When Crest Secondary School began in 2013, it had difficulty convincing parents that the school was a viable option for their children in the Normal (Technical) stream.
Their lessons would focus on application in a real-world context.
Said principal Frederick Yeo: "There wasn't a specialised school before this and it was a challenge helping them understand a curriculum that combines academics with vocational training."
With the release of the N-level results yesterday, Crest Secondary proved its students can still do well academically even when they learn through an applied approach. Ninety-eight per cent of its 198 pioneer students passed the N-level exams, higher than the 97.1 per cent pass rate for the national cohort of 5,470 students in the N(T) stream.
All of its students will be able to join a Nitec course at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE).
The second specialised school for N(T) students, Spectra Secondary in Woodlands, will see its first batch sit the N levels next year.
At these schools, the four-year N(T) programme leads up to the N levels, as it does in other schools. The difference is that students also learn vocational skills and can graduate with an ITE Skills Certificate in one of four areas - facility services, mechanical servicing, retail services or hospitality services.
Thirty-four of Crest Secondary's graduating students have accepted offers from ITE.
Mr Yeo said one of the school's goals is to help students regain their interest in studying, so they find going to school an enjoyable experience. The school takes in pupils with PSLE scores ranging from less than 100 to 140. Some of them have special needs such as autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
"In primary school, frequent failures were the norm for many of them, so we try to get them to see school in a different light," he said.
For example, learning English or mathematics is not restricted to a classroom. At one of the school's specially constructed facilities, such as a bistro, students can practise language skills by playing the role of a waiter. At its mini-mart, they learn maths and geometry by measuring the dimensions of items.
Crest Secondary is looking to strengthen its partnerships with primary schools to give their pupils more information about it.
One its students, Goh Kai Xin, 16, intends to study business at ITE.
She said of her time at Crest: "My friends in other schools always studied but they didn't have as much fun as we had... We had taster modules in areas like retail or hospitality and did more hands-on work."