SINGAPORE: A planned temporary relocation of St Margaret’s Primary School (SMPS) that will see the school moving out of its current premises at Wilkie Road to the MacPherson area for two years has caused some consternation among parents of affected students.
The holding school, which is the site currently occupied by MacPherson Primary School, is located about 4.5km away from SMPS and is 8 minutes’ walk away from Mattar MRT station. According to a letter to parents seen by Channel NewsAsia, SMPS said it would relocate from 2020 to 2021 due to planned upgrading works to equip the school with facilities like redesigned classrooms, a dance studio, an outdoor jogging path as well as an indoor sports hall.
Apart from saying that the relocation was made possible due to MacPherson Primary’s impending merger with Cedar Primary in 2019, no other details were given in the letter about the rationale for choosing the holding site.
PARENTS’ CONCERNS: INCONVENIENCE, SCHOOL BUS FARES, CHILDREN’S STUDIES
The distance between the two schools is about 4.5 kilometres, and some parents and family members Channel NewsAsia spoke to said picking up and dropping off their daughters will be a hassle, particularly if they also have other children studying in other schools close to SMPS.
One grandfather, for example, says he helps his daughter with the ferrying of her children at times. Apart from one granddaughter studying in SMPS, he also has a grandson studying at a boys’ school in the area, as well as another child in a nearby kindergarten. All of them, he said, start school at around the same time.
“I don’t live nearby, and the children need to leave the house at about 6.30am as it is,” he said. “When SMPS moves to Mattar, I’ll have to run from one end to another. It will be a big headache for me.”
“There are some old schools nearer to here,” he added. “I don’t understand why they couldn’t move somewhere nearby.”
One mother of three also cited the additional travelling time her daughter will have to face. She explained that while her daughter has a school bus to ferry her to and from school, she takes public transport home when she has extra activities or other CCAs.
“My main reason for enrolling my daughter in SMPS was the accessibility,” said the mother, who lives within 2km of the school’s Wilkie Road premises. “She has a direct bus home now, but with the new location, she’ll need to take at least 2 buses, which is an additional 20 minutes bus ride.”
Meanwhile, another mother whose Primary 3 daughter takes a school bus to school raised concerns that the bus company will increase the fare when the school moves. The mother, who also lives within 2km of the school, says that currently she pays S$100 a month for the school bus, and expects them to increase it to “at least S$180”.
“The new location is really quite far away,” she said. “And to make matters worse, my second daughter will be enrolling into SMPS that year as well, so I’ll have to pay double.”
Beyond inconvenience, she is also worried that her daughter’s studies will suffer. Pointing out that her daughter will be part of the first batch to take the PSLE with the new scoring system, she described the issues arising from the school relocation as an “additional burden” she has to worry about.
“If it’s a little bit (of inconvenience), I can bear with it,” she said. “But it’s going to be an everyday, routine thing, where she has to wake up earlier to go there and come back later.”
“I’m worried that she won’t have the time to complete her homework, and I don’t want this to affect her PSLE results ultimately.”
She added that she was “very disappointed” that the school chose to break the news to parents about the relocation via a letter distributed to students. According to her, the letter was given out to students when school re-opened for Term 3 at the end of June.
“I went to the school to receive my daughter’s report book during the parent-teacher meeting held just before the school holidays, and no one said anything,” she said.
“They could also have emailed all the information to us,” she added, pointing out that student performance updates are regularly emailed to parents.
HOLDING SCHOOL THE NEAREST SITE THAT WILL ALLOW SMPS TO REMAIN SINGLE-SESSION
In a subsequent letter distributed to parents on Friday (Jul 13), the school explained the rationale for choosing the holding school. For one, it said that it is not easy to look for a holding school as the school’s pupils come from “all parts of Singapore”. Some students, the school said, come from as far as Johor, Sentosa, Tampines and Jurong.
Furthermore, the school’s heavy traffic is another factor that has to be taken into consideration, the school said. Traffic assessment by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) noted that around 600 cars travel to the school daily. The school is also “among the few” in Singapore with a “mega fleet of school buses” – about 48 school buses of varying sizes in 2018, according to the letter.
The school added that while the Ministry of Education (MOE) has offered the school “a few options”, the holding school at MacPherson Primary is the nearest site which would allow the school to remain single-session.
“A double-session model, such as upper primary in the morning and lower primary in the afternoon or vice versa, would mean that children in the same family may need to report and be dismissed from school at different times,” the school said in the letter. “Parents may need to engage two bus companies for two different sessions. Those who ferry their children to school may have to make multiple trips.”
As to why parents were not informed earlier, the letter said that information was not confirmed and the upgrading project could be delayed indefinitely if a suitable holding venue for SMPS could not be found.
The school explained that MOE and LTA took time to assess the traffic situation at SMPS, and how the move could affect the traffic conditions at MacPherson Primary.
“Giving information that is incomplete or premature will cause alarm and frustration as parents will not be able to make any concrete plans for the unclear future,” the school said.
“LTA was only able to get back on their approval just before the start of Term 3, 2018. Hence, parents could only be informed in the first week of Term 3, 2018.”
In response to Channel NewsAsia’s queries, SMPS principal Pang Wee Mian pointed out that parents were informed of the change, including the location of the holding site, via various communications channels such as letters to parents and the school’s website.
“Parents who intend to register their daughters during the 2019 P1 Registration Exercise were also updated when they went to the school during the 2018 P1 Registration Exercise,” she said.
Based on the feedback gathered from parents, the school also provided additional information on the considerations behind its temporary move to the holding site, and the measures it will take to facilitate the move, Ms Pang added.
“For example, we will work with LTA to assess traffic conditions during school arrival and dismissal times, and make arrangements for school bus services,” she said. “There will also be a school-based student care centre at the holding site.”
MOE WILL FIRST CONSIDER FEASIBILITY OF ON-SITE SCHOOL UPGRADING
In a statement to Channel NewsAsia, MOE explained that when it comes to upgrading schools, it will first consider if it is feasible to carry out upgrading without a temporary relocation, taking into account factors such as the school layout and safety of students and staff.
But in the case of SMPS, the upgrading works will be “extensive”, according to its divisional director for infrastructure and facility services Choo Lee See. “This is why, in the interest of the students and staff’s safety, the school will need to move to a holding site,” she said.
She added that the holding site was chosen after much consideration, and also has sufficient facilities to ensure that the school curriculum and programmes can continue without disruption.
“MOE is working closely with the school to facilitate its move to the holding site, and ensure that teaching and learning will not be affected,” said Mrs Choo.
SOME PARENTS STILL THINKING OF TRANSFERRING CHILDREN OUT
The more detailed communication from the school has helped some parents come to terms with what is happening.
One of them is the mother whose P3 daughter takes the school bus. After receiving the letter, she said that while she is still not sure if MacPherson is the “ultimate best choice”, she better understands the school’s rationale.
“They did mention that they will source for new bus drivers to facilitate (the move) better. If that does not add on to my financial burden significantly, I will not transfer her to another school.”
But another mother feels she will need to transfer her daughter out of SMPS. Her son, she explained, studies in a school nearby, and she plans to move her daughter into the school from next year.
Her home, she said, is about 6 kilometres away from the holding site, and her daughter will be taking her PSLE when the school moves in 2020.
“It will be a hassle, and she’ll need to adapt to a new school, but I don’t think I have a choice,” she said. “It’s really too far away.”