In Pursuit of Singapore’s Best Primary School Part II

You know how important the selection of a Primary School is to a parent in Singapore, when a father is charged for falsifying his address to get his daughter into the Primary School that he hoped for.

And there are many parents buying and renting homes in a specific area in Singapore, for a higher chance to get into the area’s popular primary schools.

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So then, do all popular, elite or SAP Schools really live up to their hype?

Here’s the second interview of a teacher who had experienced teaching in popular and SAP schools, and her take on the system. Read the 1st interview here.


Why I choose not to put my child in Popular Primary School OR SAP School?

‘Perhaps the distinction between schools and cultures are marked as determined by the sort of families children come from. It is inevitable that schools in geographical areas with higher income demographics will tend to have more fluent parents.

It isn’t just the money that determines how kiasu parents and a school is, I would say that it adds to more pressure for teachers and also children from less well-off homes.

Not all SAP schools have rich or stellar academic results either. Many of our so called elite schools in Singapore are not all SAP schools. SAP schools give greater pressure because of their Chinese standards. Then depending on which SAP school, the overall academic focus may vary.

I have two SAP schools near me. Both require parent volunteer programme to help assure admission. However I find both lacking in holistic development.  Having said that again, I also have a much sought after mission school, crazy Parent Volunteer scheme too… And I also wouldn’t enrol my children there.

These schools all lack a holistic development focus.

Honestly, I just have no illusion that schools can provide holistic Education simply because there is far too much administrative demands on teachers , the existence of a very rigorous and demanding assesment/ examination system and too little time for children to be given time to develop.

POPULAR schools, even the neighbourhood ones with more kiasu parents, just make this lack of holistic development worse. Since getting into these schools are so competitive, the parents are likely more ‘kiasu’.

These neighborhood schools are extremely popular with parents and are high academic achieving schools. One of the popular schools in the east had a principal that told Primary 1 parents that they should not complain about their children’s teachers. Cos the teachers will be upset and their children’s lives will ultimately be miserable. True story. 

I think many schools not just SAP schools are into awards. The neighborhood popular schools are also very into earning awards like best progress, and in various niches. It is ingrained into the system that there needs to be consistent external validation of school excellence.

Teachers are assessed to death with their EPMS* yearly. And so are principals and superintendents and Deputy Directors. Schools are not ranked? Are awards not important? Think again. If they aren’t , what sort of tangible evidence do they use to ascertain performance?

Ultimately it falls on us the parents- what we desire for our children and our temperaments.

I know some amazing parents and kids who excel in system. And the children come out rather intact and have their passions still there. But there are also many who stumble and flail under the pressure.

However I believe the system is not all useless and there also many merits.’

– An ex Primary School teacher with young children, who are NOT yet in the Primary School System. 

*EPMS – Employee Performance Management System. Teachers are assessed on certain grades (A,B,C,D) to determine their work performance bonuses for the end of the year, as well as the potential to increase in their teaching grades.  



So you have read it for yourself in these two posts, from two teachers’ perspectives of popular, elite or SAP schools. Don’t say “Nobody told me it will be like that…”.

Here’s wishing all parents going through the Primary 1 registration process for the first time this July, all the best for the Primary School selection for your child!

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Go to Part 1 of this post.

Here is MOE link on Primary 1 Registration Phases and Procedures

Here are more posts on our Primary 1 journey;

Primary 1 Orientation – What to Expect

Primary 1 – The First Two Days

The Pocket Money Challenge

Primary 1 in an Inclusive Programme


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In Pursuit of Singapore’s Best Primary School Part 1

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As we are a few weeks away from the long awaited Primary 1 registration exercise, I have done some ‘home-work’ for parents who will be making the selection this year for their K2 children.

This post will focus on the ‘truth’ behind Elite schools. In order to find out the truth, I go straight to the source; teachers who are parents themselves, with children in the school system and have taught in these schools.

