Look beyond factors like cut-off points or popularity when choosing a secondary school, say experts.
With the release of the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) results this Thursday (Nov 24), parents and Primary 6 pupils have seven days to mull over their options for secondary school before submitting their option forms by Wednesday next week (Nov 30).
Parents can refer to the Choosing Your Secondary Schools booklet issued by the Ministry of Education to all Primary 6 pupils. It lists a school's location, niche programmes and co-curricular activities (CCAs), on top of the range of PSLE T-scores of pupils in various streams in schools.
Parents can shortlist schools with their children before the results are out, said parenting coach Jason Ng.
"There is no need to limit the child before the results are out," said Mr Ng, who recommends picking schools for various ranges of expected scores for their child.
It is important to involve children in the decision-making. Ms Anita Shankar, another parenting coach, said: "When children are given respect and some autonomy, they are more likely to make better and informed choices that will be aligned with the choices of the parents."
A way of doing this is to discuss school choices with the child from the start.
Mr Ng said: "Do not start the discussion without the child and then just tell the child what their options are. Let the child be the one actively selecting which schools he or she is interested in, and offer suggestions from a parental perspective."
The "greatest disservice" parents can do to a school is to pass negative comments about it, said Mrs Stefane Lee, year head for Primary 2 and 5 at Meridian Primary School. "The discussion should focus on how the school environment, programmes and CCAs suit the child's needs and ability... whether the parents and child share the vision of the school and how they can help build the good name of the school."
This includes choosing a school where a child feels he can contribute or take part actively in programmes or CCAs, especially if he is inclined towards areas like the arts, environment or language, she said.
Over the next two years, new applied subjects will be introduced in more than 60 schools in Singapore, including O-level subjects like drama, and exercise and sports science.
Some secondary schools will also be holding open houses for Primary 6 pupils after the PSLE results are released. At these events, parents and children can check if a school is the right fit by gauging their level of comfort when interacting with students and staff of the school. They should also find out more about the school's culture and programmes to help students adjust to the new environment, added Mrs Lee.
When it comes to academics, it is important that the child is comfortable with the school's standards.
Research done on the "Big Fish, Little Pond Effect" shows that students may do better in a less popular - or what researchers term a "less selective" - school.
Madam Kalyani Vara, year head of Primary 5 and 6 at Anchor Green Primary School, said that while students motivated to enter a school with higher academic standards may do well as they are "prepared to do the necessary to excel", those who aimed high and failed to reach their goals would have their self-esteem and confidence affected.
"It all depends on each pupil's threshold," she said.
A good indication of whether a child can handle academic stress is how he or she coped in the PSLE.
Ms Pamela See, an educational and developmental psychologist from Th!nk Psychological Services, said: "That would give parents some tips on how their child manages stress and how that, in turn, affects his well-being."
Parenting coach Mr Ng's Secondary 1 son had two main options last year - St Joseph's Institution or Victoria School.
While he vouched for the former, his son wanted the latter. He said: "My decision with him was very simple. You made a choice. You must bear with the consequences."
His son chose Victoria School.
Mr Ng said: "I am happy he worked very hard this year and did very well. I would rather he take ownership of his own choice than to blame me for not doing well in the school that is not of his choice."
Mrs Lee said pupils should not be disheartened if they do not get into the school of their choice. They should remember that they have an important role to play in shaping the culture of a school. "Whenever our pupils ask us which secondary school is good, my typical answer is 'The school that has you.' If they give their best, treat others as best as they can and celebrate learning, their school will be the best school anyone can want," she said.
What to consider
Considerations when choosing a secondary school:
CHILD'S PERSONALITY, STRENGTHS AND INTERESTS
Opt for schools with an environment, ethos and culture that resonate and best suit a child's personality and learning style. Schools also have distinctive programmes that nurture a child's strengths and interests - or even improve an area of weakness.
There are 27 secondary schools affiliated to primary schools with links to religious and clan associations. Pupils of such primary schools who want to continue education in the affiliated secondary school must indicate that school as their first choice.
Parents can opt for schools that take in students who have a similar academic standard to that of their child's, while taking their child's ability to cope with stress or to set and achieve goals on his or her own into account.
DISTANCE BETWEEN SCHOOL AND HOME
Proximity of the school to home would reduce daily commuting time for the child.
O LEVELS/INTEGRATED PROGRAMME (IP)
Some students are more suited to the more structured framework of the O levels, while those who are self-directed in learning might prefer the Integrated Programme that skips the O levels and leads to the A levels or other diplomas.
Specialised schools like the School of the Arts, the Singapore Sports School or the School of Science and Technology, Singapore serve students who believe they have the talent and potential to grow in their mastery of a field such as aesthetics, sports, mathematics or science. These schools are designed to provide students with maximum opportunities to excel in those fields.
Pupils in mainstream schools with mild special educational needs, such as dyslexia or Autism Spectrum Disorder, may want to check if the secondary schools have the experience and resources to support students with similar types and levels of need.
Some schools differ in the degree to which they are resourced with Allied Educators (Learning and Behaviour Support).
• Dates of school open houses:
•Education and career development platform for students: ecareers.sg
•Additional input from Associate Professor Jason Tan and Associate Professor Kenneth Poon from the National Institute of Education.