Direct School Admission For Secondary Schools: How Do We Choose The Best DSA School?

In a perfect world, receiving a Direct School Admission (DSA) offer for a secondary school would be cause for celebration, as it provides certainty for the immediate future. Yet, the reality is that many students who have participated in the DSA-Sec exercise still find themselves agonising over choices that may be less than ideal.

One typical scenario, as shared by KSP member popkorn, involves getting a Confirmed Offer or CO for a school that is less desired — reasons for this can differ — and at the same time, getting a Wait List or WL offer from a top school:

My daughter has a CO for the School of the Arts (visual arts), and a WL for Raffles Girls’ School (visual arts)… We are thinking whether to put RGS as a first choice, noting that we may not get it. Her overall Achievement Level score is 5 for the prelims, and she is passionate about doing art in secondary school and beyond.

This parent listed several considerations, namely, choosing between:

  • the Integrated Programme (IP) stream leading to the A-Levels and the IP leading to the International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma
  • a single-sex school and a co-ed school
  • a school that is known for academic excellence, and a school that accepts students that are more varied in terms of academic performance
  • a school with a special art programme, versus a specialised arts school

If your child is in a similar bind, you might be wondering how to make a sound decision while giving your child a sense of agency.

The first thing you should know is that this is a common scenario, which the Ministry of Education (MOE) has addressed on its FAQs page:

My child has received two offers — a Wait List (WL) Offer from School A (my preferred school) and a Confirmed Offer (CO) from School B.

Would putting School A as my first choice and School B as my second choice affect my chances with School B should my child not be allocated School A? Should I put School B as my first choice, since my child is guaranteed a place there?

To be absolutely sure, you might want to clarify this directly with the MOE. However, if you read their official response to the above questions, it appears that taking a chance with a WL offer will not cause one to lose the safety net of a CO. Assuming that your child is eligible for an academic course in both Schools A and B, this is what happens when School A (WL) is listed as the first choice, and School B (CO) as a second choice:

If School A has enough remaining Direct School Admission-Secondary (DSA-Sec) places to admit your child after the other students given CO have made their choices, your child will be allocated School A. If School A does not have enough DSA-Sec places to admit your child, your child will be allocated School B since your child has a CO from School B.

In its other FAQ responses, the MOE has also said the following:

  • When deciding between two applicants with WL offers, the applicant who is ranked higher in the school’s WL will be allocated first. The choice order of the applicant does not affect the allocation.
  • According to past years’ data, an average of 50% of those who opted for the schools who gave them a WL offer were successfully allocated a place in the school.

If, however, School B is listed as the first choice, your child will immediately be posted there, as he or she already has a CO.

Do browse the MOE’s FAQs page as it addresses many of the common queries that students and parents would have, such as whether a child can opt not to select either the CO or WL schools — this is certainly possible. For those who have participated in the 2021 DSA-Sec exercise, they will have till 29 October 2021 to decide on their preferred schools. If they do not submit their school preferences, they will be deemed to have withdrawn from the DSA-Sec exercise, and they will then be eligible to participate in the centralised Secondary 1 Posting exercise.

For the most accurate and updated information, please direct your questions to the MOE or your child’s desired schools. Of course, you can turn to parenting forums for advice as well, but as one of our KSP members has wisely said: “My choice will not be the same as your [child’s], because we are not your [child].”

Making The Best DSA Decision With Your Child

This may be the first major decision that your child makes, so don’t miss the chance to use it as a teachable moment!

At the same time, do remember that the children facing these decisions are only 12 years old — letting them drive the decision process may not be prudent, as they can get caught up in short-term preoccupations, such as wanting to be in the same school as friends, or being drawn to the prestige of a sought-after school without knowing much about the school culture or what it takes to thrive.

Some parents are choosing to leave the DSA discussions till after the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE). This is especially valid if your child is facing this scenario: he or she has received a CO for a school’s O-Level track, but is keen on the IP.

In such an instance, accepting the CO provides security while imposing its own limits, as your child would not be able to consider IP options if he or she does well in the PSLE. By discussing the possibilities after the PSLE, you will be able to factor in your child’s feedback on the papers. If your child is fairly confident about the exams and keen on the IP — with a track record of accurately gauging one’s performance — forgoing the CO is a viable option although it carries its own risk.

As there will still be about three weeks to spare after the PSLE, before a final DSA decision needs to be made, parents can use the time to familiarise themselves with decision-making techniques. If you are not sure where to begin, you can visit the popular learning blog Farnam Street, which has plenty of advice on making better decisions. Some considerations to discuss with your child include:

  • Identifying the objectives: What are the goals that you hope to achieve with your decision, and is each goal equally important in the grand scheme of things? If they are not, you should devise a way to quantify each goal, such as by assigning each goal a score of importance from 1–5.
  • Identifying the choices, and determining how well each choice serves the goals: A simple decision-making system would involve tallying up all the points for each choice, and seeing which choice has the highest ‘score.’ There may also be risks associated with each choice — for instance, if you give up a CO and your child doesn’t do as well as anticipated in the PSLE, you could be left with a set of school choices that are less attractive than your current options. You would want to factor this into your scoring system as well.

A meaningful lesson for your child is that there are trade-offs to any decision, and in life, there will always be some element of uncertainty involved. Each person’s risk tolerance will also be different, as this corresponds to our personal levels of resilience and adaptability.

Whatever decision you and your child arrive at, go in with your eyes open, and be ready to deal with consequences that may be less than optimal. Bear in mind that the best opportunities sometimes arise from not getting exactly what you want, and as long as one cultivates a growth mindset, there will always be a way forward.

Need DSA advice from experienced parents? Connect with our KSP community on our DSA 2021 discussion thread!