Year of change after crises
The English Schools Foundation educates about 12,000 students, accounting for 40 per cent of the international sector. About half these students are ethnically Chinese. Its schools include 10 primary, five secondary and the Jockey Club Sarah Roe Centre special school that are subvented by government, as well as a private independent school and three kindergartens, which are self-financing.
The ESF has been dogged by crises and controversy over the past three years, which culminated last winter in criticism of its management by the Audit Commission, legislators and government. But under its chairwoman Felice Lieh-Mak, appointed last year after the mass resignations of the previous leadership, it is recovering. The arrival of Heather Du Quesnay, the founding director of Britain's National College for School leadership, as its new chief executive has helped.
Major changes in management, governance and staff remuneration are planned for the coming year. The ESF ordinance is likely to be amended, with the 137-member foundation and its executive committee to be replaced by a board of 25 governors.
At school level, the focus of reform is on ensuring the better consistency of quality, that the needs of all children are met - in particular those with special needs and the gifted; professional development of staff; and in upgrading the quality of Putonghua teaching. Evaluation has been tightened and improvement programmes are underway after reviews of all primary schools.
The future of its public funding, which now accounts for about 27 per cent of income for the foundation schools, remains uncertain.
Management: Although overseen by the foundation, schools are run independently, managed by their principals under the authority of their school councils. Despite their common aims, they have developed their individual characters, plus strengths and weaknesses. All schools have active PTAs, which are represented on councils and higher levels of ESF management. Parents can help out in classrooms in the primary years.
Curriculum: ESF schools offer a modern liberal education based on the National Curriculum of England and Wales, adapted to Hong Kong. Putonghua is taught as a second language.
Secondary schools prepare students for Britain's GCSE and IGCSE examinations, taken at the end of Year 10 (age 16). The International Baccalaureate Diploma is due to replace British GCE A-levels from 2007. Vocational qualifications are available for the less academic.
Extra-curricular: ESF secondary schools organise local and overseas camps. Hong Kong-based camps are organised for upper primary years. Limited extra-curricular activities are offered at primary level, and a wide range at secondary. Community service is strong.
Special needs: All schools have specialist provision for children with learning difficulties. Bradbury, Kowloon Junior and Beacon Hill at primary level and Island School and King George V School at secondary offer greater support for those with more extensive learning disabilities, with special learning support classes. The Jockey Club Sarah Roe Centre caters for those who cannot be taught in mainstream schools. (See Page 42).
Facilities: Campuses vary according to their age. Facilities such as school halls, IT and music rooms are standard in primary schools. Electronic whiteboards are being introduced across primary and secondary levels. At secondary level, modern campuses and extensions are the best equipped for computer technology. Art, drama, music, PE and technology are well catered for, although only King George V School has extensive outdoor sports grounds. All have swimming pools.
Exam results: The ESF does not allow individual schools to publicly release their results, although these should be available if parents ask and may be on their websites. There are small differences in results between schools, and between individual subjects. Across the foundation, 92.5 per cent of entries for this summer's GCSEs were awarded grades A* to C, with 52 per cent achieving A or A*. For A-levels, the pass rate reached 98.9 per cent, with 40 per cent at grade A. This qualified top students for entry to leading universities.
Admission: Its admission system is under review. Entry is comprehensive, which means children can be admitted regardless of academic ability. But their ability to be taught in English is tested. In response to long waiting lists, a new order of priorities is being used this year. Children from non-Chinese speaking families will be considered first. For Primary One admission for next September, parents must apply to head office. Applications will be divided between schools with the aim that children should join the nearest available school. The new system is designed to be fairer to parents applying to the most over-subscribed schools. For Primary One, applications should be lodged by September 23 as within their priority categories, they will be considered on a first-come-first-served basis from that date. For other primary and secondary places, parents should apply directly to the schools within the zone they live.
School fees (annual): Primary: $47,300 Secondary: $78,600. There is no debenture.
The private independent Phoenix International/Renaissance College is listed under international and private independent schools - Page 26. Kindergartens are under international and bilingual preschools - Page 15.