The more popular junior colleges, including the likes of Raffles Institution (RI) and Hwa Chong Institution, are prepared to take in more students next year.
That is when four junior colleges - Jurong, Innova, Serangoon and Tampines - will stop taking in new students ahead of their mergers with other JCs in 2019. Halting enrolment will help cut the need for students to physically relocate to another site.
Since this leaves a smaller number of JCs for this year's O-level students to choose from, schools may have to expand their intakes, said the Ministry of Education (MOE), which has given the assurance that every student who qualifies for JC admission will have a place.
For example, Anderson JC may take in 800 to 850 students, instead of the current 750 or so.
Even JCs offering the through- train Integrated Programme (IP) may be asked to take in more students entering via the O levels. "For instance, we are likely to ask RI to take a bit more, based on demand," said an MOE spokesman.
At a press conference yesterday, the ministry announced that it is merging 28 schools in 2019, including eight JCs, in response to the shrinking number of students due to Singapore's declining birth rate.
It is necessary to merge the schools so that they would have the critical mass to offer a range of programmes and subject combinations.
At the press conference, MOE explained why it had decided to build two new JCs in the last decade or so.
In 2005, Innova JC (IJC) opened in Woodlands. Then in 2010, MOE announced plans for Eunoia Junior College, which started taking in students this year. Currently occupying a holding site in Mount Sinai, Eunoia will occupy a campus in Sin Ming that will be ready in late 2019.
The MOE spokesman said IJC was built to cater to birth spikes in the past and the resultant demand, as well as to add JC spaces in the northern region of Singapore, which had only Yishun JC then. As for Eunoia, which offers the IP, MOE said it is part of a wider move to give students more options.
Some people are questioning why only non-IP government schools were selected for merger, while IP schools and government-aided mission schools such as Catholic JC (CJC) and St Andrew's JC were spared.
MOE said government-aided schools, which have a degree of autonomy over the programmes they offer, are different legal entities with different governance frameworks, and this would complicate the merger process.
It added that most of the JCs picked are the ones most affected by falling enrolments. There is also a need to ensure a good spread of JCs across the island. Merging Innova with Yishun, Tampines with Meridian, Jurong with Pioneer, and Serangoon with Anderson means there is one non-IP government JC in the north, east, west and north- east respectively.
Ease of access was another key consideration. Yishun JC's building may be older than Innova's but it was chosen as the site of the merged school as it is more conveniently located. Innova, MOE explained, is located too far north. The Yishun site may also be upgraded after the merger.
Speaking to reporters after the press briefing, MOE's director of schools Liew Wei Li said the merged schools will continue to offer all special programmes, such as language elective programmes, currently offered by the affected JCs.
She admitted that this merger exercise was particularly challenging as it involved JCs for the first time. She said: "School spirit is so high, we have to be very sensitive... (and) very careful about such things."