Choosing a secondary school at Primary 6 is the first big decision in life for all Singapore students. Helping the child to choose secondary school can be a confusing task for parents, especially if they do not understand well the secondary school system.

2 Admission Systems

There are 2 main admission systems available for students to choose their secondary school: Direct School Admission (DSA) and Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE) Posting System. DSA is the preferred system as it is in true sense the system that allows students to make their own choice. PSLE Posting System is more a case of letting the computer to decide your future.

To be qualified for DSA, a student must show non-academic achievements and talents. This means that DSA system starts way before Primary 6. It is now common for parents to send their children at age as early as 4 for external training in arts, music, sports, languages or information technology. Some wealthy parents even go after niche training such as sailing, golf, badminton, flying and robotics. DSA students are almost always guaranteed a place in their choice school, even before the release of PSLE results.

4 Secondary Streams

The Singapore secondary system offers academically weak students alternatives all the time. The system is like a production factory, except that products of poorer quality are never discarded but are streamed to inferior production line. Students are graded into 4 streams according to academic performance: IP (Integrated Program), Express, NA (Normal Academic) and NT (Normal Technical). IP is for the best students and NT is for academically weakest students.

Schools are taking full advantage of the streaming process to demote academically weak students to NA/NT streams. Very few schools are interested in the reverse process: Provide weak students with the best help so as to transfer them out of NA/NT stream. As there is no exact cutoff-point among streams, parents should by all means choose a better stream for their children, irrespective of their PSLE score. Elite IP schools are known to accept students by the DSA at PSLE score as low as 216.

Choosing Co-ed Secondary Schools

One other common consideration is whether to choose a single gender school (all girls/all boys) or mixed (co-ed) schools. As this is one consideration that is unimportant in choosing primary school, some students are puzzled as to why it has become an important criteria when choosing secondary school.

Generally the single gender schools are more strict in discipline. This is a plus point as it has a positive impact on classroom learning. In some co-ed schools, students face peer pressure, as early as Secondary 1, for not having a boyfriend/girlfriend. When a secondary 1 girl hand love letter to a boy, the boy would not know how to respond appropriately. Parents should be aware of such peer pressure when choosing a co-ed school for their children.

PSLE Aggregate Score Range

To narrow final selection of secondary school, it is good to check on schools’ “PSLE Aggregate Score”. These scores are published in a range indicated by “Lower score” and “Upper score”.

Score range is a good indicator of the academic band within the cohort. The narrower score range is preferred as it shows that the cohort is of a similar academic performance. For example, a school with a score range of 212 to 229 is a better choice than another school with a range of 212 to 240.

Final Selection

Once the school choices are listed, it is a matter of doing personal research to decide which secondary school is the best for your child. There are many resources available to help parents and students make the final submission. There are also public talks and open house for parents and student to exchange views with others.

It is important for parents to get the child involved extensively at this stage to ensure that the final choice is made according to students’ personal preference. Parent and child should work together to research on school staff, teaching resources, CCA (Co-Curriculum Activities) offerings … etc. Location, transport access and neighborhood are also important considerations. Visit the schools personally and take the opportunity to talk to their students to find out more about school culture. When a child is fully involved in this process, he/she will be mentally and psychologically prepared to enter into the next phase of life.