Fall in birth rate and changes in geographical distribution of students among key considerations.
The Ministry of Education (MOE) recently announced that 14 primary schools, six secondary schools, and eight junior colleges will be paired and merged in 2019. One new primary school will be opened in Sengkang in 2018.
Here are answers to eight questions you may have regarding the school mergers. For the latest updates on schools, head over to MOE.
1. Why are schools and JCs being merged?
School mergers are necessary for our students’ benefit. Schools with low enrolment find it challenging to offer a wide range of subject combinations, educational programmes and co-curricular activities (CCAs).
For example, schools have had to stop offering some CCAs which did not have enough students to form teams. Other CCA groups which continued without a full team were unable to participate in some programmes or competitions. The mergers will provide our schools with the healthy enrolment needed to continue to provide a rich variety of learning programmes and experiences for our students.
Declining birth rates will also lead to a corresponding decline in students entering post-secondary institutions. We will see a fall in demand of around 3,200 JC places between 2010 and 2019, with the sharpest year-on-year drop expected in 2018 and 2019. In fact, it will likely continue to drop in 2020 before stabilising for the foreseeable future. If no action is taken by MOE, this fall in cohort sizes will result in low enrolment across all JCs in the long term.
It would be untenable for MOE to continue to hold off from merging any JCs when we will have cumulatively a drop of about 3,200 JC1 places by 2019.
2. What is considered ‘critical mass’ or sufficient enrolment?
Sufficient enrolment in a school differs from school to school, depending on the type of educational programmes offered. Our primary and secondary schools can usually take up to about 1,300 or 1,400 students based on the infrastructure provided, but we typically operate at slightly below that for most schools.
For most JCs, the enrolment would be about 1,600. Actual enrolment figures will also depend on other factors such as overall cohort sizes, demographic shifts, students' choice of educational pathways, etc. From experience, it is not an issue if enrolment is about 200 - 400 below those numbers. But if enrolment goes well below that, then it would generally start to have some impact on the educational experience of the students.
Schools with low enrolments would not have the critical mass to offer a range of curricular and co-curricular learning programmes. It would be challenging to provide an enriching education experience for students in such low enrolment schools.
3. Why not just keep the low-enrolment schools but reduce class sizes across the board?
The classroom experience is only one aspect of a student’s experience in school. Regardless of class sizes, schools with low enrolment will still find it challenging to offer a wide range of subject combinations, educational programmes and co-curricular activities (CCAs). The mergers will provide our schools with the healthy enrolment needed to offer a rich variety of learning programmes and experiences for a holistic development of our students.
As a system, we have reduced class sizes in a selective and targeted manner, by reducing to 20 for most of the Normal (Technical) classes, and by reducing to below 10, even as low as four in some cases, for those with learning difficulties or need special support to level up their school-readiness. This allows the schools to conduct literacy and numeracy support programmes in smaller class sizes of eight to 10 at the primary level to provide more focused support for weaker students. For subjects like Design & Technology and Food & Consumer Education, where students may be required to operate machinery or equipment, as well as most N(T) classes, the class size is usually 20.
We call this needs-based resourcing, where we take a student-centric approach to meet the needs of the students or to ensure effective programme delivery. We have chosen to do things which are targeted and focused on needs of our students, to optimise our limited manpower resources.
4. Is MOE doing this just to save money for the Government?
The primary driver for mergers is not cost but the quality of the school experience, i.e. range of education programmes, CCAs, subject combinations, overall environment.
If the schools are not merged in 2019, more schools would have low enrolment, which would negatively impact the range of education programmes and CCAs that could be provided for our students. Ultimately, the overall student experience will become a poorer one, and this is exactly what MOE aims to avoid.
There are some cost savings when we merge schools – most of this would be in the form of fixed overheads such as the school leadership and administrative team, infrastructure maintenance costs, etc. MOE has to be prudent in how we manage costs and, ultimately, we have to be good stewards of public funds, so that every dollar of our spending achieves the most in developing our students and achieving good student outcomes.
