Since the release of the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) results by the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) late last year, I have been inundated with calls and messages from contemporary and long-lost friends, acquaintances and others, all seeking my help in gaining a place for their child or ward in Senior High School (SHS).
I have pored over countless results slips in order to advise on a candidate’s chances of gaining admission to a particular chosen school to read a particular programme, as well as advise generally on the placement process.
School selection awareness
From my experience at the Ministry of Education over the past four years, the principal cause of some of the issues we have had to deal with has been a lack of awareness of how the system works, which sometimes leads to decisions that could have been made otherwise.
In October last year, I wrote a piece in this column on the school selection process and how terribly important it was to get it right.
Ahead of the release of placement results, it may be helpful to recap the part from that piece that deals with the placement process.
How it works
The automatic placement under the CSSPS is the principal means by which placement is done and accounts for over 90 per cent of the placement process.
The manual part is reserved for special schools and seminarians.
There is also a five per cent allocation to schools out of their total declared Form One spaces for distribution among its stakeholders, such as the missions, traditional landowners, alumni, sports students and children of school staff, among others.
Those protocol slots are within the ‘gift’ of the school head to distribute to stakeholders as he or she deems fit.
The automatic run by which the CSSPS places the students is fully on merit and it is done automatically through set algorithms without any manual intervention.
After ranking students in order of performance for each programme, the CSSPS then checks the student’s preferred residential status for space and places him or her accordingly.
If the desired residential status is full, the CSSPS moves him or her to the second choice.
For instance, if a student with aggregate eight would otherwise get a place in school A but has chosen the more competitive boarding option and space is full because other candidates with a better aggregate have secured placement into the boarding house, then the system will not place him or her on day status in that school because the day option was not the candidate’s choice.
The system will move to their second choice school to attempt to get both their programme and residential choice.
If unsuccessful, the system will proceed to their third choice and so on.
Where a school is oversubscribed for a particular programme by students with similar aggregates, various tie-breaking mechanisms are employed to determine the placement.
For example, if 300 students with aggregate six are competing for Science in school A and there are only 120 Science spaces available, the number of ones and the raw score of the four core subjects, among others, will become useful tie-breakers.
Candidates who miss out on all their choices can still have the opportunity to select schools with vacancies available through the self-placement process by following instructions on the relevant portal.
Candidates who score an F9 in English and/or Mathematics do not qualify to be placed at all in any SHS.
In many instances, a candidate with a very good score may miss out on placement on a particularly competitive programme in a very competitive school, whereas other candidates with less meritorious scores may gain admission.
This leads to understandable perceptions of injustice or even corruption.
But that betrays a misunderstanding of how the system works.
For instance, a candidate with aggregate eight who chose Science at Opoku Ware School on a boarding status may miss out because the school, the programme and boarding status are all very competitive and spaces are limited, while another student who chose to read Visual Arts in the same school as a day student, but scored Aggregate 14, may gain admission because Visual Arts is generally less competitive.
Further, a candidate who comes through the five per cent protocol system referred to earlier, whether through the alumni, relevant mission or as the child of a staff member, will gain admission ahead of the aggregate eight regular student, even if his or her grade is weaker.
Finally, due to a policy of ring-fencing 30 per cent of all spaces in category A schools for children from public schools with a view to improving social mobility, children from such schools who perform credibly but not necessary with top grades could still gain admission into our top schools.
There have been instances where candidates have chosen less competitive programmes or day status in particular schools during the school selection process with a view to getting a foot through the door, only to besiege the ministry with pleas for a change of the programme and to a boarding house in the same school when placed according to the selected programme and day status.
It is important to note that such requests are not entertained.
It may be helpful to cite some data in respect of the subscription rates to some schools in 2019 vis-à-vis their declared spaces for Form One admission.
School No. of application Spaces declared
Hopefully, this will help manage parental expectations on the reality on the ground, particularly with respect to our top schools.
With improved public education on the school selection process, I hope candidates and their parents/guardians have made the right choices, and that we can all look forward to a stress-free experience for parents, candidates and education officials as we prepare for Form One student admissions.