International schools in Hong Kong

ESF works to consolidate position

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 June, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 June, 2009, 12:00am

The English Schools Foundation is working hard to consolidate its position as Hong Kong's largest provider of high-quality international education after passing the main hurdles in the reform of its governance.

Students at all the foundation's five secondary schools will take the International Baccalaureate Diploma this summer as the first cohorts in four schools complete their two-year study programme. It is a major landmark in the foundation's evolution from a purveyor of British-style education designed for entry to British universities to a provider of international education leading to a global range of pathways for the children of Hong Kong's diverse English-speaking community.

ESF schools traditionally offered an up-to-date, liberal education based on the national curriculum of England and Wales - and GCSEs and IGCSEs programmes are still offered in Years 10 and 11.

But all the ESF's nine primary schools now offer the International Baccalaureate Organisation's Primary Years Programme and two, Sha Tin Junior School and Clearwater Bay Primary School, have won recognition as IB World Schools in the 2008-2009 academic year.

Five others - Beacon Hill, Glenealy, Peak, Kowloon Junior and Quarry Bay - will enter the authorisation process in the 2009-2010 school year and the remaining two are in the candidate stage.

The switch to the International Baccalaureate coincides with a change in the foundation's student body, with the ESF now a popular choice with Chinese middle-class families. About 70 per cent of ESF students are permanent residents. In addition to the government-subsidised primary and secondary schools and Jockey Club Sarah Roe Centre special school operated by the ESF, its commercial arm ESF Educational Services runs three kindergartens and two 'through-train' private independent schools.

Both independent schools offer the IB. Renaissance College already has IB World School status for all stages of education, while Discovery College is seeking authorisation for the Primary Years Programme in 2009-2010. The challenging IB Diploma programme requires students to take six subjects, three at higher and three at standard level, follow a theory of knowledge course, complete an extended essay and take part in a programme called 'creativity, action and service'.

ESF secondary schools are in the process of developing three vocationally-oriented alternative programmes for students not suited to the IB: an Advanced Diploma, an Intermediate Diploma and a Foundation Diploma. Courses already running under the Advanced Diploma include a BTEC National Certificate at West Island School, and media and business courses at King George V School.

A steady 95 per cent of ESF final-year students go on to universities and colleges around the world. Some 45 to 50 per cent study at British universities, 30 to 35 per cent go to the United States, and 8 to 12 per cent opt for Australia or Hong Kong.

New higher education guidance counsellors were introduced last year across all ESF secondary schools to help students achieve their further study and career goals. In particular, the counsellors help students make multiple applications across several different countries.

The five institutions admitting the largest number of ESF students last year, in order of priority, were: University of Toronto, University of Hong Kong, University of British Columbia, University of Warwick, and University College London.

The ESF has long, centralised waiting lists for Year One and Year Seven classes. But students of all academic ability levels are admitted to its schools, provided they pass an English language test designed to assess whether they are able to learn in English. Students can only apply to the designated school for the zone they live in and priority is given to students who speak English as a first or alternative language but do not speak Chinese and/or read and write Chinese characters.

Once all such applicants have been interviewed, 'children who can access the local system but who also meet ESF's entry requirements' are considered.

Any child who applies to an ESF school may also apply to ESF Educational Services' private independent schools Discovery College and Renaissance College.

Major changes to the governance of the ESF, brought in through revision of its Ordinance, came into effect in October last year, when a 26-member board replaced the former 130-strong governing foundation.

A battle yet to be fought by the schools group is over its government subvention, which currently accounts for 23 per cent of income. The question education chiefs are expected to raise is whether the ESF should continue to receive public funding and, if so, how much.

Fees have increased annually over the past three years by a total of 22.8 per cent for primary schools and 13.5 per cent for secondaries. However, they will remain unchanged next year at HK$89,250 for secondary schools and HK$58,100 for primary schools.

English Schools Foundation, 43B Stubbs Road, Hong Kong. Tel: 2574 2351; E-mail: