ESF - English Schools Foundation

Good Schools Guide

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 June, 2006, 12:00am

Giving children the best start in life through education is more important than ever. This is

not only for their future careers, when they will face tough competition in the so-called 'knowledge economy'. Many also recognise that young people need to be equipped on a more personal level to rise to challenges posed by increasingly complex local and global problems, and to lead more fulfilling lives.

Although there are plenty of good schools in Hong Kong's public sector, there are many reasons why a growing number of parents look to fee-paying alternatives, locally and overseas.

They may want schools that can cater better to their children's particular needs, that involve less pressure, that teach in English or, ultimately, that assure greater chances for academic or other success.

Many decide to dig deep into their pockets at this time of year because their children have not got in to the chosen public sector schools - for Primary One, Form One or, after HKCEE results are announced in early August, at Form Six. There are many cases where children have struggled in public-sector schools but thrived when moved to an independent school with a different approach to teaching.

There is no doubt that fee-paying schools offer a relatively smooth journey to higher education. In Hong Kong's public sector schools, as many as two-thirds will not go on beyond Form Five. In contrast, very few students who go to independent schools fail to go to university.

But schooling should be measured by much more than that. Children should be able to grow up happily, without undue pressure, as rounded individuals. They should have opportunities to achieve their potential in many spheres, including non-academic areas such as the creative arts, sports and community service.

They should be active, caring and compassionate citizens, informed and concerned about major local and global issues.

More often, quality independent schools are able to provide the environment where young people are more likely to thrive in these ways, because they are burdened with fewer problems than their public sector counterparts. Better resources, greater autonomy, smaller classes and more selective student-intake should also help them to deliver on their promises.

While there are many good schools in Hong Kong to choose from, there are shortages of places in many international schools and entry for the top direct subsidy scheme schools is highly competitive.

Traditionally, thousands of parents who have not been able to find the right school for their children in Hong Kong have looked further afield, to boarding schools overseas. Many schools in Australia, the UK or North America take children who might not have the language levels required by leading international schools - with better schools offering special language support. Parents also favour them for many other reasons - for English immersion and boarding school experience, for instance. This year, our guide also looks at these options.

In the coming weeks, parents will be looking for last-minute places for the coming academic year. But now is also the time to start planning further ahead, for the 2007-2008 school year. Admission deadlines for direct subsidy scheme, English Schools Foundation primary schools and many other leading private fee-paying schools loom in September.

Parents should now be drawing up their short-lists and, where possible, visiting schools that could suit their children most.

This guide to English-medium independent schools and pre-schools, here and on the mainland, should help you.