How to choose Secondary Schools for SEA – Trinidad and Tobago

How to choose Secondary Schools for SEA – Trinidad and Tobago
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It is that time again! Time to select what secondary school you would like your child to go to in Trinidad and Tobago.  Parents who have children who are sitting SEA have to select the top four schools they would like their child to attend in September.  The Ministry of Education uses these choices to attempt to place each child into a secondary school based on their SEA results.  If no place is available in the four schools then the Ministry of Education places the child in a secondary school which is close to their place of residence that has an available place, commonly called “Zoning”. This system, while not ideal, exists in many parts of the US, Europe, Africa and Latin America.

The question of what schools to put and what order is a common point of discussion and stress for parents every year.  In this article we will try to explain some of the key points that you should be thinking about in the selection and placement. This is based on our understanding of the current system as of 2017-2018 year.

SEA Ranking System

Each school has a cut-off grade each year by which students are selected to attend the school.  e.g. In 2010 that grade might have been 92%-88% and then in 2011 that grade might have been 98%-89%.  It varies from year to year but it is usually relative. e.g. St Joseph Convent, St Joseph and Tunapuna Secondary might have a cut-off score of 96% and 92% respectively in 2010  and a cut-off score of 98% and 93% respectively in 2011. It all depends on how children do from year to year and how many children put down that school as a school of choice.


It is not public knowledge  what the cut-off grade is from year to year but some figures were released for 2008 and parents have been using that as a rough guide.

It is important that schools with similar cut-off grades should not be placed in the selection list.  That is why parents talk about “first place schools” and “second place schools” . Note this changes from year to year as some schools do better due to changes in teaching staff or change of principal. For example, Tunapuna Secondary is now talked about by many parents in the East as a first or second choice school due to the high level of discipline and results of the students attending that school.


e.g. It is NOT recommended that you put something like the following choices (cut-off grades based on 2008):

  1. FATIMA College (99-85)
  2. St. Mary’s College (99-80)
  3. Hillview College (99-90)
  4. Presentation College San Fernando (99-90)

If the student did not make the grade to get into FATIMA College in the first round, the Ministry of Education attempts to put the student in their other choices, starting with their second choice, then third and so on. Since the cut-off grades for St. Mary’s College, Hillview College and Presentation College (choice 2-4), would be close to the cut-off grade for Fatima College (choice 1) the student would more than likely not be placed in any of their choices. The reason for this is that the St. Mary’s, Hillview College and Presentation College places would be filled by other students who had those schools as their first choice.

The Ministry would then take students not gaining a place for any of their choices and “Zone” them in a school not of their choice. They MIGHT get placed in St. Mary’s college if there is room but they definitely would not be placed at Hillview College or Presentation College San Fernando, by the time these schools are checked for room in the later rounds.



The other issue is the schools are in different places in Trinidad.  Are you REALLY prepared for your child to travel to San Fernando or Port of Spain every day for the next 5-7 years? Where do you work? Where do you live? Who will be picking up your child after school and getting them there at 7:30 am every morning?Will your child be traveling? What time will they have to wake up to get to school on time?

Based on the 2008 booklet cut-off marks  and assuming the fact that the child lives in Tunapuna this may be a possible selection:

  1. Hillview (99-90)
  2. Trinity College East (95-75)
  3. Tunapuna Secondary (90-70)
  4. St. Augustine Secondary (85-45)

Make sure that for each of the schools placed that you are REALLY ok with your child attending that school as the Ministry will attempt to place your child in one of the four selected schools before “Zoning”.

Remember these cut-off marks are from 2008 and these cut-off grades always change from year to year.


Concordat or 20% List


There is also the 20% placement possibility. Based on the Concordant agreement Government Assisted Schools have 20% places that they can fill with students of their choice. Therefore for a year group of 120 students 24 places are filled by the school.  The schools normally try to fill that 20% with students of their own religion since those schools are usually run by religious boards.  The schools typically have a process such as a 20% form that has to be filled out by a particular date and the school usually asks that the school be placed as the child’s first choice. Contact the school directly to obtain information about the 20% selection procedure. Very often those schools have their own cut-off mark for the 20% selection.


This is also described in page 10 of an IDB document 

“Specifically, assisted schools can admit up to 20% of their incoming class at the principal’s discretion. As such, the rule is used to assign at least 80% of the students at these schools, while the remaining students can be hand-picked by the principal before the next-highest ranked school fills any of its slots. For example, suppose the highest ranked school has 100 slots and is an assisted school. The top 80 applicants to that school will be assigned to that school while the principal can hand-pick 20 other students at his/her discretion. The remaining 20 students would be chosen based on family alumni connections, being relatives of teachers, or religious affiliation. These hand-picked students may list the school as their top choice, but this need not be the case. Students receive one assignment and are never made aware of other schools they would have been assigned to had they not been hand-picked. Only after all the spots (the assigned 80% and the hand-picked 20%) at the highest ranked school have been filled will the process be repeated for the remaining schools.”


School Reputation

Sometimes very little is known about the current state of the schools you are selecting.  Try to find parents of children who currently attend the school to talk to them.  Also contact the school to arrange a visit. Some of the schools have an open day where they allow children and parents to take a tour of the school or they will allow a private visit to tour the school. Ask about extra-curricular activities.  If your child is an avid footballer find out if the school has an active program.  If your child plays pan, does the school participate in school panorama? How a school was 30 years ago is not how the school is now.  There are also schools that did not exist when parents went to secondary school like Bishop Anstey High School East and Trinity College East that was only established in 2001.


What is your child’s choice?

Finally, ask your child what school they would like to attend.  Miracle of miracles sometimes your child has already figured out where they would like to go.  Discuss the options with them.  Even though this is the final point in this article this should really be the first thing done. Discuss with your child about where THEY would like to go to school and why.


In the end…

Good luck and keep calm through this process.  Whatever secondary school your child goes to it is up to each individual child to succeed and achieve no matter where they are placed.



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5 thoughts on “How to choose Secondary Schools for SEA – Trinidad and Tobago

  • October 8, 2017 at 12:46 pm

    Great explanation of what is a mysterious process to most parents. I wrote Common Entrance a gazillion years ago. Although I don’t live in Trinidad, my nieces and nephews do. SEA instills a sense of dread in my heart. Some understanding of the process goes a long way in making this more manageable.

    • October 8, 2017 at 5:03 pm

      Hi Adrienne, thanks so much for the comment! It brings dread to most parents hearts! Somehow we get through it if we help each other!!

  • October 10, 2017 at 10:21 am

    I was quite aware of everything stated in this article, but then I am one of those parents who make it my business to know these things. However, this is an excellent article in that it provides thorough and accurate information for those who do not know. So, thank you Sir.

    • October 12, 2017 at 6:23 am

      You are welcome! Yes some parents knew this but since I kept seeing the same questions being asked every year I hoped that writing this article could assist new parents.

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