School-based care centres in Singapore likely to start charging more

School-based care centres are in demand as they are cheaper than community-based centres typically located at the void decks of HDB blocks.
School-based care centres are in demand as they are cheaper than community-based centres typically located at the void decks of HDB blocks.ST FILE PHOTO

Some operators that expect to raise fees cite higher salaries, rental and other costs

SINGAPORE - After-school care services in primary schools are safer, cheaper and more in tune with the school curriculum than those provided by care centres outside schools, but parents will likely have to pay more for them.

School-based student care centres, which offer services such as meals, homework supervision and, in some cases, tuition, are in demand as they are cheaper alternatives to community-based centres typically located in bomb shelters and at the void decks of Housing Board blocks.

School-based centres, run by voluntary welfare organisations or commercial operators, generally charge less than $300 a month, while those outside schools can charge up to $500 a month.

However, seven operators The Straits Times spoke to are likely to raise their fees when they renew or enter into new tender contracts with schools in the next few years.

Already, several school-based centres have raised fees by at least 15 per cent. Monthly fees for most centres range from $240 to $280, up from about $160 to $230 a few years ago.

TRICKY BALANCE

It is tough. The cost increases are quite significant, yet we have to keep our fees affordable.

MS YAU SOW SHAN, divisional manager with QSF The Enablers, which runs seven care centres

A centre supervisor at a school in Yishun, who declined to give her name, said her centre raised its monthly fees by nearly 15 per cent to $250 three years ago, and is likely to increase it further when it renews its contract next year.

"We are worried because it seems that the rental rates are now closer to what centres outside the schools are charged," said the 58-year-old, adding that the higher rents are largely a result of more operators - particularly established ones with greater financial backing - submitting higher bids for school rentals.

"At some centres, the rates have gone up drastically - by three to four times - and that eventually resulted in fee increases," she added.

Operators also cited other cost increases for staff training, salaries and enrichment activities requested by parents, for instance.

Ms Yau Sow Shan, 45, a divisional manager with QSF The Enablers, which runs seven care centres including six school-based ones, said:

"It is tough. The cost increases are quite significant, yet we have to keep our fees affordable."

However, she has no plans to raise fees at her school-based centres, which charge about $260 to $310 monthly.

Currently, 113 out of 187 primary schools have in-house care centres, caring for more than 10,000 pupils. These school-based centres - which take in 40 to 300 pupils each - are popular options for parents seeking after-school care.

In March, the Education Ministry announced that it will bump up the number of primary schools with after-school care services to 140 by the end of next year. This means nearly three-quarters of all primary schools will have a care centre.

Ms Peggy Ong, chief executive officer and founder of Pro-Teach Education Group, the largest student-care operator in Singapore, said staff salaries and food costs have resulted in higher operating costs for her school-based centres.

"Most of the time, we have to keep increasing our budget," she said, adding that her centres absorb the extra costs. "So far, we can cope."

Fees at her centres are about $260 to $300 a month, lower than those charged by community-based centres, which can range from $220 to $500 a month, noted Ms Ong.

Social worker Kathryn Chia, whose two sons attend a school- based centre at Keming Primary in Bukit Batok, said a fee hike is reasonable. "It is still cheaper than the centres operating outside the schools," said Ms Chia, 41, adding that centres in schools offer benefits such as convenience and safety.

"For many working parents, there's really no better alternative."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 14, 2015, with the headline 'School-based care centres likely to start charging more'. Print Edition | Subscribe