The new rule requiring every school to reserve 40 seats for the later phases of Primary 1 registration has set some parents on edge.
Those whose children qualify for earlier phases worry that they are more likely to face a ballot due to fewer spots, while those who hope to volunteer at schools to qualify for Phase 2B fear that parents from earlier phases might seek to double their chances by joining the volunteer queue. And this could make it harder to sign up as a volunteer.
The new rule, announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at last Sunday's National Day Rally, requires schools to set aside 40 spots for Phases 2B and 2C to encourage a more diversified student body in top schools.
Principals whom The Straits Times spoke to welcomed the change.
Fairfield Methodist Primary's Chaillan Mui Tuan said it would provide a balance between "a healthy number of alumni members' children" and "new entrants to the Fairfield community". Principal of Ai Tong School, Mr Tan Yap Kin, called it "the way to go".
The move will largely affect highly coveted schools that are left with fewer than 20 places for Phases 2B and 2C, such as Henry Park Primary.
In this year's exercise, 163 out of Henry Park's 300 spots went to Phase 1, which is for children who have siblings studying there. Another 61 spots were claimed in Phase 2A1, which is for registered alumni members.
Phase 2A2, which is for children whose parents were former students but not part of the alumni, took up 63 places. That left just 13 spots for phases 2B and 2C - 4 per cent of total places.
The former is for children whose parents volunteered or who have affiliation with a relevant clan or church, while the latter is for those with no links to the school, as well as those who failed to get a place in earlier phases.
With places now being kept aside for later phases, parents expect a tighter squeeze in Phase 2A2. That could encourage parents who are former students to consider also qualifying for 2B by signing up as volunteers.
Already, most popular schools admit only a small number of parent volunteers every year. Some schools also conduct interviews.
Mother of three Gwee Tong Hong, 37, who had volunteered at Raffles' Girls Primary School, is worried not only about the increased competition, but also over how volunteers are chosen. "Maybe schools will give priority to an old girl or old boy," she said.
Parents also fear that many will rush to join the alumni to qualify for 2A1, which could see a ballot in that phase. Already, several parents whose children will apply for Primary 1 next year are bemoaning not signing up as alumni.
To be eligible for 2A1, parents must join the alumni at least a year before the Primary 1 registration exercise begins. That means the cut-off date for next year was June 30, six weeks before PM Lee's announcement.
Said manager Jinny Ng, 31, who plans to try for a school in Bukit Timah next year: "Now I regret... it's too late for me to do anything."
A committee member of a popular primary school's alumni association said she has already received appeal letters from parents hoping for a deadline extension.
"But the association can't bend the rules for them," she said.