Answered: How Foundation Subjects Affect the PSLE, Secondary School Choice, and More!

Concerned that your child might have to take subjects at the Foundation level in primary school?

Some of your worries may include:

  • How Foundation subjects will affect your child’s score in the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE)
  • Whether it is compulsory to take Foundation subjects, if this is the recommendation for your child
  • What it actually means to do a subject at the Foundation level in primary school

Here’s the first thing to note: the message from the Ministry of Education is that taking a Foundation subject is not a disadvantage for your child. This option is specifically offered to children who need more time to build up fundamental skills for their various subjects, so that they won’t fall further behind, and can go on to thrive in secondary school.

Do read on for more answers to your pressing questions on Foundation subjects. We’ve also linked to official resources where possible, and we hope this guide will be useful to you!

When will a child be given the option of doing Foundation Level subjects?

In Singapore’s primary schools, children take only four subjects: English Language, Mother Tongue Language or MTL, Maths, and Science. Currently, the Primary 1 to 4 syllabus is common to all students. 

In Primary 5 and 6, children will take the above subjects at the Foundation or standard levels, depending on their Primary 4 school exam results.

Here’s what you can expect towards the tail end of the Primary 4 school year:

  1. Your child will sit for the school exams.
  2. Based on the exam results, the school will recommend a subject combination for your child for Primary 5 and 6.
  3. You will be asked to fill up a form to decide on your child’s subject combination.

Students who fail one subject during the Primary 4 exams will still go ahead to take all four subjects at the standard level in Primary 5 and 6. 

However, if students fail two or more subjects, they will be offered the following choices:

  • 4 standard subjects
  • 3 standard subjects + 1 foundation subject
  • 2 standard subjects + 2 foundation subjects
  • 1 standard subject + 3 foundation subjects
  • 4 foundation subjects

At this point, we strongly recommend that you consult with your child’s teachers and tutors about the best way forward.

Can students who take Foundation subjects still qualify for the Express stream in secondary school?

Yes, students who take Foundation subjects can still enter the Express stream in secondary school! This is possible as long as their PSLE score is 20 points or lower, and they meet the cut-off point of their desired school.

Need a refresher on the new PSLE Achievement Level or AL scoring system, implemented in 2021? Here is how students are scored for standard-level subjects:

 

AL Score

Marks

1

≥ 90

2

85-89

3

80-84

4

75-79

5

65-74

6

45-64

7

20-44

8

< 20

Students who take Foundation-level subjects will also sit for the PSLE, but they will take a different paper from standard-level students, and receive a letter grade instead. These letter grades will then be converted to an ‘AL-equivalent’ score for school admissions: 

 

Foundation Grades

Marks

Equivalent AL Score

A

75–100

6

B

30–74

7

C

< 30

8

So let’s say your child is only taking the Mother Tongue Language (MTL) at the Foundation level, and scores an A for it during the PSLE—this would be equivalent to a 6-point AL score.

If your child had scored 75 marks for his or her three standard-level subjects, this would amount to 4 AL points per subject, or 12 AL points for those three subjects. By adding the MTL score, your child would then have 18 AL points in total (for four subjects), and would be able to qualify for the Express programme — in a secondary school with a cut-off score ranging from 18 to 20 points. 

Do note that there is some leeway on this, as students with up to 22 points can also qualify for the Express stream. However, they might be strongly advised to consider the Normal (Academic) stream instead.

For your reference, here are the PSLE score ranges for the academic pathways available after Primary 6:

Academic Pathways

PSLE Score

Express

4–20

Can choose between Express or Normal (Academic) 

21–22

Normal (Academic)

23–24

Can choose between Normal (Academic) or Normal (Technical)

25

Normal (Technical)

26–30, with AL7 or better in both English Language and Mathematics

How do Foundation-level language subjects differ from the standard level?

English is taught in our local schools, with the intention that all students will be able to use English to express themselves adequately in the real world. With this in mind, foundational skills would include basic grammar, spelling, and pronunciation. Minimally, the goal is for students to be comfortable using English in daily life, for functional purposes such as giving directions, making requests, or providing information and instructions. 

To give an example, writing an English composition at the Foundation level might be more focused on getting the basics (such as spelling) right, as opposed to the higher-order skills required to tell a compelling story. You can find out more about the Ministry of Education’s Foundation-level English programme here.

For the Mother Tongue Language or MTL, the ‘gentler’ learning options would be the Foundation syllabus in primary school, and the ‘B’ syllabus in secondary school. In general, these programmes will focus on oral and listening skills, with less demand on writing skills.

At the PSLE, students who score an AL7 or 8 in Standard MTL (or the equivalent, which is a B or C in Foundation MTL) can go on to take MTL ‘B’ in secondary school.

However, if your child is studying a mother tongue language that is not commonly offered by our local schools, we advise you to check that the ‘B’ option will be available in secondary school. Don’t wait too long to consult your child’s school about this, so that you can consider switching to a different language if necessary.

How is Foundation Maths different from standard Maths?

Students will learn the same maths concepts from Primary 1 to 4, and these concepts will be further expanded upon in the standard Maths syllabus in Primary 5 to 6.

In contrast, the Foundation Maths syllabus will revisit some of the important concepts and skills from the Primary 1 to 4 syllabus. New concepts and skills will also be introduced, but this will only be a portion of what is covered in the standard Maths syllabus. 

For more details, you can refer to the Ministry of Education’s primary school maths syllabus. However, it may be easier to contact your child’s maths teacher for an in-depth conversation, to better understand the differences.

How is Foundation Science different from standard Science?

Likewise, students taking Foundation Science in Primary 5 and 6 will cover fewer topics than their peers doing standard Science. 

To meet the learning styles of students offering Foundation Science, teachers will focus on hands-on learning experiences that are situated in realistic contexts, so that students can make connections with their own lives. In this way, it is hoped that students can become engaged and excited about what they are studying, and motivated to learn more.

For more information on how the Foundation Science syllabus differs from the standard syllabus, please refer to the Ministry of Education’s primary school science syllabus. But once again, we encourage you to contact your child’s teacher for a good chat on this—as you may find it overwhelming to pore over lengthy documents.

Need advice from other parents about Foundation subjects in primary school? Use our link to find a suitable conversation to join, or start your own forum thread in our Primary Schools – Academic Support section!