Students charged for missing “prom” & threatened to have ‘O’ Level results withheld, explained

Students charged for missing “prom” & threatened to have ‘O’ Level results withheld, explained

Mothership.SG·2018-01-13 12:05

Certainly, things aren’t always what they seem to be online.

And the example of Whitley Secondary School allegedly forcing their graduating students to attend the year-end “prom” or face being charged S$60 and denied their ‘O’ Level results is a pretty good one.

But let’s break down what happened for you:

Issue first surfaced in a Reddit thread

It all started with a Reddit user going by the handle /SqueakyArmChair, who is the brother of one of the students involved.

He created this  on Jan. 8:

– A group of Secondary 5 students did not go for their “prom”, and were asked to fork out S$60 for their non-attendance. 

– The majority of the class (except for those with valid reasons e.g. travel) was earlier harangued by their form teacher to pay $50 for the event via their Edusave accounts.

– This means that those who attended paid a subsidised fee of S$50 through Edusave, while those who did not go had to cough up the full $110 cost of the event — $50 via Edusave, and $60 in cash.

– The Sec 5 students said they had already attended the prom as Sec 4s with their batch mates in 2016 and so didn’t want to go again this year, but were threatened that their ‘O’ Level results would be withheld on Friday, Jan. 12, if they did not pay up for skipping.

– This was despite earlier feedback indicating the cohort’s lack of interest in attending the event a second time.

Understandably, in reaction to this, other Redditors were shocked:

“Prom SHOULD be optional. And paying for something that you did not go for is absurd. Write in to MOE along with the screenshot of the teacher saying that. I remembered my prom bring free and even had some lucky draw free gifts. Looks like it’s the school’s plan to get $$ out of the students.”

The Reddit user also initially declined to reveal which school it was that was behind this seemingly unethical policy.

Eventually, however, the thread was updated with the school’s name, with the original poster adding subsequent updates with date stamps within the same post.

Among these updates was a mention by the Redditor that Whitley Secondary’s Principal would be forgoing the additional $60 charge levied on absentees.

Whitley’s response: “Prom” actually part of student development programme

There appears to have been a miscommunication between the school and its students.

In a statement shown to Mothership, a spokesperson for the school explained that the “prom” was actually a final formal dinner that concludes a year-end student development programme run for its graduating students. 

And so, yes — the normal stream students do the course twice, once in Sec 4 (on grooming and etiquette skills) and once in Sec 5 (on interview and etiquette skills), but their course in Sec 5 differs from what they would have learned with their batch mates a year prior.

The programme, according to Whitley, culminates in a formal dinner for students to practise their newly-acquired skills.

In order to foster ownership and accountability, the school requires students who are absent from school-subsidised programmes without valid reason to bear the full cost of the programme, which is $110.

This, the school added, was communicated in writing to students’ parents and guardians prior to the commencement of these programmes. 

However, the school also said in its statement that “Result slips of the Secondary 5 students who did not attend the dinner will not be withheld when the results are released.” 

And sure enough, on Friday, according to an update to the original post, they were given to all students alongside the rest of the island’s graduating ‘O’ Level students.

MOE’s response

And since the Redditor said he had contacted the Ministry of Education as well, here’s what MOE said about the case, in summary:

– Schools may withhold the examination certificates of students who have yet to pay their outstanding school fees after repeated reminders are given.

– MOE provides financial assistance to Singaporeans who are in need of such support.

This is their statement in full:

“Schools may withhold the examination certificates of students who have yet to pay their outstanding school fees after repeated reminders have been given.

Nevertheless, MOE provides financial assistance to Singaporeans who are in need of such support, so that all Singaporeans – regardless of their financial background – can benefit from the best opportunities in education. For example, Singaporeans who qualify for the MOE Financial Assistance Scheme (FAS) receive a full waiver of school fees and standard miscellaneous fees, as well as other benefits such as free textbooks and school attire, and meal and transport subsidies.”

Misleading text from teacher

It does appear, however, that some of the communication between Whitley teachers and their students contributed to the confusion.

Below is allegedly the text of a message that was sent to the students by their form teacher:

“dear children, a reminder to clear your debts (prom/sch fees) by this friday. you will not be given your results until outstanding matters are settled. pls don’t put yourself in an unfavourable position this friday yea? see y’all!”

Note that the word “prom” was used in the text.

The plot thickens

We queried this, and according to an MOE spokesperson, the term “prom” was used informally by teachers and students to refer to the dinner. However, the term was not used in forms given to parents.

But it is easy to see why confusion arose — after all, the term “formal dinner” could well be interpreted as a synonym for “prom”.

Just for clarity, we also got confirmation that there is no prom event (in the strictest sense of the word) organised by the school or any student committee, making this dinner their sole formal graduating event.

And as recently as in the late afternoon of Friday, Jan. 12, the original Redditor posted a WhatsApp exchange between himself and his sister to the thread, after she received her ‘O’ level results:

Screenshot via

In its statement shared with Mothership, Whitley Secondary said they “will engage these students and their parents for an amicable arrangement. Necessary assistance will be extended in cases of financial hardship.” 

So, in summary:

Whitley Secondary has a year-end course with a compulsory formal dinner at the end of it.

It costs $110 total, but is offered to students at a subsidised rate of $50 (paid via Edusave) if they attend the dinner.

If they decided to skip it, they’d have to pay the full sum i.e. fork out an additional $60 in cash. (this policy ended up being reversed)

As there is no *actual* prom organised in Whitley, saddled with miscommunications from teachers, the students thought the end-of-course dinner was the graduating prom (which, obviously, should be an optional event).

Everyone flipped out.

Whitley said it will not charge the students the extra $60 following the public fallout.

The end.

So indeed, things aren’t always what they seem to be.


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