Navigating P1 registration – Selecting a primary school

Selecting a primary school is actually a very introspective exercise.  If selection is to be done consciously and purposefully, it requires deep and honest reflection. 

A parent should think long and hard about his/her motivations and goals, and even longer and harder about his/her child’s personality as well as academic aptitude.

1. What is important to you?

(a) For some, academic excellence is key. It is uncompromiseable. Some feel that in our pragmatic and realistic society, a good academic start is very, very important. Almost make-or-break important. In the sense that one’s primary school could be a significant determinant of a child’s path in life. So by hook or by crook, whether easily registered for or not, one’s child HAS to get into one of the top 10 schools. GEP school, lagi best. So if they do not have access via Phase 2A, they will try for Phase 2B. Or move house within 1km to have a balloting chance at Phase 2C.

Whether academic excellence is endemic to the school, or a function of the profile of parents who enrol their kids in such schools, is a long and involved topic for another day. 🙂

(b) For others, academics are important but secondary to (i) proximity; or (ii) religious affiliation of the school. For (i), they scan the map for the schools that are near enough (every family has a different threshold for ‘near’, depending on what kind of transport arrangements they have access to), and prioritise accordingly. For (ii), they sift out the schools with the preferred religious affliations and examine their chances of entry to each.

(c) For some, whether the primary school is affliated to a secondary school also matters. Cut-off points are lower for affliated primary schools.  The gap varies year on year, but most tend to see affliation as a plus, although the quality of the secondary school may differ from the primary school.

(d) Others prefer a single sex school, especially if they currently have children of one gender.  Such parents usually subscribe to the view that children concentrate better on studies when they are in single sex schools too.  However, some parents with children of one gender still enrol their kids in mixed schools. That’s because they have a ‘legacy view’.

As a relative said, “The school I enrol my child in, also has a bearing on what his children have priority for. And he might have daughters.”  Certainly planning for the future!

Parents with children of different genders usually opt for mixed schools, since ferrying children to different schools can be quite a hassle. However, parents who are alumni of very popular schools could swing either way. I know of some who’d send both kids to different single sex schools, and some who’d give up the Phase 2A place in a hot school so that both kids can go to the same (albeit less popular) school.

(e) How much do you value certainty?  Do you prefer to have a chance at balloting to get into a “more preferred” school, or would you rather skip the anxiety and work towards a guaranteed place at a different school?

Overall, most feel that a “good school” is of primary importance, and will go for the “best” in reputation that they have access to. It is undeniable that the influence of peers is strong in the growing-up years, and some schools are “rougher” in composition. Some children might flourish in such environments, toughen up and learn to be street-smart.  This also depends on the parents’ worldview.

I guess ultimately, parents feel bad if they feel that they might not have tried their best for their child. However, I’ve come to realise is that what is ‘best’ in the world’s eyes, might not be best for your child. Every child is a unique individual, and just because you couldn’t get your child in one of the top 15 or even 20 schools, does not mean you have failed your child. In fact, it might be a blessing in disguise.

2. Know your child

I feel that it’s important to know your child well, and make the gauge of their personality and aptitude around 4 to 5 years old (not any earlier, since they change significantly in these years).

(a) Is your child naturally bookish and displays great inclination towards focused quiet mugging? Or is your child a kinesthetic learner, or seems to be a late bloomer, and would wilt at intensely academically-focused schools? 

(b) Is your child really struggling to cope with certain basics, even at K2?  The ‘best schools’ might be filled with hot-housed kids (who are prepped all the way to end of P2 by age 6) backed by an army of tuition teachers.  Are you ready to send your kids to a similar slew of classes just to keep up with the average in such a school?

(c) Does your child struggle with mother tongue?  Then resist the temptation to place your child in a school where Higher Mother Tongue is really rocket high (I caught a glimpse of a P5 exercise in one of these schools, and it looked harder than what I had to grapple with in my Sec 4 Higher Chinese days *yikes!*).  A totally non-kiasu parent I know said he had to send the kid to tuition just to pass…

(d) Will your child do better as a big fish in a small pond? Or as a small fish in a big pond?  I find this important but difficult to discern.  So ultimately, it goes back to the parent’s ideology and preference.

Ultimately, these questions have to be considered in tandem with one’s circumstances with respect to Phase qualification.

If one qualifies under Phase 2A for a great school, then there is no quandary. Though I know of some who had a bad experience in the school and have decided to steer their kids clear of it (but that is rare).

If one qualifies under Phase 2A for a so-so school, and academic excellence is one’s top priority, then one might prefer to abandon one’s 2A priority and try to PV to get into a ‘better’ school, whether or not balloting may be required.

(Are the apparently many choices all that different after all, at the end of the day?)

What then, are some rational steps to take?

Personally, I think it makes sense to first take a look at the schools near one’s home.  Check out how likely you are to get accepted (based on the Phase you can qualify for with the least action). 

If these schools are out of reach, then cast the net slightly wider (school buses do run between estates) if the nearest options are too hot or too rough for one’s liking. Or consider schools near a relative’s home that you could move into, or schools near affordable housing (rare, but possible) that you could purchase.

Some parents have a dream school in mind, then work out how to get in.  Which is fine too, if after checking, one finds that there is a significant chance of getting in via one way or another.

The thing to avoid is to think that it’s easy to get into a certain school, then realise quite late in the day that it is quite unattainable, regardless of PV or proximity (can you deal with the uncertainty of having to ballot within 1km? Or would you rather temper your expectations, ‘settle’ for a different school and rest easier throughout the whole process?)

Have a calm, rational think. 
Is a so-called neighbourhood school (say ranked 25-35) necessarily that much inferior to a branded school? Is it the end of the world (or the beginning of the end of your child’s future) if try as you might, there is no way of getting your child into that coveted dream school?

Or perhaps, your child might thrive in a less competitive environment. Perhaps he or she (or you) might feel less pressured to be tutored in every subject imaginable. Perhaps there will be an extra moment or two, to smell the flowers. 

All in all, much has been said about the fairness (or inequity) of the current system, but in the absence of significant change, I suppose we make the best choices given the circumstances. 

After all, the school environment is undeniably important, but so is the family environment. For those who don’t have much control of the former, console yourself that you can influence the latter. Be an involved parent. By that I mean spend time listening to your child. Not so much involved in the sense of signing him/her up for all the activities that your money can buy. Be there. Minimise outsourcing. 

As for which school to apply for, each parent will have to examine their desires, and consider what’s best for their child. The struggle to cope in an inappropriate school might far outweigh the perceived good that ‘dream’ school can do for your child.

In a subsequent post, I’ll share a bit of our own journey thus far. 🙂

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