Even as 4,000 primary school leavers entered the Integrated Programme (IP) this year, around 6 per cent, or 240, can be expected to drop out before they complete the six-year programme.
They will switch instead to the O-level track in the IP school, or move to other junior colleges, polytechnics and private institutions.
In response to queries from The Straits Times, the Ministry of Education has revealed that around 6 per cent of students leave the IP before graduation.
MOE based the figures on the cohort of around 3,000 students who entered IP schools in 2008 and would have graduated in 2013.
It also revealed that of those who complete the six years leading to the A levels or the International Baccalaureate exams, less than 5 per cent fail to qualify for local universities.
It declined to give more detailed figures. But putting together the two figures, between 200 and 300 youngsters of the 2008 batch failed to thrive on the programme.
MOE explained that the IP may not be the best route for everyone. "There could be a small number who may not find this to be the most suited to their strengths and learning styles," it said.
The IP started in 2004 at eight schools, including Raffles Institution (RI), Hwa Chong Institution and Raffles Girls' School. It was aimed at the top 10 per cent of students, who were clearly bound for university.
Students skip the O levels and shoot straight for the A levels or International Baccalaureate. This was to provide a seamless secondary and junior college education, giving students the space to develop intellectual curiosity and other talents.
The scheme, especially as it was run at the top-performing secondary schools, became so popular that pupils and parents clamoured to get on board. More schools responded by offering the IP.
Currently 18 schools offer the IP, although those that started the programme later also offer the four-year O-level track and let students transfer from one to the other.
Recognising that not all thrive in the IP, top schools such as RI, Hwa Chong Institution and Nanyang Girls' High started running O-level classes for students who fail to cope.
Those lagging are identified at the end of Secondary 2 and advised to go into the O-level class. A few who do well enough are admitted back into the JC level in the same school. If not, they leave for polytechnics or other JCs.
Most of the 20 students interviewed by The Straits Times who had left brand-name schools offering the IP, or stayed on but fared poorly, said that they were unsure of the merits of the IP. These students were not just those who were taken in because of their sporting or co- curricular achievements. Several had PSLE scores well above 250.
A 22-year-old, who dropped out of the IP and now studies at the private Singapore Institute of Management, said: "I didn't do so well in the A levels, but I am still glad I was in the IP. I felt that I gained in other ways. I am doing well in my degree course, partly because the IP taught me research and analytical skills."
But like several others interviewed, he realised too late that he needed a more structured programme. He said: "I realise now that the IP suits students who have a lot of discipline. Given all that freedom, I sort of drifted."
Two others felt the IP was never for them. Said an 18-year-old who is now in a polytechnic and among the top students in her course: "I was pushed into it because it was a prestigious school.
"I realised it early on, but everyone, including my parents, thought I was crazy for wanting to drop out, so I stayed and wasted quite a few years."