Hot picks and top picks: Why some parents prefer neighbourhood schools

Madam Chua Huay Wen, 39, her husband Kenneth Seah, 43, and their children Jonathan (left), 11, and Matthew, eight, outside Bukit Timah Primary School, which sits among private estates and "brand-name" schools such as Pei Hwa Presbyterian and Methodis
Madam Chua Huay Wen, 39, her husband Kenneth Seah, 43, and their children Jonathan (left), 11, and Matthew, eight, outside Bukit Timah Primary School, which sits among private estates and "brand-name" schools such as Pei Hwa Presbyterian and Methodist Girls' School (Primary).ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Some parents on why they prefer neighbourhood schools over big-name ones

Madam Chua Huay Wen, 39, had the option of transferring her son to a school offering the Gifted Education Programme last year, after he was selected for it.

But the family turned down the offer and her son, now in Primary 5, stayed in Bukit Timah Primary School despite it not being a traditional favourite with parents.

Madam Chua chose the school for her children - her younger son is in Primary 1 there and her six-year-old daughter will join it next year - as it is near the home of her parents-in-law.

She also liked the small setting - it takes in up to 180 pupils each year, compared to 300 at nearby Pei Hwa Presbyterian Primary.

The civil servant said: "The good thing about being in a less competitive environment is that it encourages kids to try their best. My husband and I just want our children to be happy and not be overly stressed."

The school is the only one in Bukit Timah that still has vacancies at the end of Phase 2C, the fifth and most competitive stage of the Primary 1 registration exercise which is for children with no links to schools.

The area houses several "brand-name" schools such as Pei Hwa Presbyterian and Methodist Girls' School (Primary), where many parents hope to enrol their children.

But, islandwide, some neighbouring schools still have relatively high take-up rates despite having to contend with hot favourites.

For instance, 65 children applied for 120 spots at Bukit Timah Primary in Phase 2C last year. At MGS, 40 children applied for 28 spots, while at Pei Hwa Presbyterian, 52 children applied for 43 spots.

Parents chose such schools because of their proximity and culture.

Many said they did not want their children to grow up in an overlycompetitive environment in top schools. Some said they liked that the schools had a mix of children from other backgrounds and nationalities.

Freelance baker Safia Abdul Hamid, 39, chose Opera Estate Primary for her son, 11, and daughter, now 13, because she wanted them to have more "balanced" lives. The school is a seven-minute drive from hot favourite Tao Nan School, but she said she is "the opposite of the Tao Nan kind of parents".

She said: "No matter which school you go to, there will be stress and you have to work hard because everyone is still taking the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE). But I don't want my kids to grow up in a pressure-cooker environment."

Similarly, Punggol resident Peggy Chan enrolled her daughters, aged eight and 10, in Edgefield Primary instead of the more popular Mee Toh School. Both schools are within 1 km of each other.

The 40-year-old housewife said: "A lot of parents choose Mee Toh, but distance is more important to me. Some stress is needed in school, but being happy is most important."

Some like diversity, others proximity

Last year, Edgefield Primary had 152 children applying for 124 spots in Phase 2C, while Mee Toh had 123 children vying for 58 spots.

At Shuqun Primary, several parents said they had decided on the school as they hoped to avoid or have better chances in a ballot.

Less than a kilometre away from the school is the sought-after Rulang Primary School, which had 98 children registering for 29 spots in Phase 2C last year. Shuqun had 87 children applying for 54 vacancies.

Accountant Christie Yong, 34, whose Primary 2 son is in Shuqun, said: "What if the child doesn't get into the school? Balloting is stressful for everyone."

Primary schools with vacancies after Phase 2C tend to draw non-Singaporean parents who have no affiliations to schools.

For this reason, Madam Rina Handojo, 43, likes Bukit Timah Primary, where her two girls, aged nine and 12, are enrolled.

She said: "I see the diverse school community as a luxury... You can pay money to send your kids to tuition, but you cannot give them natural exposure at your will."

Still, some parents harbour hope that their children can still enter brand-name schools. Housewife Lo Wen Chen, 37, whose son, aged nine, and daughter, eight, are in Bendemeer Primary, hopes to transfer them to Hong Wen School, which is oversubscribed every year.

"My kids are very comfortable in Bendemeer Primary. But Hong Wen School has a rich Chinese culture, which I like, too," she said.

An MOE spokesman said all primary schools are given "well-trained teachers, equipped with suitable education facilities, and provided with adequate financial support for good school programmes".

She encouraged parents to consider factors such as school culture, staff, programmes and distance between home and school when choosing where to place their children.

Principal Dennis Yap of Opera Estate Primary said: "So long as the school and parents work together, every school has the ability to develop each child."

Yangzheng Primary School principal Christine Lam said: "Programmes may differ across schools, but all schools endeavour to provide good-quality education. Parents like the rich heritage of Yangzheng, which turns 110 this year."

This is despite the traditionally popular Rosyth School being a 10-minute drive away.

Mrs Angela Ang, 41, a childcare centre manager who sent her three children to Yangzheng, likes how the school teaches them values such as accountability and punctuality. "It's not about the brand of the school, but the team of people managing it. I make sure my kids do well, but I'm not the typical kiasu parent."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 13, 2015, with the headline 'Hot picks and top picks'. Print Edition | Subscribe