When a Primary 6 pupil told school counsellor Brinda Kumari Shanmugam Naidu that he wished she was his mother, her heart broke. She saw how upset he was that he did not have a good relationship with his mother.
That resulted in the boy being defiant and violent in school, throwing a chair at his teacher and threatening friends with sharp objects. He would also sit on a parapet to get attention and had to be coaxed to come down.
Miss Naidu, who is 44 and single, decided to mediate between mother and son when the boy's behaviour took a turn for the worse, even though school counsellors are not required to do family counselling.
She found the boy's mother was too lax with him and he felt she did not care about him.
The mediation improved their relationship, and he went on to become one of the top pupils in his class. Now in Secondary 2, he still returns to visit Miss Naidu at Gan Eng Seng Primary in Redhill Close.
The number of school counsellors like Miss Naidu has been on the rise since the allied educators scheme was introduced in 2009.
Apart from school counsellors, there are two other types of allied educators - those who deal with teaching and learning; and those who focus on learning and behavioural support. Allied educators support the work of teachers in the classroom and in pastoral care. The total number of such educators has risen from 600 in 2009 to more than 2,400 today, with an average of seven in each school.
There are two full-time school counsellors at Gan Eng Seng Primary where almost 96 per cent of pupils live in HDB flats.
About 60 per cent live in one-, two- and three-room flats, a figure higher than at an average primary school.
Children who go home to an empty flat because their parents are working, and absent parents are issues which crop up regularly.