With the Ministry of Education's removal of the Normal stream label, more classes in future may not be organised along academic tracks.
Education Minister Ong Ye Kung yesterday cited the example of Edgefield Secondary School, which took the pioneering step of reshaping its form classes so that students - no matter their stream - can build friendships with each other.
Since January, each Secondary 1 class has been made up of students from different streams.
Classmates take about half of their lessons such as physical education, art and music together, while for academic subjects like mathematics and science, they break into groups by their assigned streams: Express, Normal (Academic) and Normal (Technical).
Mr Ong said most students told him they were happy with their new classes, and their parents felt the arrangement was better.
But he also heard from the school principal, Mr Lee Peck Ping, that a handful of parents were concerned the new approach might slow down learning in class.
"Peck Ping painstakingly explained how subject-based banding works, what students are learning as a form class, and how classes for academic subjects are still banded based on the learning abilities of the students," he said.
"He told me a very small number of parents were still worried and felt that had they known, they would not have sent their child to Edgefield," he said, adding that he understands their concerns.
"But Edgefield Secondary was making the right trade-off, to develop students both academically and socially," Mr Ong said.
By 2024, more schools will adopt such innovative ways of organising their form classes.
Mr Lee told The Straits Times that the school decided to reorganise its classes to help students interact more naturally.
Under subject-based banding, nearly 60 per cent of its Sec 1 and 2 students from the Normal (Academic) stream take at least one Express level subject. Nearly all of its Normal (Technical) students take at least one higher-level subject.
The students have grown in confidence and self-esteem, but some said they do not feel a sense of belonging to the Express classes, he noted. This is because students tend to stay separate from each other as they come from different classes.
The school went through more than 100 permutations of the timetable before coming up with the final version. It considered factors such as the availability of classrooms and teachers, and ensuring that students' school hours are not extended.
Ms Alfieana Alphonso, a form teacher of a Sec 1 class, said: "Lesson planning can be challenging and it requires teachers to really know their students and their strengths well."
She added that teachers differentiate their teaching subtly, for instance, by providing different worksheets in a single classroom.
"Secondary school isn't just about academic achievement," she said. "It is also about building memories and experiences with others from different streams."
Sec 1 Express student Muhd Abid Muhamad Zahid, 12, said: "We have more friends, and we don't look down on each other.
"I am not so good in science, so my N(A) friend will help me when we do work in the library together.
His classmate Heidi Loh, a Normal (Academic) student, said: "No one really cares about which streams we come from. I take Chinese at Express level and I don't feel different from the Express students because we are in the same class."
Sec 1 Normal (Technical) student Javier Peh, 12, goes for recess and chit-chats with friends from other streams. They also play and help each other with school work. He also takes mathematics, Chinese and English at the Normal (Academic) level.
"If you are a true friend, you shouldn't go to an N(T) student and say you are less... you would be supportive and keep helping them to do better in exams," he said.