Subject-Based Banding (SBB) in Singapore Schools from 2024: Key Changes Every Parent Should Be Aware Of

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Parents, did you know that in 2024, all Singapore secondary schools that have academic streams will implement a new system known as Full Subject-Based Banding or Full SBB?

Most of us are much more familiar with the Express, Normal (Academic), and Normal (Technical) streams, which were introduced decades ago. The history behind this is that back in the 1970s, nearly a third of Singapore students left school early, mainly due to a rigid one-size-fits-all curriculum. Implementing these streams, tailored to different academic paces, led to a significant decrease in our school dropout rate, which is at less than 1% today.

However, this streaming system has resulted in other problems. For instance, some streams are viewed as inferior, leading to student stigmatisation and diminished self-confidence. In addition, streaming doesn’t account for our students’ varied abilities across subjects. As a result, a student’s entire academic experience is dictated by their PSLE Score, sidelining their unique strengths in specific subjects.

These are pressing issues that the new Subject-Based Banding or SBB system hopes to address. 

Under the SBB, students will be sorted into three posting groups after their Primary School Leaving Examination in Primary 6. They will take their secondary school subjects at varying difficulty levels — known as G1, G2, and G3 — based on their individual strengths. (Click here for an infographic to show how this will work.)

Below, we’ve provided some insights into the top questions that parents have had about the SBB system. We hope this helps you to better prepare your child for the journey ahead!

My child has qualified for the G3 (formerly Express) pathway. I’ve heard that they will be placed in a ‘mixed’ class — what does this mean?

With the new SBB system, your child will be assigned a mixed form class in secondary school, where G1, G2, and G3 students will take six Common Curriculum subjects together. 

These subjects are: 

  • Art 
  • Character and Citizenship Education (CCE) 
  • Design and Technology (D&T) 
  • Food and Consumer Education (FCE) 
  • Music 
  • Physical Education (PE) 

Feeling puzzled or slightly uneasy about mixed form classes? It’s perfectly valid that you may have questions or doubts, so let’s try to consider the bigger picture. If you think back to your own schooldays, or check with teens under the existing system, you may find that students seldom have the opportunity to mingle beyond their streams, except during co-curricular activities. Despite our best efforts, teens and parents are often susceptible to internal biases — that is, we may feel that students in certain streams are more playful, more intelligent, and so on. 

In our adult worlds, we often form instant impressions of new acquaintances as well, based on what we know about their past history, academic or otherwise. However, given ample opportunity to collaborate, initial impressions can fade as we let our character, actions, and abilities shine through. Similarly, our children need opportunities to interact with others who learn differently or come from different family backgrounds — this will help them to see the world from someone else’s perspective, and learn to communicate across these differences to build trust and empathy. This skill is highly valued at workplaces, especially if children are keen to work abroad, or in multinational organisations in future.

What about the students in the Integrated Programme stream? Will they face these changes too?

The Integrated Programme or IP stream — intended for high-performing students —  is structured differently from ‘conventional’ secondary schools. Some IP schools don’t run programmes for other streams, while others only take in IP and Express (now G3) students. IP schools design their own curriculum, and IP students don’t sit for national exams at the end of Secondary 4. Instead, they typically remain in their schools until Year 6, where they will take either the A-Level or International Baccalaureate exams. 

Even if you’re not a policymaker, you might be able to appreciate that it would be challenging to integrate IP schools into the SBB structure, short of asking IP students to travel to other schools to attend art classes or physical education lessons. On the flipside, you might also realise that SBB ‘mixed’ classes are only for non-academic areas. For academic subjects, students will still be grouped with peers who are on the same learning track. 

There are definitely multiple perspectives to this issue, and you can read our KSP community’s honest sharing here. If your child is likely to enter a “Full SBB” school, we encourage you to view this as an advantage, because it’s a chance for your child to experience diversity in a real-world setting.

With Full SBB, I’ve heard that a form teacher may not have the opportunity to teach the whole class. How might this affect my child?

Previously, form teachers would often helm CCE (character and citizenship education) classes, while also teaching their form class an academic subject such as maths. This allowed form teachers to better understand their students’ character, as well as any learning challenges that they might face.

With Full SBB, it’s true that there’s a trade-off: form teachers may not teach all of their students an academic subject. Will this have a significant impact on your child’s learning? Likely not, as your child’s subject teachers will be looking out for them during class, and will alert either you or the form teacher if issues arise. In fact, in some schools, principals have been known to set the tone for independent learning from Day 1, by requesting that parents take a step back from closely monitoring their child’s progress. This gives room for children to fumble, seek help, and learn from their mistakes. 

When considering trade-offs, our larger goal should be the collective well-being of the entire cohort. A drawback of the previous system was that a student excelling in one subject, like English, would still be placed at a lower level if they struggled at other subjects. In order for no one to be left behind, it’s crucial to allow students to excel where they’re strong, especially if it doesn’t disadvantage higher-performing peers.

Are there other changes that we should know about, such as changes to the national exams?

Yes! If your child will enter Secondary 1 in 2024, here’s what you should be aware of:

  • When your child reaches Secondary 4 in 2027, they will sit for the new Singapore-Cambridge Secondary Education Certificate (SEC) examinations, comprising different papers for each subject level. Students will receive a certificate known as SEC, which reflects the subjects and subject levels that students offer.
  • The option of a fifth year in secondary school will continue to be available for eligible students, to take subjects at a more demanding level to access more post-secondary pathways.
  • The existing JC admission criteria will remain the same, to ensure that students can cope with the academic rigour of the A-Level pathway.
  • Entry requirements will be adjusted to allow more students to join the Polytechnic Foundation Programme (PFP). In its current form, the PFP is a one-year programme that offers eligible Normal (Academic) or G2 students a viable pathway to a polytechnic education. For now, about 1,700 places are set aside each year, giving students a chance to enrol in any local polytechnic of their choice. With the expansion, the PFP intake for 2028 could reach around 2,600 students. 

For more details and updates, please visit the official Full SBB microsite.

Have more questions about subject-based banding? You’ll find many of the answers that you need on the Ministry of Education’s FAQs page. To share your thoughts with other parents, we warmly welcome you to join the conversation on KiasuParents.com!

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