What is the motivation behind a post like that? If you have been following my blog for some time, you would know that a post of this angle is not motivated by ‘sour grapes’. My hb’s alumni was an extremely popular Chinese SAP school, but I eventually went with a ‘regular’ primary school or a school with an inclusive programme. You can read this post; Prelude to Primary 1 for yourself.

My objective writing this post is to help parents make well-informed decisions for their children, choosing the best primary school for your child can either help / plague the child’s next 6 years in Primary school.

The word ‘best’ is very subjective. Some parents version of ‘best’ is that place a child’s learning potential is maximized, and the child can have a better chance to top the PSLE results nationally. While my ‘best’ is simple, the school needs to fit my child’s learning abilities, and has a positive environment to cultivate my child’s learning and my child is happy being in the school. And most of all, do not create unnecessary feelings of stress and inadequacies in a parent.

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In order to get a clearer insider take of elite schools, I interviewed two Primary School teachers who had past experience teaching in elite schools.

Why I didn’t enroll my child in a Chinese SAP school.

‘To start with, I know my kids well, there are not great in the Chinese language. I am also concerned that this over-emphasis on one language ultimately results in poor result for both English language and Chinese.

SAP schools tend to assume that the children get plenty of extra help outside of school and thus teacher will not go at the students’ pace. The environment is too stifling and competitive. Not good for overall growth and development.

I don’t want my child to cultivate the elitist mentality. And besides, the standard of education of SAP has been going down the drain since the focus have been shifted to chasing awards, over the development of the children. Generally the overall standard of educating the whole child is compromised, due to an overemphasis on certain things like the Chinese language and the school’s pursuit for recognition.

Some parents like that the children learn prose and poems in Chinese so that they can learn good values. But the reality is that all school teach good values. You just need to look at the school’s handbook and I don’t think that is inferior in anyway. A child’s value system is inculcated with practical modeling and practice at home, we can’t depend solely on a school to teach that. 

There are parents who think that these SAP schools push the child to their best potential. But with that, there is a danger of hot-housing, and no child can thrive in a pressure-cooker environment. The child will likely NOT get the support he/she needs in school.

What happens when target is set too high? The child gives up trying after a while.  Their standards in these schools continually increase year on year. For a Primary 1 child, it is normal to see the child being tested on Primary 2 and 3 things on various subjects. How do you motivate a person, what more a child, with continually high and moving standards?

It functions just like a corporation.’

– Mom with children in the Primary School System. Teaching for 10 years; 2 years in a Chinese SAP School, 8 years in schools with inclusive programmes. 


Read Part 2 of this post for the interview of another Primary School teacher.

Here is MOE link on Primary 1 Registration Phases and Procedures

Here are more posts on our Primary 1 journey;

Primary 1 Orientation – What to Expect

Primary 1 – The First Two Days The Pocket Money Challenge

Primary 1 in an Inclusive Programme


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Primary 1 in an Inclusive Programme

If you a mom planning to put your child into a primary school in the next 2 years, I can share with you that there is nothing to worry about, if the school that you have selected for your child has an Inclusive Programme.

What do I mean by an Inclusive Programme?

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An inclusive programme helps each child makes the best of his or her abilities and do not require him/her to have advanced abilities or knowledge ahead of their expected development, so as to be able to on par with the school standards.

A selective programme in turn means that the school will push each child to have a level of competence that is above the standards of schools across the board.

Since 2012, MOE have stopped releasing statistics for the general public to benchmark the academic performance of one primary school to another. Schools rankings were changed to be based on a set of criteria known as ‘The Masterplan of Awards’ (MOA) in 2012, which will be changed again in 2014.

But this doesn’t stop kiasu parents from ranking schools themselves.

This mom refuses to be stressed by the unrealistic demands society has placed on parents and children, so the ranking of schools have little bearing on my choice of primary school for K. Besides, I have no fear about my child ‘losing out’, despite reading articles like this which will bring out the latent traits of kiasu-ism in any parent.

