Once your child receives his/her PSLE results, the next big question is finding out which secondary school is best suited for them. Depending on how your child scores, parents may be confused about the difference between the Integrated Programme, Express, Normal Academic, and Normal Technical streams. This is especially for children who have scored a t-range of 188 – 199, which allows them to choose between the Express or N(A) stream.

Integrated Programme

The Integrated Programme is offered to students with a higher range of T-scores. Offered exclusively at 17 schools, it is a 6-year programme leading to the taking of the A levels or IB examinations. (What about the NUS High School of Maths and Sciences? Read our separate article to know the difference between the 3.) With a longer duration, students are exposed to a wider breadth of subjects. You may find students at their 3rd/4th year of IP already learning about JC Mathematics or Chemistry concepts; 2-3 years ahead of their peers in other streams. The IP curriculum thus provides a headstart for these students. They may not have to grapple with unfamiliar concepts when formally starting on JC subjects later on. Subject to the fast-paced 2-3 years duration in JC, they may not have to feel so ‘kan-chiong’ as compared to their peers from other streams. For the lack of better word, the bell-curve tips in their favour.

Express Stream

The Express Stream is a 4-year programme leading to the taking of O Levels at the end of Secondary 3 (Mother Tongue O Levels for Higher Mother students) or Secondary 4.  Each student will be required to take a minimum of 6 subjects. With O Levels, students ultimately go to Polytechnics, Junior Colleges, Millennia Institute or the Institute of Technical Education.

Normal Academic / N(A) Stream

The N(A) Stream is a 4-5 year programme leading to the taking of N Levels for N(A) subjects at Secondary 4.  The minimum number of subjects to sit for N Levels is 5.  Once your child has entered the N(A) stream in Secondary 1, he/she will still be able to switch over to Express stream at the end of the year or Secondary 2 at the school’s discretion and depending on his/her exam results. Doing well in Secondary 3 also avails your child to sit for the O Levels directly; not having to sit for N Levels. This benefits your child who has more time to prepare for the O Levels. 

Alternatively, those who sit for N Levels and have scored well can opt to go for the Polytechnic Foundation Programme (PFP) or the Direct Entry-Scheme to Polytechnic Programme (DPP).

The PFP is a 1-year curriculum that exposes students to a basket of O level subjects and relevant polytechnic modules. The curriculum boasts a mixture of projects, quizzes and exams. Although scoring 12 points and below entitles your child to opt for PFP, an important matter to note is that the programme only takes in about 1,500 places each year. This means that being eligible would not automatically guarantee a place for your child in PFP. Moreover, not all Polytechnic diploma courses offer PFP, so it is better to double check.

The DPP is a 2-year program where your child will go to Higher Nitec for 2 years before polytechnic. To qualify for DPP, your child will have to score 19 points and below, with a minimum of grade 4 for N-level Mathematics and English. Despite having secured a place in the polytechnic course at the start of the programme, your child will still have to maintain a minimum GPA throughout the 2 years to be admitted successfully into the course. For Applied Sciences, Engineering and IT diplomas, a minimum of 2.5 GPA is required while Businesses and Services require 3.0. For Engineering and IT diplomas, should your child’s GPA be more than 3.0, he or she will be able to progress directly to the 2nd year of the diploma programme. The modules offered at Higher Nitec are more hands-on and practicals-based. Students will be directly attached to organisations to learn the ropes of their field.

When did PFP and DPP start?

The PFP and DPP were spearheaded by MOE in 2013 to allow well-performing N(A) students to progress to their desired courses, as opposed to a roundabout way through O Levels. As some of these students may not thrive under the theoretical and academia driven O levels programme, the PFP and DPP allows them to switch over to a more practical curriculum that caters directly to their desired fields.    .

Otherwise, N-level students may proceed to Secondary 5 to sit for their O Levels. These students are able to combine their N and O Level results for admission to PFP. If the same subject is taken, the better grade will be computed.

Normal Technical / N(T) Stream

The Normal Technical N(T) Stream is a 4-year programme that leads to the taking of N-levels for N(T) subjects. At the end, students will graduate with a General Certificate of Education Normal (Technical) Level. This certificate allows them to go on to Nitec for 2 years before being eligible for polytechnics admission based on their GPA. The PFP and DPP are not open to N(T) students. Alternatively, they can laterally transfer to the Normal Academic stream at the end of every academic year. The pacing of lessons in Normal Technical is slower, giving students more time to explore their interests. With subjects like Computer Applications, Elements of Business Skills and Food Studies, your child in N(T) will be engaging directly with content related to their interests. This secures potentially better grades and admission into their desired course in ITE, and eventually polytechnics.

With the streaming system set to be abolished in 2024, we have 4 years to maximise its benefits while self-reflecting on its pros and cons. PSLE may seem like everything to a child. However, as we all know, the t-score minimally symbolises our potential for success. Rather, greater importance lies in our abilities to turn situations into opportunities.

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