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ESF The First 50 Years - People stories

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English Schools Foundation

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ESF long-serving staff: Jonathan Straker

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 June, 2017, 3:26pm
UPDATED : Friday, 09 June, 2017, 9:02am

[Sponsored article] The admission policy of ESF has evolved over the years to reflect the demographic changes that come with post-colonial transition and an increasingly globalised economy says Jonathan Straker, the former Head of Student Support who took up the immense responsibility of overhauling the school admission process.

Joining ESF in 1984, Jonathan spent 32 years with the Foundation, taking up various roles such as Deputy School Principal and Head of Mathematics at Beacon Hill School and Bradbury School respectively.

He later took on group-level roles and became an advisory teacher, developing learning policy and pedagogy across different primary schools, before eventually being appointed ESF’s Head of Student Support. With this expanded role, he was responsible for managing and developing the Foundation’s admissions policies.

“The area of admission is always of utmost importance for everyone involved; from parents to students to the schools themselves,” says Jonathan. “It was a really powerful and important piece of work, and I would like to think that it has made an impact on delivering a much fairer system, which is also far more relevant.”

One of the highlights of his work was the removal of a category system that scrutinised the language background of children and parents. Previously, if students had within their family what the foundation perceived to be the possibility of receiving an education through a Cantonese medium, they would be automatically lower on the waiting list. In other words, candidates would be disadvantaged for demonstrating proficiency in Cantonese.

This mechanism was not only discriminatory, but it posed the risk of rendering ESF irrelevant to the Hong Kong community, which witnessed an influx of overseas returnees after the handover. Jonathan’s work in removing the language bias meant overseas returnees of Hong Kong origin as well as local families were on a level playing field with non-Chinese speaking peers in terms of having access to the ESF system.

He also sought to bring transparency to the complex process by establishing clear criteria on student admission priority on the group’s website, both for mainstream and special needs students. “It is really important to have a system that is fair and transparent; life-changing decisions being made by education professionals for children are at stake.”

When asked about his favourite memories during his days at ESF, Jonathan could still recall vividly leading various groups of 10- and 11-year olds to Beijing, which included the sight of horses pulling carts of winter cabbages and vegetables; in 1992, an amusing welcome from the McDonalds’ staff who all stood up and applauded as the students entered the recently opened American fast food store; and in late spring of 1989 a visit to Tiananmen Square, completely unaware of what was to take place just one month after their visit.

“I remember so clearly the faces of the children back at school when the realisation came that they had been standing on that piece of history,” he says.  “It was quite something.”