askST: Your FAQs on changes to Direct School Admission scheme answered

ST's senior education correspondent Sandra Davie received many questions regarding the changes to the Direct School Admission (DSA) scheme announced by Education Minister (Schools) Ng Chee Meng in Parliament on Tuesday (March 7).

Here are her answers to some frequently asked questions.

Question by reader Madam R. Santhi: I am confused about the Direct School Admission changes and when they will apply.

My Primary 6 daughter has high academic ability and is in the Gifted Education Programme, but she is especially good in science. I was planning on trying for a place in an Integrated Programme (IP) school through DSA. Do the DSA changes affect Primary 6 students this year? And with the changes, should she apply using her strength in science?

A: Let's look at the changes announced on the DSA, one by one, and when they will apply.

First, all non IP secondary schools will be allowed to admit up to 20 per cent of their Secondary 1 intake under DSA. This change will not apply this year, but to Primary 6 students next year.

This is an increase from the existing 5 per cent cap for schools with distinctive programmes, and 10 per cent cap for autonomous schools. Independent schools will not see an increase as they already have a 20 per cent limit.

Specialised independent schools and those offering the IP can continue to take in up to 100 per cent of their students via the DSA, although the MOE said IP schools on average take only 35 per cent of their students via the DSA scheme.

The second significant change is with regard to the academic ability criteria.

Schools, including IP schools, have been asked to stop looking at general academic ability and instead assess students based on their strengths in specific academic domains, be it in maths, science or the languages. In line with this, schools will stop using the general academic ability tests for DSA.

The general academic ability tests will be discontinued from next year, which means it will apply to Primary 6 students next year.

But schools have already been asked to move towards looking at specific academic domains from this year, so most schools are likely to follow this rule and consider admitting students based on their strengths in specific academic fields. So, some schools may stop using the general academic ability tests from this year. Can I suggest that you check with the schools directly.

So your daughter who is in the GEP, should apply using her strength in science. You should pick a school that is likely to nurture her talent in the field.

Another change announced is that on the application process. Students can submit their DSA applications through a centralised online application portal, using a common application form, instead of submitting applications to individual schools. This will come into effect only in 2019, which means it will apply to only those in Primary 6 in 2019.

Question by reader Leslie Soh: My son is in Primary 5 this year. He is doing well enough but his strength is in sports, athletics to be exact. What are his chances of getting into a school that will nurture his talent in sports? How many apply a year and how many get in through DSA? Do you know how many of those who win a place, do so with sports?

A: His chances will be better next year as all secondary schools will be allowed to admit up to 20 per cent of their Secondary One intake under DSA.

MOE said last year there were 16,000 applications for places through the DSA last year. Students can apply to more than one school under the scheme.

In the end, 2,800 pupils were successful in getting a place through the DSA in 118 secondary schools, including the 17 IP schools that offer a six-year programme bypassing the O levels.

MOE did not give a breakdown on the applications, but had said that of the 2,800 students who secured a place through DSA, about half were admitted to the IP schools. It also said that about 30 per cent were admitted based on their general academic abilities.

Question by reader Rita Lim: When does the change in affiliation priority apply? My daughter is in Primary 5 this year.

A: MOE has announced that one-fifth of places in affiliated secondary schools will be reserved for pupils who do not benefit from affiliation priority to ensure that there will be open access to schools for all pupils, regardless of their backgrounds or connections.

The quota will be implemented in 2019, so it will apply to those in Primary 4 this year.