ONE in two secondary schools can now provide places for primary school pupils even before the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE).
With six more schools joining the Direct School Admission (DSA) exercise, the total number of schools in the programme is now 80, out of the 166 secondary schools in Singapore.
The six are Bendemeer, Chung Cheng High (Yishun), Hong Kah, Marsiling, Siglap and West Spring.
Schools on the DSA scheme are given the choice of offering early placement to primary school pupils, without these pupils having to make the schools' cut-off score for the PSLE.
Selection exercises for the DSA start from June 28 and students will be informed of the results by September.
Started in 2004, the exercise aims to re-cognise a more diverse range of talents by giving schools the flexibility to admit these talented students and in the process build up a brand-name for themselves in niche areas.
Siglap Secondary, for example, wants to build its Gamelan and Angklung/Kulintang ensembles, which involve the playing of wind, string and percussion instruments. West Spring based in Bukit Panjang has been given the go-ahead to list air pistol as its niche programme.
Of the 80 schools offering DSA, 40 are Integrated Programme (IP) schools, Specialised Independent Schools (SIS), autonomous schools and independent schools that already have the leeway to admit students based on their own criteria.
Integrated Programme schools and Specialised Independent Schools can take in up to 100 per cent of their students via the DSA, while independent and autonomous schools offer 20 per cent and 10 per cent of their places respectively to DSA students.
Joining them are 40 other schools which offer Ministry of Education-approved niche programmes. These schools, such as Siglap Secondary, can reserve 5 per cent of their intake for the DSA.
A Ministry of Education (MOE) spokesman declined to say if all schools will be included in the exercise eventually. She added that the ministry is 'implementing this carefully and gradually'.
While the DSA exercise has been generally successful in providing opportunities for both pupils and schools, it has not been happily accepted by all.
Some parents have complained that it was difficult for their children to get into Integrated Programme schools even with good PSLE results because most of the places had already been snapped up.
The MOE spokesman, however, pointed out that all Integrated Programme schools admitted up to half of their Secondary 1 cohort through DSA last year.
She added that the ministry expects a similar proportion to be available through the regular centralised Secondary 1 posting this year.
Only the Specialised Independent Schools - School of Science and Technology, School of the Arts and NUS High School of Maths and Science - admitted between 90 per cent and 100 per cent of their Secondary 1 cohort through DSA last year, because they cater specially to students talented in science, maths and the arts.
Even then, Mr Lim Biow Chuan, deputy chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Education, called for more balance.
He said school principals who want to build niche programmes must take care not to alienate the other students who enrol in the usual exercise.
'There is a pressure to win medals. When you have only 11 spots in a team, you will want to fill them with the best players,' he said. 'Principals must ensure that a balance is struck between grooming students to reach their maximum potential and creating opportunities for all in CCAs.'
Further details on the exercise are available at www.moe.gov.sg/education/admissions/dsa-sec
Students can also call the Education Ministry on 6872-2220.
Participating schools have posted detailed information on their selection criteria and application procedures on their respective websites.