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How to pick the right school

Published on Jun 20, 2013 7:36 PM
The Primary 1 registration exercise starts next month and as usual many parents are gunning for places in brand name schools. -- TNP FILE PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

The Primary 1 registration exercise starts next month and as usual many parents are gunning for places in brand name schools.

Many had moved homes, joined clan or church organisations or volunteered many hours to improve the chances of their child getting into a school they believe will secure him a bright academic future.

But according to experts, instead of searching for a top school parents should focus on finding one that is the best fit for their child.

Assess your child’s needs

First, parents should assess their child's needs.

Think about how your child learns best. Does your child respond best to a structured, disciplined environment, or if they blossom when they are allowed to move at their own pace.

Does he show a talent in mathematics, science, music or art that you want to nurture further.

List your child's strengths and challenges and look for a school that would bring the best out of him.

Top PSLE schools

Going by forums such as, many parents are seeking information on top primary schools based on Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) results.

Schools do put some information on their PSLE passes and the names of their top pupils, although most do not disclose figures on the number of pupils who made it to the Integrated Programme schools or the Special or Express streams.

In any case, if schools were ranked on academic achievements alone, the nine primary schools that host the Gifted Education Programme would be at the top.

If PSLE achievements are all that important, ask the school about the number of pupils who made it to the Express and Normal streams; these numbers point to how well the school’s pupils fared in the PSLE.

Big Fish Little Pond Effect

I have written about this before, but parents chasing for a place in a top performing school should read up on the Big Fish, Little Pond Effect”, which suggests that children may actually do better in a less popular – or what researchers term a “less selective” – school.

Research into that effect suggests parents should focus on getting their child into a school that will boost his confidence in his academic ability. Children are likely to accomplish more, be more persistent and have higher aspirations if they feel competent in what they do, are confident and feel positively about themselves.

A child’s confidence depends not only on his own accomplishments, but also on the relative accomplishments of his classmates and schoolmates.

This means children who view themselves as of low or average ability will get a confidence booster if they attend an average-performance school. The reverse is likely to be the case in a high- achieving school.

The bottom line: The top performing school may not be the right school for your child.

Visit schools

Parents should instead look for schools which cater to the learning needs of their pupils and help them improve on their potential.

And the best way to do is by visiting a few schools.

Ask the principal what the school's expectations are for students, and consider whether they match your expectations for your child.

If your child is especially gifted in mathematics or the arts, ask about the school’s enrichment programmes in these areas.

It may also be useful to check the worksheets prepared by teachers to see if creativity and independent thinking are encouraged.

Check out the work on the walls, how the teachers and pupils interact.

Get in touch with the parents’ support group and ask about its experiences.

Location is important

Every year there are parents who eye a place in popular primary schools that are far away from their home.

Parents must realise that, unless they plan to chauffeur their child, attending a school just a half-hour car ride away may entail the child spending up to two hours on a school bus each way.

Research has shown quite clearly that sleep deprivation impairs a child’s performance in school.

Deciding on a school

At the end of it all, go back to what you decided your ideal school would be and ask yourself if this is the one, whether it's a matter of the school's hours, teachers or CCAs.

You should visit at least two, if not three schools, even if you think you have found the right one.

Comparing one school against another will help you see the pros and cons and firm up your decision.