Judith Lee, a usually chill mother of three, details her harrowing experience enrolling her eldest child in Primary 1.


Before going through the recent Primary 1 registration exercise for my eldest son, I was determined not to be like “one of those” parents.

You know, those parents who agonise over and experience feelings of anxiety about their 6-year-olds securing that coveted spot in a Singapore Primary school? So, No parent volunteering for me! No buying a new place, just to be within 1km of that school! I’m a chill parent ― or so I thought…

First, some background facts ― I come from an all-girl’s primary school, while my husband is from a very popular, usually oversubscribed, co-ed primary school.

Obviously, my son can’t go to my alma mater, and we also decided that my husband’s former school was way too far ― we didn’t want to spend more than an hour on the school run.

As this ruled out Phase 2A for us, we looked at Phase 2B options. As Catholics, we wanted to enrol our son in a Catholic boy’s school for its religious affiliation and values.

So, we looked at those within a reasonable distance from our home ― those that did not require us to travel more than half an hour in peak hour morning traffic. We then narrowed our choices down to two schools.

I’m a chill parent ― or so I thought…

Our first choice ― let’s call it School A ― is a fairly popular school. It not only shares the same grounds as its affiliated secondary school, its academic record and school facilities impressed us.

Our second choice, School B, is a little smaller and cosier and about five minutes closer to our home. We found the teachers to be really pleasant and friendly when we visited it.

Both schools place a strong emphasis on values ― which is important to us.

However, in previous years, School A had to conduct a ballot to allocate places, which of course meant stress on the parents! On the other hand, since School B had more than enough vacancies in previous years, this meant we that we would probably have gotten in without any problems.

My husband and I had lengthy discussions at to which school we’d prefer our sons (we have three) to attend. What tipped the scales was we preferred the Secondary school that School A is affiliated to ― since the Primary and Secondary schools are connected, it would be easier for my son to get into the Secondary school, especially if his PSLE score isn’t that high.

By this time, we started to realise that we were slowly, but surely, turning into one of those stressed out, anxious parents!



Chill, we told ourselves ― just chill. So, we decided to apply in Phase 2B for School A. If we didn’t get in, we would go to School B in Phase 2C.

No sweat, we would just leave it in God’s hands ― you know, que sera, sera (whatever will be, will be).

This seemed like a foolproof, stress-free plan, but our jitters set in on the first day of registration.

We headed down to School A, armed with all the necessary documents. Most parents would go in the morning, we rationalized, so we’ll go in the afternoon to avoid the crowds and queues.

When it was our turn, we handed in the documents, after which the school’s administrative staff made copies, while engaging in casual conversation.

“Oh, you live in north-eastern part of Singapore!” she chirped, “Quite a lot of good schools there.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I spot another couple waltzing into the office armed with an arsenal of documents.

I nodded eagerly, while listing my reasons why we picked School A.

“Ah, I see,” she carries on. “You know this school is usually quite popular ― had to ballot the past few years. This morning 38 children registered. Out of which, more than half live within 2km.”

I felt my face fall and my heart sink ― she must have noticed it, too.

“Oh, I don’t mean you shouldn’t try! But perhaps you should just monitor the stats for the number of children registered tomorrow, the last day for Phase 2B,” she smiled sweetly.

Out of the corner of my eye, I spot another couple waltzing into the office armed with an arsenal of documents.

They sorted through their copies ― documents to prove they were religiously affiliated, proof of completion of 40 hours of parent-volunteer work, and even an Option-to Purchase form ― to show that they had recently bought a residence within 1km of the school.


Stick to the plan, we told ourselves. There’s nothing to get stressed about ― we have plan B.



The next day, I could barely sit still while I was in the office.

I called the school for the current registration numbers at least five times.

I have to give credit to the school’s staff who picked up the phone, and patiently humoured me by detailing the number of pupils registered under 1km, those within 1km and 2km, and beyond 2km.

Embarrassed to have made so many calls, I tried to vary my tone and pitch each time, to pretend to be another caller. I might, or might not, have tried a Singlish tone (“Hello ah, now is what number?”), and even a pseudo American accent.

I started getting WhatsApp messages from friends who have kids of a similar age ― they not only asked me how the registration was going, they also asked me for updates on the numbers.

I even joined a Primary 1 Registration Facebook group (yes, it does exist!), that had real time anecdotes and updates of the situation in various schools.

After just barely 24 hours of this P1 registration shebang, I felt that I needed “closure” – just tell me the school he’s going to and let’s get on with life!

Then 4.30pm came, signalling that the Phase 2B registration had closed. It should have felt like our weight had been lifted ― after all, whether we got in or not at this point, there was nothing else we could do.

By the way, did I mention that the Ministry of Education has updates on the total number of applicants and vacancies that very evening?

This, of course, meant that I was frantically checking the website every hour to find out if my son had succeeded in getting into School A.

In all honesty, I would have been perfectly happy if he had gotten into School B, too. But the idea of having to go through another phase, or a possible ballot, was exhausting.

In fact, barely 24 hours into this entire P1 registration exercise, I felt that I needed “closure” ― just tell me the school he’s going to already, so that I can get on with my life!

You can imagine how relieved I was to learn that School A had just missed having to conduct a ballot in Phase 2B this year! So, my son had a Primary school to go to and I could finally breathe…

Right now, I’m just thankful that my husband and I survived this scary experience called the P1 registration. I’m even more thankful that since my younger two are boys, the process will be a done deal for us, since they’ll be able to get in at Phase 1 (the sibling phase).

Judith Lee is mum to Jeremy, 2, Jerome, 4, and Joel, 6.

Photos: iStock

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