Did Badly For The PSLE? Stand By Your Kids, And They’ll Be OK

Worried about your child’s prospects after the Primary School Leaving Examination?

This year’s PSLE results will be released on Wednesday, 25 November 2020. It’s natural to be both excited and jittery — even parents who are normally relaxed about results should feel at least a tinge of anxiety leading up to the big reveal, especially if this is the family’s first PSLE experience.

It’s also inevitable that one might have expectations about the outcome of the PSLE, i.e. your child’s grades. In different families, “doing well” or “doing badly” can mean entirely different things. For a child who has been thriving in primary school, a disappointing performance could be one that doesn’t allow him or her to qualify for the Integrated Programme/IP or a dream secondary school. For families with struggling learners, the fear may be that a child will fail to qualify for the Normal (Technical) stream, with limited options for progression.

As parents, what we do and say to support our children at this juncture could be crucial to their self-esteem and motivation in the teen years. If you haven’t yet had a conversation with your child about the PSLE results, it’s helpful to begin discussions before D-day. (Read our guide on helping children to deal with anxiety over the PSLE results.)

Prior to Results Day, how should you broach the topic of results with your children? The most straightforward way is to outline the possibilities, which can be summed up as:

  1. Disappointing results: This would be the situation that everyone dreads, but it’s also where your parenting matters most. Your overall message should be that this is not the end of the world, as there will be new experiences, new friends, and new opportunities to look forward to. 
  2. Expected results: Celebrate and proceed according to plan!
  3. Better-than-expected results: Celebrate and enjoy the wider range of choices!

When discussing potential outcomes with your child, what you should look out for is a gap between expectations and reality. For instance, a child may be hoping against hope to qualify for the Express stream to be with friends, when he or she is more likely to make it to the Normal (Academic)/N(A) or Normal (Technical)/N(T) stream. There could also be a gulf between a parent’s expectations of a “good” score, and what a child perceives as a satisfactory score.

Another possible scenario is that a child may have some “magic” number in mind. For example, he or she could be hoping to score above 260 in this final PSLE T-score year, which based on past experience, is practically a free-for-all pass to the top secondary schools in Singapore. Such children could be upset if they are off by a mark or two, and sometimes, this is a mindset shared by parents as well. It’s easy to brush off the disappointments of higher-performing students, but their feelings are equally valid, and they need to be addressed.

In terms of score predictions, the best guess or estimate that you would have is your child’s letter grade results from the school’s preliminary examinations. Any T-score predictions that you try to make will probably not be accurate or helpful. Instead, focus on “good” outcomes that the family can wholeheartedly celebrate, such as improved grades, a score that will comfortably allow your child to qualify for a desired school, or a score that lets your child study in a stream that is suited to his or her learning abilities. The objective is to find something worthy of celebrating at the end of the day, so don’t set the bar too high.

Making the effort to define a “good” outcome in advance can help you and your child to avoid tension and heartache when the actual results are out. On Results Day, be mindful not to preach or lecture, as nothing can be changed. Give your child a hug, and even if you feel the situation is dire, remind yourself that your child has completed a milestone, and that in itself is worth celebrating.

Read on for more concerns that parents may have after Results Day, and how best to deal with them.

My Child Can’t Qualify For N(T) 

Under the current (and new) PSLE system, students who are not eligible for the N(T) stream will have to repeat the PSLE, or progress to NorthLight School or Assumption Pathway School. If this should be the case for your child, please talk to your child’s principal or teachers when you have the opportunity, as they would be the best people to advise you on your next steps.

For better context, download MOE’s latest “Choosing Your Secondary Schools” booklet, which contains the cut-off scores for N(T) streams in 2019. For instance, at Montfort Secondary School, affiliated students with scores of 111 were accepted into the N(T) stream, while for non-affiliates, the cut-off was 127 points. Once this year’s PSLE results are out, this book would be your best resource to gauge which schools your child might be able to qualify for.

