From 2019, one-fifth of places in Singapore secondary schools that are affiliated to primary schools will be set aside for students who do not benefit from affiliation priority.
In announcing the 20 per cent allocation in Parliament yesterday, Education Minister (Schools) Ng Chee Meng said that while affiliation helps to "foster a strong school spirit and preserve schools' traditions and ethos", the Government has to ensure that schools are open to all students, regardless of their backgrounds or connections.
In response to media queries, the Ministry of Education (MOE) said that the 20 per cent figure takes reference from its policy of reserving 40 places for students with no prior connections to the school during the Primary 1 registration exercise.
The rule was implemented in 2014 to provide open access to schools. The figure of 40 is about 20 per cent of a typical primary school's P1 enrolment of 210 pupils.
There are 27 secondary schools here that are affiliated to primary schools with links to religious and clan associations. Most already have students from non-affiliated schools making up at least 20 per cent of the student population.
However, between six and eight schools have non-affiliated students making up less than 20 per cent of the population each year, said the MOE.
Students applying for a place in an affiliated secondary school have to meet the cut-off set by the school and list the school as their first choice to qualify for priority.
The entry scores for affiliated and non-affiliated students at some schools can vary. Schools can set the minimum entry standards, subject to MOE approval, for affiliated students, and these are usually lower than the standards that non-affiliated students have to meet. For example, for entry into CHIJ Secondary (Toa Payoh), affiliated students need a T-score of only 200 to get into the Express stream. Other students had to score 243 and above to secure a place last year.
This discrepancy was pointed out during the MOE's budget debate on Monday by Dr Lim Wee Kiak (Sembawang GRC), who asked if the affiliation priority scheme can be gradually phased out. Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar (Ang Mo Kio GRC) also described school affiliation as "a bugbear for many parents and students".
"Parents whose children are not in primary schools affiliated to popular schools are worried that their children will have little chance of gaining admission... Parents whose children are still in pre-schools are also getting very worried because they want to ensure their children can enrol in a primary school affiliated to a popular school," she said.
Mr Gerard Ee, chairman of the St Joseph's Institution (SJI) board of governors, welcomed the move to give more non-affiliated students opportunities to study at such schools. "It is good that students can mix as much as possible with those from other backgrounds, and you don't end up with a group moulded with the same mindset," said Mr Ee.
Currently, the number of SJI students from its affiliated schools make up close to 40 per cent of the student population.
Ms Geraldine Tan, 41, has a daughter in Primary 4 at Paya Lebar Methodist Girls' School who will be among the first batch of students to be affected by the new move. "If she wants to move up to secondary school with her peers, she will have to make sure she does well," said Ms Tan, who is self-employed. Still, the 20 per cent figure that was announced yesterday is a reasonable quota, she added.