What is the Direct School Admission (DSA) scheme and what are your child’s chances of getting into a popular secondary school through the DSA?
Many parents in Sinagpore see DSA as a back door entry to elite secondary schools, and the system has come under fire for veering away from its original intention of recognising diverse talents. Critics also said it benefitted kids from wealthier families as they could afford to pay for intensive coaching and enrichment.
The DSA scheme allows kids who are talented in sports, music or other areas to enter secondary schools that they may not have qualified for with their PSLE results alone.
In 2017, Education Minister (Schools) Ng Chee Meng announced changes to the DSA to align it back to its intended aim (read about the changes here).
In an article in The Straits Times, its senior education correspondent Sandra Davie answers common questions parents have about the DSA.
Do the changes to the DSA make it easier for talented kids to get into popular secondary schools?
To an extent, yes. Sandra explains that there are more places available this year because 143 secondary schools are participating in the DSA programme this year, compared to 128 last year.
Plus, non-Integrated Programme secondary schools can now admit up to 20 per cent of their Sec 1 students. Previously, this was capped at 5 per cent for schools with distinctive programmes, and 10 per cent for autonomous schools.
But Sandra explains that the Ministry of Education has said previously that IP schools typically take in only 35 per cent using this scheme.
Ultimately, your kid’s chances depend on how many other students apply for the same school.
Sandra says there were 16,000 applications for places through the DSA in 2017 (students can apply to more than one school). Out of these, 2,700 students got into their preferred school.
While MOE didn’t give a breakdown of how many got into the IP programme last year, Sandra notes that MOE had said previously that about half of the DSA applicants got into IP schools.
About a third got in based on general academic abilities, MOE had said previously. This has now been discontinued (read our story here for more details) but schools can still admit students based on specific academic talents, such as maths, science or humanities.
Sandra cautions that once your child gets a place via DSA, she will not be allowed to participate in the Secondary 1 Posting Exercise. She also may not transfer to another school after the PSLE results.
How do schools select students for the DSA?
Sandra explains that the selection process varies from school to school, and across DSA categories.
For instance, they may have to submit a portfolio of their achiebements, result slips, CCA records and a personal statement or character reference.
Your kid may also have to go through interviews, camps, trials or tests for that particular area of talent. Sandra explains that camps, for example, allow the teachers to interact with potential students and see how they solve problems.
If you have a sporty kid, Sandra adds, the school will generally look for how well she, say, plays basketball, as well as her potential.
How can your kid get into your former secondary school, which is a popular school, through the DSA?
While it’s natural for you to want your kid to study in the same school you did, Sandra says it’s more important to consider whether this is in her best interest.
Under the DSA scheme, she will have to commit to developing her talent for four to six years, depending on whether she takes the O-level route or the IP programme.
Sandra adds that a popular secondary school will have a high pressure academic environment, so will your kid be able to cope?
If you and your child both think this is the right route, then you should identify her area of talent and develop it, then look for a secondary school that offers a programme in that field.
Your child also needs to meet the minimum cut-off for the stream she is offering, Sandra says. This is around 200 for Express stream students.
Sandra cautions that if you’re gunning for an IP school, bear in mind that it will be even more academically competitive since most students there will have PSLE T-scores of above 250.