Nonetheless, we do not make decisions on school mergers with the aim of achieving a cost savings target or to maximise cost-effectiveness. Otherwise, we would have gone for far more school mergers and ensured all schools operate at close to their planned or optimal capacity for maximum cost-effectiveness outcomes.
5. Why not merge a low-enrolment Government school with a Government-Aided school? Why merge only eight non-IP Government JCs, and not the Government-Aided or IP JCs?
MOE’s priorities in planning schools are to provide quality education, meet demand for school places at both national and local levels, and ensure accessibility based on proximity to housing developments and public transport.
Schools are identified for mergers based on factors such as: (i) sufficient enrolment to ensure critical mass for a wide range of educational programmes and co-curricular activities; (ii) the geographical proximity of affected schools; and (iii) the infrastructure capacity to support the merged school.
MOE had studied the different potential merger partners carefully. In considering the compatibility of merger partners, we generally prefer to pair Government schools. The mergers would be far more complex and challenging if we paired a Government school with a Government-Aided school, as their legal and governance structures are different and difficult to integrate.
In addition, JC merger partners were selected based on geography, so as to maintain a good spread of JCs across the country. We started by looking at the overall demand and supply of JC places. After assessing that we should merge four pairs of JCs, it came down to finding suitable merger pairs.
Integrated Programme (IP) JCs and non-IP JCs are not compatible merger partners because they offer different programmes to suit their students’ needs. On the other hand, we found that we could retain a reasonably good geographical distribution by merging the existing eight Government JCs.
6. Will “weaker” students be able to secure a place in JCs? Won’t the remaining JCs have higher cut-off points?
Every JC-eligible student – with a L1R5 score of 20 or better – is assured of a JC place.
Following the mergers, there will be some reduction in the overall number of JC places but this would have taken into consideration the reduction in cohort sizes. This is to ensure all JC eligible students who wish to have a JC education will be posted to a JC. As in previous years, the posting will be by merit, and this may or may not be the student’s preferred choice.
For 2018, as part of the transition for the 2019 JC mergers, we expect to open up more places in all the JCs (less the four JCs not admitting JC1 students in 2018) to ensure sufficient JC places to meet the demand from all eligible students. This could lead to some fluctuations in the cut-off points for JCs in the 2018 JAE.
Cut-off points are neither pre-determined by MOE nor the JCs, but are dependent on students’ choice patterns across the JCs from year to year.
7. Why did MOE build Eunoia JC when cohort sizes are dropping?
MOE regularly reviews our education landscape and curriculum in line with the needs of our society in the future.
Eunoia JC leverages the strengths of each partner secondary school (Catholic High, CHIJ St Nicholas Girls’ and Singapore Chinese Girls’), so as to offer innovative programming.
Even though we had anticipated falling cohort sizes in the coming years, we decided in 2010 that we should not hold back this new JC model, so that more students can benefit from the Integrated Programme.
This is no different from what we did for secondary schools. Even though we were aware of falling cohort sizes in the coming years, we decided to invest in two new Specialised Schools – Crest (2013) and Spectra (2014) – to benefit those who would be more suited for the applied learning track with a special Normal (Technical) curriculum.
8. What will happen to teachers in the merging schools? Can the remaining JCs take in all the JC teachers who are not posted to the merged school?
There will be no retrenchment of MOE staff. Staff will either be posted to the merged school, or redeployed to other schools or to HQ. Some of the teachers may have to be redeployed to teach at other school levels, e.g. from JC to Secondary, or from Secondary to Primary levels. MOE will provide the necessary training and support for these teachers.
Teachers who are affected by the school mergers can apply for available positions at other JCs during MOE’s internal posting exercise. However, we expect the number of JC vacancies to be fewer than the number of JC teachers to be redeployed. Some of these teachers will therefore have to consider a move to secondary or primary schools, where they can continue to contribute.
The Ministry will provide these teachers with the necessary support. The Academy of Teachers (AST) will run bridging courses for those who are deployed to secondary or primary schools, to equip them with the necessary pedagogical skills and content knowledge to teach at the secondary or primary level.
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