It’s an extremely stressful time for parents who have yet to secure a P1 place for their 6 year olds. (I suppose there might be a segment of parents, out of this lot, who are going about their daily lives as per normal, wondering what the fuss is about, since they simply intend to stroll over to register at the school 10mins walk away, which historically still has places galore at phase 2C supplementary. But if online chatter is to be believed, they are the minority. Cue image of rabid purple gnashing minion-freaks.)
For those who are not aware, it is Day 3 of Phase 2C. Complaints on the scarcity of places in desired schools are rife in the forum. Nail-biting, fervent prayers, sleepless nights – as many of these parents steel themselves for the Great Phase 2C Ballot.
At the end of Day 2, Nan Hua is almost 4 times oversubscribed for its 15 remaining places. Similarly, Ai Tong for its meagre 7 spaces left. At least 6 schools have so many applicants that they stand a 1 in 3 chance of less of getting in via ballot. And as reported in the news today, some 80+ schools out of a total of 190 are pretty set for balloting.
What are some common strategies at this phase? There’s a bit of Game Theory involved, but it’s quite easy to figure out, not rocket science at all.
1. The facts.
There are usually 3 days of registration (Tues-Thurs). Online registration (introduced for the first time this year) closes at 430pm on Day 2. After Day 3, if there are more applicants than vacancies, balloting ensues.
What’s new this year is that at all phases, Singaporean children have priority over PRs. The nationalities of their parents do not matter – only the nationality of the child is considered. It is still possible for PRs to enter in earlier phases, if there is no balloting required in their home distance category. But once demand exceeds supply, for instance if there are 20 places, with 23 Singaporeans and 4 PRs applying, all within 1km, only the 23 Singaporeans will get to ballot for the 20 places.
2. The usual strategy.
A significant number of parents interested in popular schools will only place their bet put in their application on Day 3. This is because places are not awarded on a first-come-first-serve basis (if it were, overnight queues would probably form 3 days before hand). Adopting a wait-and-see attitude allows them to assess their chances.
For instance, assume I am considering School A and School B. If School A has 70 applicants for 50 places, and School B has 52 applicants for 50 places by the middle of Day 3, then I have a higher probability of being balloted in at School B, and will put in my application there. This accounts for the flurry of ‘last minute’ applications near the end of Day 3, especially at popular schools. Depending on how late in the day you decide to make the call, there could still be more applications being put in the same time/after you, thus upsetting the balance of your careful calculations.
3. The outliers.
Of course, one’s strategy would also depend on one’s risk appetite, and how wedded to one particular school one is.
Some parents would place their name in the hat, regardless of how many times places are oversubscribed. A 1 in 10 chance is still a chance they say. And how could I not even give my child that chance? Gamblers, these sorts.
The stakes are truly high though. Because if you fail at the ballot box (highly likely if you don’t even have a 1 in 2 chance), then you are only availed with Phase 2C Supplementary. And only a handful of schools still have places at Phase 2C Supplementary, even the most average of neighbourhood schools. Hence, it might be better to apply at a nearby school that does not require balloting, rather than lose at balloting and be forced to apply to a faraway school, and in doing so, wasting your Phase 2C chance.
My sympathies go most to those who have committed significant effort into qualifying for Phase 2B, but were balloted out then, even though they lived within 1km. Perhaps there was an unprecendented surge in applicants this year, and they had PV-ed under the assumption that balloting had never been required for their distance. Guess even with the benefit of historical statistics, there’s simply no telling how many will sign up within 1km, until the last hour before application closes.
These unsuccessful parents fall into two camps. Those who say their heart simply would not be able to take another round of balloting, and those who feel that having come this far, they simply had to take another chance at the ballot box.
There are also some other parents who give up their space secured in an earlier phase, and jump on the bandwagon in Phase 2C when they perceive a high probability of getting balloted into a more desirable school. This will probably make sense if their desired school does not require balloting within their home-school distance, but if it does, then usually the advice would be to cherish the bird in hand rather than risk it for the bird in the bush. .
Yet other parents register for one school on Day 1 of Phase 2C, and rush to withdraw their application on Day 3 if their chances prove slim, and place their application at another school instead. This can be quite nerve-wrecking, to say the least.
All in all, P1 registration is no walk in the park, not least for parents who only qualify at Phase 2C. All the best to all who are at it this year, and may the stars align in your favour.