SINGAPORE - The Ministry of Education (MOE) will review the Primary 1 registration framework to see how it can increase the number of places set aside under Phase 2C, said Education Minister Lawrence Wong on Wednesday (March 3).
Phase 2C, the fifth of seven phases in the annual registration exercise, is the open phase for those who do not enjoy any form of priority admission, and is based on home-to-school distance.
It is considered the most competitive, as it sees the most number of schools needing a ballot compared with the earlier stages.
Announcing the review during the debate on his ministry's budget, Mr Wong noted the importance of keeping schools open to students from all backgrounds.
He acknowledged that any increase in places for Phase 2C would mean greater competition under the earlier phases for more popular schools.
"We will have to study this carefully and balance the competing demands - to give Singaporean children and their families a better chance at their school of choice, particularly if it is near their home, while still recognising the merits of providing some priority to certain groups," he said.
Mr Patrick Tay (Pioneer) and Mr Shawn Huang (Jurong GRC) had called for a review of the registration framework.
Mr Tay said that anecdotally, more parents are registering their children in earlier phases, leaving fewer places in Phase 2C for those who live near the schools. "Some trade-offs will be necessary to enhance open access in our primary schools, especially in Phase 2C," he added.
Since 2014, each school has set aside 40 places for children who have no prior connection with the school - 20 in Phase 2B and 20 in Phase 2C.
Phase 2B is for children whose parents are school volunteers, active community leaders or have ties to church or clan associations directly connected with the school.
This has "helped give every Singaporean child a chance to enter a primary school of their choice", Mr Wong told the House.
But he noted that in recent years, competition has intensified for spaces in more popular schools. More schools have had to ballot to allocate places.
In last year's exercise, 101 popular primary schools were oversubscribed in Phase 2C, with 99 eventually going to a ballot. There were 186 schools participating in the exercise.
"As a result, even with the 20 places set aside for Phase 2C, some children do not get to attend a school near their home," he said.
The minister noted that groups like children of school alumni are given priority in earlier phases of the P1 registration exercise, "because we want families to build connections to their schools, and for each school to develop its own traditions, history, and identity".
"At the same time, we do not want our primary schools to become closed circles, which you can only access if your parents or siblings went there."
Mr Wong also assured MPs that MOE remains committed to ensuring the quality of every primary school.
"Wherever our children go for their studies, they will be well served, and well supported to reach their fullest potential," he said.