- Schools with special awards from the Ministry of Education
- MoE evaluates and recognises schools for their efforts in improving themselves in terms of management and/or teaching techniques and processes. This comes in the forms of various awards.
- Refer to this site for the top 20 schools ranked by awards given by MOE.
Your child's interests
What is the "best" school for your child? At the age of 6, you should probably have some idea about the capabilities and interests of your child. Some children are good at sports, some at art, and there are always those that are naturally curious about science and IT. You should choose to focus on growing these talents, since your child is likely to do best in something that is of interest to him/her.
The MOE actively encourages schools to specialize in various non-curricular programmes that go beyond learning in the classroom, by providing financial grants through schemes such as the Programme for School-Based Excellence (PSE). Schools have used these grants to hire and train staff to build up their niches in:
- sports such as swimming, rugby, hockey
- arts, performing arts such as dance, choir
- aesthetics such as music, calligraphy, cultural training
- intellectual development such as chess, math olympiad
- character development such as outdoor rugged activities
- infocomm such as robotics, multimedia
- new teaching approaches and pedagogies such as human dynamics
You should do research on the schools near you to understand what additional programmes they provide to enrich the lives of their students, and decide if those match the needs of your child.
KiasuParents.com have come up with a few means of ranking schools to help parents make more informed choices. While the data is derived from public information available from the Ministry of Education, these rankings are by no means authorized by MOE. These rankings are not meant to be definitive, and should be seen only as an indicative measure of how good the school has been, historically. KiasuParents.com lay no claim that the data presented here is either accurate or definitive. Use them at your own discretion!