Are Singapore’s Parents ‘Renting’ Their Way to Popular Schools?

By webadmin on 05:30 pm Aug 08, 2012
Category Archive

Kezia Toh

As the race for Primary 1 places heats up, allegations of parents “renting” their way to coveted spots in popular schools have resurfaced.

Applicants who live near the schools stand a better chance of snagging places during balloting.

In recent weeks, parents have written to The Straits Times Forum Page and the kiasuparents.com portal with claims that some may be renting places near popular schools and using their temporary addresses to register their children. These parents would move out once their children secured places, they alleged.

In response to queries from The Straits Times, the Ministry of Education (MOE) said children who gain entry into schools through distance priority should be living “in the address used for registration during their primary school education.”

As for whether pupils have to reside at the same address for all six years of their primary education, an MOE spokesman said it will assess instances on a case-by-case basis.

There are very few proven cases of parents who use false addresses, said the spokesman. But any parent found to have done so will be referred to the police for investigation, and the child transferred to another school.

In 2007, a lawyer was jailed for renting a condominium unit in Bukit Timah solely for the purpose of registering his child in a nearby school. His family was not living there. There were other cases of parents being fined for using false addresses.

Still, some parents are calling for stricter checks and clearer rules on what they see as a loophole. They want the authorities to specify, for instance, how long the family must reside in a rented property, and conduct regular checks.

Schools, however, said checks are difficult as it will involve investigating all pupils and determining if they are living in the properties for an extended period.

An honor system

Schools said cases of parents trying to circumvent the rules on addresses are rare, as they would not want to risk their children being expelled.

The residential address on the parents’ identity cards is taken at its face value, said all five schools that spoke to The Straits Times. They would investigate only if there are complaints. None, however, would say if there had been any so far.

Nanyang Primary principal Lee Hui Feng said the school follows MOE requirements.

“Even if parents rent — and whether they rent for a year or two — as long as it follows registration rules, we can’t fault them,” she said.

South View Primary principal Jenny Yeo agreed, saying it is an honor system, as parents have to sign a declaration that the information they provide is true.

“There are over 200 pupils [in one cohort], which one do you start checking on?” she asked.

However, all the five schools said that if they are alerted to any suspicious case, they will visit the pupil’s home to check. They would not say if there have been such cases so far.

Besides, the intention of parents who rent and move out shortly after cannot be determined for sure, said a principal of a popular primary school in the north.

He said: “Even if they move out when the child is in the middle of Primary 1, or even just as he starts Primary 1, there is no way to determine that the parents’ intention was to get a place in the school.”

It could be due to other reasons, such as not being able to pay the rent, he added.

The school does not have the manpower nor the right to check up on pupils, he said. “We are not in the position to do so; we are not police officers.”

‘It’s not cheating’

But there are some parents who feel they are not trying to cheat by renting places just to get their children into particular schools.

Mrs Tan, who declined to give her full name, rented a condo unit within 1km of Singapore Chinese Girls’ School [Primary] when her daughter was trying for a place at the popular school six years ago. She already owned a condo unit, which she rented out in the meantime.

Six months before registration began, she signed the minimum lease of two years, and shelled out $2,700 a month in rent. Her daughter got a place, but two years later, the family moved out.

To her, renting does not mean she is any less committed than a home owner.

“Even if you legally own the place, what if you don’t live there?” she asked.

Property agents said the usual suspects are young couples who start searching for a place to rent near the start of the year. They would usually say they are waiting for their new home to be ready, said a property agent for 10 years, who did not want to be named. They may also request a shorter lease, such as six months, by paying a higher amount each month, he added.

Another telltale sign: When they start asking if a particular block within the condo complex is within 1km of a popular school, said property agent Alan Ong.

Another independent agent for six years, who declined to be named, said older and relatively cheaper condos, such as Rich Mansion and City Towers in Bukit Timah, are favorites. He estimated about 20 percent of his rentals are from young parents seeking to be within the “privileged 1km” of popular schools.

But property firm PropNex’s chief executive Mohamed Ismail noted that leasing on a short-term basis is still uncommon as tenants would usually have to sign a lease of at least a year.

Parents up in arms over the rental option said allowing this would make popular schools the playgrounds of the well-to-do.

Manager Aileen Lee, 40, said: “I cannot afford two years’ rent in a fancy condo, but some can, and these schools would gradually be filled with rich kids.”

If the family moves away after the lease is up, it will also be hard on the child, who would have to wake up earlier and travel a longer distance to get to school, said Lee, who has a son aged eight.

Another parent, physiotherapist Felicia Seet, 32, said the stiff penalties to deter false address claims indicate that there will always be parents who go all-out to secure a place for their children in popular schools.

She said: “But if they dare to pull such tricks just to get a place, it can be traumatizing for the children — what kind of values are they teaching them then?”

- Reprinted courtesy The Straits Times