Annex 3: Note of the Committee's meeting
with the Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board, 8 February
This note offers a record of the Committee's meeting
with representatives from the Singapore Examinations and Assessment
Board during their visit to Singapore in February 2012. A full
note of the visit can be found in Annex 4 of the Committee's report:
Great teachers: attracting, training and retaining the best.
Members in attendance: Graham Stuart MP (Chair),
Alex Cunningham MP, Pat Glass MP, Ian Mearns MP, Lisa Nandy MP,
Craig Whittaker MP.
Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board
Ms Tan Lay Choo, Chief
Executive and other officials
The Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board (SEAB)
was established on 1st April 2004 as a statutory board. SEAB,
formerly the Examinations Division of the Ministry of Education
(MoE), was formed to develop and conduct national examinations
in Singapore and to provide other examination and assessment services,
locally as well as overseas. SEAB collaborates with MOE on all
national examinations. It also positions itself to become a regional
centre for testing and assessment services, and to contribute
to Singapore's development as an Education Hub.
PRIMARY SCHOOL EXAMINATIONS
The Primary School Leaving Examination
(PSLE) is a national examination, which a pupil sits at the end
of primary education to assess their suitability for secondary
education and also to place them on appropriate secondary school
courses, which match their learning pace, ability and inclination.
Based on their results, candidates are streamed into three different
courses: Express, Normal (Academic) and Normal (Technical).
The iPSLE examination is offered
to Singaporeans studying abroad and whose school has adopted a
curriculum similar to that offered in Singapore. Like the PSLE,
students take the exam after six years of primary education. The
examination format is similar to that of the PSLE. The iPSLE is
also used by some schools abroad as a benchmarking tool to assess
their standard of education compared with Singapore.
SECONDARY SCHOOL EXAMINATIONS
The GCE N-Level examinations, otherwise
known as the N-Levels, are conducted annually in Singapore. They
are taken after four years in the normal academic or normal technical
stream (secondary education. For subjects examined in English,
foreign languages and Non-Tamil Indian Languages, the examining
authority is the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate.
For subjects such as 'mother tongue' languages, most commonly
Chinese, the examining authority is the Ministry of Education,
Singapore (under 'mother tongue' ethnic Chinese students must
learn Mandarin Chinese, ethnic Malay students must learn Malay
and ethnic Tamil Indians students will learn Tamil).
The GCE O-Level examinations, or
more commonly known as O-Levels, are conducted annually in Singapore.
Like the N-Levels, they are taken after four years of express
or five years of normal academic secondary education and are under
the same examining authority. However, the B-syllabus for mother
tongue subjects will not be counted towards the total aggregate
EXAMINATIONS FOR TERTIARY EDUCATION
SINGAPORE-CAMBRIDGE GCE A-LEVEL
The Singapore-Cambridge GCE Advanced
Level examination, like the other examinations, is conducted annually.
It is taken before the completion of 2 years of Junior College.
Like the GCE O-Levels, the B-syllabus subjects are not counted
towards the total aggregate score.
The GCE A-Level examinations require
students to read a compulsory H1 General Paper subject or alternative-H2
Knowledge and Inquiry (KI) alongside with 3 Higher-2 and 1 Higher-1
subjects (minimum of 10 Academic Units (A.U)). One out of the
4 content-based subjects must be of a cross-disciplinary nature.
- The Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board
(SEAB) was established in 2004. Previously it had been part of
the MoE. It was now a statutory body, reporting to the Ministry.
- There were four main exams, at three points in
the education system: the PSLE at the end of Grade 6, GCE N-level
and O-level aged 16 and GCE A-level aged 18.
- Singapore had no experience of multiple examinations
boards, but because it was so small it did not require more than
- Some 60 subjects were offered to students at
O-level, including a spread of humanities and sciences. Most students
took 7-8 subjects, but the most able took 9-10.
- At A-level it was a condition of the curriculum
that students take one subject of a different type to their main
choices; for instance, a science student would have to take one
- Some 50,000 students were examined each year
for the PSLE. After that stage, students took different tracks
so the numbers taking each exam at aged 16 and 18 varied.
- SEAB was accountable to the MoE but had no other
formal external scrutiny.
- The Curriculum Development Committee delivered
exam papers and aligned exams with the curriculum. It was chaired
by the Director General of Education at the MoE, and had members
from different departments in the Ministry. SEAB made recommendations
on grade boundaries to a Grading Committee which drew members
from different departments and agencies. Its recommendations were
usually accepted by the Committee.
- If a change in results was noticed, the SEAB
would first question whether it could be explained by the profile
of that year's cohort. This could be done by checking the results
against candidates' past performance and schools' previous results.
If the characteristics of the cohort did not provide an explanation,
SEAB would normalize the results.
- SEAB did not produce textbooks. The Curriculum
Development Commission in the MoE issues the syllabus, then independent
publishers could bid for tender and develop their own textbooks,
which were authorised and approved by the MoE.
- Students were required to pass exams in English
and their mother tongue. In addition, their best six subject
results were counted for their points score.
- On the basis of PSLE results, some students clearly
fell into the 'academic' stream and others clearly into the 'normal/technical'
stream. A further group fell in between streams and their parents
selected the most appropriate track for them.
- Students on the 'normal/technical' stream studied
many of the same subjects as those on the 'academic' stream, but
were taught in smaller classes with different learning outcomes.
The system recognized that children learnt at different paces,
and the 'normal/technical' stream took a year longer to complete
than its 'academic' counterpart. Asked whether there was a societal
stigma in taking longer to complete the 'normal/technical' course,
SEAB considered not. This was helped by the fact that there was
movement between the streams; for instance, a student on the 'normal/technical'
stream might go to ITE and then on to polytechnic/university.
- SEAB ran seminars for examiners when there was
a change in syllabus, to brief them on the curriculum changes
and give them specimen papers, share learning objectives and the
rationale behind changes. Private tuition centres did not have
access to such training.
- Private tuition was a kind of 'parental insurance
policy'. Parents were desperately competitive that their children
should not lose out and this drove the significant use of out-of-school
- Current teachers and head teachers were engaged
to mark exams to a common mark scheme. For the PSLE, all schools
were closed for four days to allow the teachers to mark. There
were no professional markers.
- Evidence showed that those students who performed
well at O-level went on to perform well at A-level. SEAB concluded
from this that the exams system accurately selected and identified
the most able students.
- New subjects were proposed by the MOE, through
its Syllabus Review Committee on which sat representatives from
industry and higher education. SEAB would develop and offer any
new subjects agreed in this way. The Board did not act as a block
on innovation or the development of new subjects.
- SEAB officials considered that the public (including
the international community) had strong confidence in the exams
system, and that it offered an accurate assessment not just of
ability but of potential as well.
331 Education Committee, Great teachers: attracting,
training and retaining the best, Ninth Report of Session 2010-12,
HC 1515-I Back