Ask Sandra: How to pick a primary school for your kid


Registration for children starting Primary 1 in 2020 begins on July 3 and ends on Oct 31. Some parents may be wondering which primary school to enrol their children in.

Going by the frequent questions posted on popular forums, many parents are searching for a "Top 10" or "Top 50" list of schools, based on the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) results.

The Ministry of Education does not rank primary schools - not publicly, at least. In any case, a ranking of primary schools based on academic achievements is a futile exercise.

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 Integrated Programme schools, and Express and Normal streams.

It will be more useful for parents to ask the principal about his educational philosophy and see if it squares with their own views on education. It may also be useful to check the worksheets prepared by teachers to see if creativity and independent thinking are encouraged.

Get in touch with the parents' support group and ask about its experiences. If your child is especially interested in a particular subject or sport, ask about the school's enrichment programmes in these areas.

1. Big Fish, Little Pond Effect

Parents who are trying to get their children into top primary schools assume that that their young ones will perform better academically if they attend school with other high-ability children.

But these parents should realise that this thinking actually runs counter to some sound educational research. Studies have shown that children may actually perform better in a less popular, or what researchers term a "less selective" school. It's called the "Big Fish, Little Pond Effect".

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.

2. Location is important

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.

3. Shortlist 3 schools

I would advise parents to check out several schools near their homes and shortlist at least three.

Parents should not only look at the academic programmes and co-curricular activities provided by the school, but also study the Primary 1 registration statistics - the total number of places offered last year and the number taken up at each phase.

For many parents, their No. 1 choice is usually a popular school where parents would have to ballot for places. My advice is: Don't bother, unless it is the only school near your home and you live within 1km of it. Parents should look at last year's figures - how many drew lots for the places left at each phase - and think about whether they want to take a chance.

Each phase usually lasts two, if not three, days. At the end of each day, the schools will give out information on the number of registrants and how many live nearby.

If places fill up quickly and your chances seem slim, you have time to withdraw your registration from a school and try for a place in your second choice. This should be one where you stand a high chance of securing a place.

If your second-choice school doesn't work out for any reason, then it is good to have a third school in mind. Again, go for a school where you stand a "very good chance".

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