Sometimes, a poor showing at the PSLE is not solely due to a child’s learning issues — the family’s situation may have contributed as well. However, if you are an involved parent providing a fairly stable home environment, do take heart that NorthLight and Assumption Pathway are by no means the end of the road for your child. For instance, 45 percent of Northlight’s students eventually move on to the Institute of Technical Education, and from there, some have gone on to the polytechnics as well. You will have a tremendous role to play in ensuring that your child doesn’t lose hope in the future. Talk about your own experiences with failure and how you overcame challenges, and share stories of PSLE resilience with your child, to help him or her realise that others have walked in the same shoes and triumphed.

My Child Can’t Qualify For His/Her Preferred Stream

Kids and parents do get upset when they realise that a certain stream is out of reach, be it N(A), Express, or the IP. But regardless of the placement outcome for your child, please know that there is flexibility within our education system — this is something you can highlight to your child. 

At the same time, do be realistic about your child’s optimal pace of learning. For instance, if he or she learns best at a slower pace, there is no need to chase after the “prestige” of being in the Express stream. Instead, embrace the extra year to develop sound study habits and build a firm knowledge foundation, and your child can still go on to thrive in a tertiary institution after that. 

But of course, if your child wishes to set an ambitious goal, by all means, show your full support. Schools will monitor the progress of students, and those who do well may be given the opportunity for lateral transfers, or to do selected subjects at a higher level. For instance, schools that offer the IP do provide entry opportunities to Secondary 2 students — it’s no easy path but it’s still a chance to gain entry. And within the Secondary 1 year, students who are placed in N(A) or N(T) and do well may be allowed to do selected subjects at the Express or N(A) level respectively. They could also transfer to a more demanding course, if they demonstrate that they are able to cope with the curriculum. 

Going forward, as Subject Based Banding becomes the norm, students are less likely to be subject to labelling, and this will hopefully lead to healthier attitudes about learning.

My Child Qualified For Express With A Borderline Score

Sometimes, parents whose children have narrowly qualified for the Express stream view this as a mixed blessing, as they may not be happy with the selection of schools open to their children. If you are in this position, please take note, as other parents have made this mistake before: if your child’s Eligibility Letter does NOT state that your child can choose between Express and N(A), you can’t make this decision on your own. Choosing what you think are “better” N(A) schools for your child will only result in all your choices being struck out, and your child will be assigned to the nearest Express school with a vacancy.

Also, do consider your child’s feelings — qualifying for the Express stream is something worth celebrating, so please don’t make it seem that your child is lowest in the pecking order. Even if the selection of schools is small, there is still a choice. Visit the school websites (or e-open houses) with your child, talk to staff if you can, and see if you can link up with current students and their parents. Turn the search into a positive adventure for you and your child, so that he or she can look forward to a fresh start next year.

My Child Is 1 Or 2 Points Shy Of Qualifying For His/Her Dream School

A near miss can be quite painful, and the sad fact is that some children have done extremely well for the PSLE (e.g. over 250 points), but yet still feel as if they have failed to measure up in some way. If this is your child’s situation, please help your child to maintain a healthy perspective, and celebrate a job well done! Bear in mind that how you react will also shape how your child deals with setbacks in the future — if you focus on what could’ve been, it’s not helpful for your child, and diminishes what he or she has achieved. Be honest with yourself: is it your child that is disappointed, or is the disappointment originating from you?

Another potentially stressful scenario is if your child fails to make the cut for his or her affiliated school. Affiliated schools often have close-knit communities, and it is hard to leave that protective bubble. In some schools, the principal will hold a meeting for affiliates who have not met the cut-off, so that students and parents can form a support group, and perhaps even agree on an alternative school to apply for. As parents, your job here is to help your children adapt to change — find ways to get them excited about a new environment, and share your own stories of change and having to make new friends from scratch. Some kids will want to work towards returning to their affiliated school eventually, but for others, they may thrive and shine in their new school, so it’s really about giving it a chance.