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Everything you need to know about Full-Subject Based Banding (FSBB)

Everything you need to know about Full-Subject Based Banding (FSBB)

The Ministry of Education (MOE), Singapore is always striving to make education accessible to all students, and this has led to some significant changes in secondary education over the years. One of the most recent changes is the introduction of Full-Subject Based Banding (FSBB) in all schools by the year 2024, which has been designed to provide greater flexibility for the students.

The topics covered in this article are:

How has Singapore's secondary education system changed over the years?

  • The history of this new system can be traced back to the 1970s when the MOE noticed that many students were dropping out of school after completing primary education. So, they introduced Special, Express, and Normal streams for students, depending on their learning pace to address this issue. This proved to be successful in reducing drop-out rates.
  • In 1994, the government introduced a further change by differentiating the normal stream into two categories - Normal Academic, or N(A), and Normal Technical, or N(T). This move was aimed at enabling 15-20% of students who had previously dropped out after their Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) to continue their formal education.
  • The next significant change came in 2002 when the government announced that N(A) students could take a maximum of two subjects at a higher level. This was done as it was seen that students may have specific subject strengths that they could leverage to get ahead in their academic careers. 
  • In 2006, this flexibility was extended to students in the N(T) course, and the limit for higher-level subjects that each student could take was increased from 2 to 3. 
  • In 2014, the prototype of subject-based banding for secondary schools, also known as SBB(Sec), was introduced. This allowed students from Sec 1 and Sec 2 to study any of the core subjects - Maths, Science, English, and Mother Tongue - at a higher level. This prototype was refined, and the SBB (Sec) was rolled out in 2018.

The positive feedback received from students, parents, and teachers as well as the improvement of students' grades led to the decision to pilot the FSBB in 2020. Under this system, along with the core subjects, the students were able to take up humanities at a higher level, provided they demonstrated the ability to do so.

  • From 2024, FSBB will be rolled out in all major schools, except for a few exceptions. In Sec 1, students will be offered subject levels based on their PSLE results, but if they prove that they are ready to take on a subject at a higher level, they can do so at a later stage. Furthermore, students will not be segregated into the Express, N(A), or N(T) streams. Instead, schools will introduce new "form" classes based on co-curricular activities (CCA) or houses. All students will receive a common certificate that will mention subject levels and marks, which will help them enter JC or polytechnic in 2028.

So, we can say that the FSBB is a step towards creating a more flexible and inclusive education system in Singapore. By providing students with the opportunity to study at their own pace and level, it is hoped that they will be better equipped to achieve their full potential and contribute to society in a meaningful way.

FSBB Different From Current Secondary School Pathways

Singapore has implemented streaming in schools for over three decades, which allowed students to study all subjects at the Express, Normal - Academic, or Normal Technical levels after completing their Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE).

Under the new FSBB system, the students will no longer choose between the three streams. Instead, they will have the opportunity to choose to study at a higher level for their strong subjects. All subjects will be divided into three levels: 

  • General one (G1), 
  • General two (G2), and
  • General three (G3).

With G1 being the easiest and G3 being the most challenging level.

In Secondary 4, all students will appear for a common exam, and the results of that exam will help them get admission to JC or Poly. The final mark sheet will have all of the subjects, subject levels, and marks scored for each subject.

Here's an excellent infographic, published by the MOE, that will help simplify the FSBB process further:

MOE new Secondary School Pathways

How will the students know what level to study for which subject?

While the students have the flexibility to study different subjects at different levels, it is still expected that they prove that they are studying at a level that is appropriate for them. Because of this, the subject level for Sec 1 will initially be determined by the student's PSLE results.

After that, if the student demonstrates the ability to handle a certain subject at a higher level (based on their teacher's observation and exam results), they can be offered a higher level.

Here's another resource published by the MOE that shows how each student's subject bands can change over the course of their secondary education.

one secondary education many subject bands

Does a student need a certain score to be offered a higher-level subject?

Students who score an AL6  in any of the core subjects in standard PSLE i.e. English, Mother Tongue Languages, Maths, and Science will be offered to study those subjects at the G2 level

Those who score AL5 or higher will be offered G3 or G2 level. 

Those who've taken the PSLE foundation will have to score an ALA to be offered a G2 level for that subject. 

As for the humanities subjects like Geography, History, and Literature, students will have to show an interest and aptitude in Sec 1 to be offered a higher level in Sec 2.

If there are no streams, how will students be assigned classes?

While some schools may choose to form classes based on Co-Curricular Activities (CCA), others may choose to do so based on their houses.

However, the main difference will be in the timetables. With each student potentially having a different timetable due to their individual subject bands, it will be up to the schools to ensure that there are no overlaps or conflicts. This will require additional resources and planning to accommodate the new system.

Point To Note: These mixed-form classes will be for lower secondary. As the students progress to upper secondary, schools will assess if they want to continue the mixed-form classes as is or change to cater to a more nuanced form. This is because upper-secondary students will have even more diverse subject combinations.

How do these "mixed-form" classes work?

One-third of the classes will be from common curriculum subjects and students from the entire form will take these classes together.

The subjects that make up this shared curriculum include Art, Applied Learning Programmes (Aeronautics), Character and Citizenship Education, Design and Technology, Food and Consumer Education, Music, Physical Education, and Project Work. Teachers will use various teaching approaches to cater to the diverse learning needs and paces of their students.

For English Language, Mother Tongue Languages, Mathematics, and Science, these core subjects students will study as per the level that they have been offered (G1, G2, or G3).

Depending on their subject level, students will be grouped into different classes, ensuring that each student is challenged appropriately and given the best chance to succeed.

Will FSBB Be Offered In All Public Schools In 2024?

Full Subject-Based Banding (FSBB) will be available in most schools, but there are a few exceptions. 

Integrated program schools, which have their own curriculum, will not offer FSBB. Similarly, schools that offer a specialised curriculum, such as NUS High School of Mathematics and Science, which offers its own diploma, or NorthLight School, which focuses on vocational-based education, will not offer FSBB.

Benefits Of FSBB?

The FSBB offers two major benefits. 

  • Firstly, it eliminates the stereotypes associated with the previous stream allocation system, where students in the express stream were often viewed as "smarter" than those in other streams. With FSBB, students can now study the subjects they excel in at a higher level and reach their full potential. This allows for a more accurate assessment of a student's abilities and prevents them from being unfairly judged based on their stream.
  • Secondly, the common certificate awarded at the end of secondary school means that students now have access to a wider range of career opportunities. Even those who may not have performed well in their PSLE can still achieve success through hard work and advanced studies. This increases the chances of success for all students and provides them with more options for their future career paths.

To conclude, Singapore's Ministry of Education (MOE) has introduced Full-Subject Based Banding (FSBB) as a step towards a more inclusive and flexible education system. FSBB allows students to study subjects at their own pace and level, breaking away from the traditional streaming system that was introduced in the 1970s. The change has been gradual, with each iteration building on the previous one, starting with the introduction of Special, Express, and Normal streams and leading up to the current FSBB system. Under the FSBB system, students will be offered subject levels based on their PSLE results, but if they demonstrate the ability, they can move to a higher level at a later stage. All students will receive a common certificate, which will mention subject levels and marks, making it easier for them to enter JC or polytechnic in 2028. While some schools may choose to form classes based on Co-Curricular Activities (CCA), others may do so based on houses. The new system offers more flexibility, and it is hoped that students will be better equipped to achieve their full potential and contribute meaningfully to society.

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