Childcare firm EtonHouse International has been told to "thoroughly review" its registration process, after more than 100 people queued for a place at its new Punggol centre a day before registration opened.
EtonHouse's E-Bridge subsidiary is one of three recently appointed anchor operators, which get priority in setting up centres in the heartland, with the provision that fees are kept low.
One of the sites E-Bridge secured is near Block 614A Edgefield Plains estate in Punggol, a new town where there is a high demand for childcare services, given the many young families living in the area.
People started queuing as early as 10am the day before registration opened at 9am yesterday. By 11pm on Friday, the line had stretched to about 130 people, who brought along chairs, water and extension cords for charging their phones.
A suggestion by E-Bridge staff to switch to a balloting system was rejected as parents did not want to take a chance in a ballot.
The company decided to issue queue numbers at about 11pm, allowing parents to return yesterday morning without losing their place, and stationed someone at the centre through the night.
Even before the doors opened yesterday, more than 250 queue numbers had been given out.
When registration closed in the afternoon, about 360 families had signed up, though not all were vying for the 120 childcare places available this year. Others wanted their names down for next year's enrolment.
The Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA), which oversees the pre-school sector, revealed that it had advised E-Bridge to look into its registration process. after early but shorter queues had formed at two new centres in Sengkang.
The suggestions included adopting an online registration system, giving priority to those who live nearest to the centre, and balloting where necessary.
Referring to the queues on Friday, the ECDA said: "This had caused much inconvenience to parents, and was unnecessary."
An EtonHouse spokesman told The Sunday Times it will "work closely with ECDA to review and improve on the registration process so as to better serve the communities".
At its Punggol centre, registration was on a first-come-first- served basis, with priority given to those living nearby.
First in line was Punggol resident Stephy Lim, 26. She had been looking for a childcare place for her one-year-old daughter since last year. "I had checked with six to seven centres, but I was always put on the waiting list. I didn't want a scenario where I reach four hours late, still queue for a long time, and yet do not get a place," said the hairdresser.
Ms Siti Hanisah Hasan Basri, 31, who queued from about 5pm on Friday, said parents in the line were orderly, except for a small commotion when balloting was proposed.
Parents were relieved when staff decided to issue queue numbers, said Ms Siti Hanisah, who works in hospital patient service, and has a three-year-old son. "They were all like 'at last we can go home'."