A TOTAL of 27 schools were left with less than half of their Primary 1 places after the second phase of the registration exercise ended yesterday.
Nanyang Primary and Anglo- Chinese School Primary in Bukit Timah, CHIJ St Nicholas Girls' School in Ang Mo Kio and Ai Tong and Catholic High in Bishan had the highest take-up rate of places in the phase known as 2A1.
This phase is for alumni who had joined the school alumni association at least one year ago.
Ai Tong, Henry Park and Nanyang have less than one-third of places remaining, even though the registration exercise - which started this month and ends on Aug 30 - is not even at its half- way mark.
In the first phase meant for children with siblings in the same primary school, 13 schools had at least 50 per cent of their places taken up. By the time the second phase ended yesterday, 14 more schools had joined the list.
At Nanyang Primary, for instance, 272 of 390 places - or about 70 per cent - for next year were taken up by yesterday.
Anxious parents who called the school were told that another 80 to 90 places are likely to be taken up at the next phase, which gives priority to alumni who have not joined the alumni association and for school staff.
This is likely to raise more calls by parents to review the rule giving priority to alumni. One of the main complaints has been that parents join the alumni association only to gain priority for the Primary 1 registration.
In response to parents' calls, the Education Ministry (MOE) has said before that key stakeholders - such as former students, members of the school advisory committees and parent volunteers - are important as they help build up and strengthen the schools' tradition and ethos.
The Straits Times spoke to several parents who turned up to register their children at ACS Primary, Nanyang Primary, Ai Tong and Kong Hwa.
Several parents admitted that they do not contribute to the school as alumni members.
"Frankly speaking it is a bit unfair to other parents... I don't really contribute to the alumni, but yet I am given priority," said Mr Kelvin Lew, 44, a general manager, who enrolled his daughter at Kong Hwa in Geylang.
Another parent, Dr Adrian Loh, 36, who registered his son, Joash, at ACS (Primary), said that he joined the school's Old Boys' Association three years ago but is not an active member.
But a few other parents said they were active in their alumni associations.
One of them is Ms Celia Ho, 36, who has been part of Ai Tong's alumni association for the last five years. She has helped to organise weekend enrichment activities, such as calligraphy classes for pupils.
"I actively participate to make sure that it is the right school for my son," said Ms Ho, a bank executive.
Another issue that has come up is the joining fees charged by some of the alumni groups.
Nanyang Schools Alumni Association, for example, charges $1,000. Raffles Girls Primary School Alumni and ACS Old Boys' Association charge $500.
Parent Sharon Lek, 37, thought it was exorbitant: "Looks like it is an easy way for the schools to raise money. It puts them out of reach to poorer families."
One of the vice-presidents of the Nanyang Schools Alumni Association, Madam Lim Lay Ngoh, said at least half of the money from membership fees goes back to the schools, which include Nanyang Kindergarten, Nanyang Primary School and Nanyang Girls' High School. The remainder goes to organising fund-raising events for the three schools. The association has about 1,400 members.
She clarified that families with financial difficulty can pay the membership fee in instalments.
"There are parents that join just to get their kids in Nanyang Primary and that's not good, but we hope that over time some of them will become more active members," said Madam Lim.
Mr Chandra Mohan, a committee member of the ACS Old Boys' Association, said that the membership fees is the only source of income for the association, which organises several events.
The next phase, 2A2, gives priority to a child whose parent or sibling has studied in the primary school of choice or whose parent is a staff member of the school.
Registration under this phase will be held over two days on Monday and Tuesday. Results will be known by Wednesday.
Additional reporting Amelia Teng