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How new primary schools woo parents

Without established track records and strong alumni ties, new schools are turning to social media, grassroots organisations and word-of-mouth to build buzz on what they can offer. 

SINGAPORE: Parents of six-year-olds across the country are gearing up for primary school registration, which starts on Thursday (July 3). While more established primary schools can rely on their track records and a strong alumni network to keep enrolment numbers high, new schools have to start from a blank slate when they start to fill their first classrooms.

Some newcomers have gone the extra mile to get on parents' radar. When Punggol Green Primary opened its doors in 2013, the housing estate around it was under construction, and residents did not know the school existed.

"When we first came, a lot of the houses (in the neighbourhood) were not ready, and parents didn't know we existed,” said principal Seah Lay Tin. "So we did a lot of community outreach through the Citizens' Consultative Committees and the Residents' Committees."

The school started a communication drive, hosting community events like Mid-Autumn Festival and Lunar New Year celebrations, and organising camps for kindergarten children so they could get a feel of what lessons were like.

When classes started, it got parents fully involved. The school's three-day workshops for parents of Primary One students are now a yearly affair, with participants learning about the school's philosophy and culture, and participating in classroom-bonding activities with their children.

"The parents of our students are really our biggest mouthpieces, because they go out and tell their neighbours and their friends, 'this is what Punggol Green is doing,’” said Mrs Seah.

The school's efforts are paying off. It now has an active group of parent volunteers who help during school excursions and run activities during recess.

Over in Woodlands, Riverside Primary School overcame its early days of obscurity with, among other things, social media. Its Facebook page has close to 900 "Likes", almost double the student population - and not all "Likes" are from existing parents.

Principal Sharon Siew said parents are looking for strong fundamentals when selecting schools for their children: “I think they want to know that their children's lives at the school are very enriching, and they have exciting programmes that actually teach them values and skills, and also prepare them for life."

Both Riverside and Punggol Green filled all their Primary One slots during registration last year - a testament to these newcomers' efforts at making their presence felt. But the continuing challenge, both principals say, lies in sustaining parents' interest in the school and its activities.

KEY CHANGES IN PRIMARY ONE REGISTRATION

This year, every school will set aside 40 places for students who do not have family connections with the institution. The Education Ministry says this is to ensure access to popular schools.

Children with siblings already in the school, or whose parents are alumni or staff, get to register in the earlier phases 2A(1) and 2A(2). Remaining places after this round will be added to the 40 spots reserved for students with no affiliations. These spots will then be split equally between phases 2B and 2C, which are for students without connections to the school.

There is also a phase 3 for applicants who have not been allocated a place in previous rounds. This phase is for foreigners as well.

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