On the contrary, I am glad that I did not make the choice to go with hb’s alumni which has a selective programme that includes the qualifying criteria of having children of a certain race, as there is no other 2nd language options in that school apart from Chinese. Also, as the child progresses in the school year, not being to afford tuition for most subjects could likely become a disadvantage for a child in the school.

I heaved a sigh of relief when I chanced upon this hearsay from a relative whose friend works as a teacher in Hb’s alumni; The teacher don’t spend alot of time teaching the students, as the majority of them are way ahead of the required curriculum for the subjects, so she dishes out plenty of worksheets instead.

In this school that K attends, he is a minority race in his class, as there are officially 7 chinese students in his class of 30. He has to join another class for his chinese lessons, and I see the advantage of the teacher and child ratio of a small class of 16 children.

He will have little chance of becoming a xenophobic being in this school.

Just this weekend, hb and I visited K’s school for a parent’s briefing on the Holistic Assessment (HA) plans for the year. We were shared details about the Stellar Programme (btw I have yet to see a fairy tale in the range of Big Books) and the Programme for Active Learning which is incorporated into the curriculum.

With these Holistic Assessment plans shared for the academic year, we were given very clear roadmaps on the topics covered and weightage of skills evaluated for the year.

HA 2Holistic Assessments for English

Having to understand this big picture of what K will be taught for the year, tells me that :

1) I am not going to be a smarty pants and teach him what he does not know 2-3 terms ahead. As I only have myself to blame if he gets bored in class and then cause behavioral problems in class.

2) Too many moms are worried about kids not being able to read fluently before they reach Primary 1. I think this worry is unfounded especially if your child is in a preschool, especially a childcare programme or a Montessori. Most preschools have a proper phonics programme in place to provide your child with some foundational skills in learning how to read.

Inclusive primary school programmes will further support in providing explicit instruction in teaching reading in school. K’s school has a reading programme that utilizes the Leap Frog Tag Reading System, where students can being a book home to read with their parents over the weekends. This programme can help the children to revise phonics and improve their reading fluency.

K may be slightly ahead in his English language reading ability, however, he has weaknesses in other subjects, namely, Chinese.

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3. Having this knowledge of the HA plans for Chinese language, I am able to help him with acquiring the specific skills that he needs.

4. I realized that there isn’t a necessity to ensure that you get the contact numbers of the fellow moms of your child’s classmates as;

– Most school issue the Student Handbook to the students at the start of the school year, where children are expected to write down details of their homework requirements daily, things to do or bring the next day or week.

– There are fixed days for English and Chinese Spelling, and the teachers will inform parents of the spelling schedules at the start of the school year.

– If there are upcoming assessments / tests. A child who is paying attention in class, he should be able to tell you as well.

I think the best way a child learn responsibility is through natural consequences.  I have told K that it is his responsibility to pay attention in class, listen to instructions and try his best in learning what is taught in school. If he doesn’t make an effort to listen to what is needed, he will just have to accept the punishment given by his teacher.

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After meeting K’s form teacher, my first impressions are that she is friendly and approachable person. And K likes her too, and says that she is caring while at the same time, strict and firm with the children.

This first parent-teacher session of the new school year has opened clear channels of communication between the teachers and parents, and have cleared any doubts I initially had about the academic requirements for Primary 1.

Ultimately I feel that the level of stress your child will be exposed to is related to the demands from the school.  If I were to chose a school with a selective or ‘advantaged’ programme, it would be contradictory if I were to complain that my kid is stressed with too much homework, or not being able to catch up (since 90% of his/her classmates) are at least 1 grade above in their academic competence. Why complain when this is expected?

However, if you are a parent like me, who sees the importance of not quenching a child’s love for learning at an early age, and are aware that childhood is the time where our children define and develop their character. You will likely go with the school with an inclusive system, and not let unrealistic demands snuff out the joy and wonder from his/her childhood.


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