From its origins as an educator for the children of wealthy British expatriates, to having schools in which almost half of the students are ethnically Chinese, today's English Schools Foundation has evolved into a diverse institution. With about 15,000 students, it remains the largest provider of English-medium education in the fee-paying sector.
Middle-class Chinese families are increasingly choosing to send their children to ESF schools. More than three-quarters of ESF students are now permanent residents.
The ESF operates nine primary schools, five secondary schools and the Jockey Club Sarah Roe Centre special school, which are subsidised by the government.
Its company, ESF Educational Services, runs three kindergartens, and the 'through-train' private independent schools Renaissance College and Discovery College, which are all self-financing. Discovery College is the latest school to join the ESF family. The through-train school opened last year in temporary premises in Lai King and will begin operating at its new campus in Discovery Bay in August. The college combines a primary and secondary school, and will offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) at all levels.
ESF schools have traditionally offered a modern liberal education based on the National Curriculum of England and Wales. In recent years, however, more schools have begun offering the IB programmes.
IGCSEs and GCSEs are still taught in Years 10 and 11, but all secondary schools now teach the IB for Years 12 and 13, with Advanced, Intermediate and Foundation Diplomas.
The Advanced Diploma includes literacy, numeracy and applied A-level courses. The Intermediate Diploma is a three-year senior secondary programme.
The Foundation Diploma is designed for children with special needs and includes: literacy; numeracy; community, action and service; problem-solving; sports and leisure; theory of knowledge; an applied or vocational course; and an elective subject.
B Tec qualifications are offered at West Island School.
The IB framework and inquiry-based approach is being adopted by all primary schools, with elements of the British curriculum retained.
The ESF has invested much effort in ensuring its curriculum is relevant to students studying in Hong Kong, in part by boosting its Putonghua provision. A pilot programme involving five primary schools has seen students in Years Four, Five and Six receive daily language lessons or at least four lessons a week.
Putonghua provision will be expanded across all primary schools and then in secondary schools.
The ESF has undergone many reforms in recent years, following criticism by the government and director of audit of its management and governance. However, with the passing of the ESF Ordinance (Amendment) Bill in March, its management structure is likely to become more straightforward.
Under the new legislation, a board of 26 governors will replace the foundation's 130 members. The board will be made up of teachers, school council representatives, independent members, the foundation's chief executive and a dedicated seat for a parent of a child with special needs.
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 individual characters.
All schools have active PTAs, which are represented on councils and higher levels of ESF management.
The schools try to support students with special needs in mainstream classes as much as possible. For primary children, learning support classes are available at Beacon Hill School, Peak School, Kowloon Junior School, Quarry Bay School, Clearwater Bay School and Bradbury. For secondary students, learning support classes are available at King George V and South Island.
The Jockey Club Sarah Roe Centre caters for those who cannot be taught in mainstream schools.
Entry is comprehensive, which means children can be admitted regardless of academic ability. However, their ability to be taught in English is tested.
Places are allocated according to residential zones, but with long waiting lists a new order of priorities has been introduced. Children from non-Chinese speaking families will be considered first. Applications are divided between schools, with the aim that children should join the nearest available school.
Central admissions for Years One and Seven are open from September 1-30. For other primary and secondary places, parents should apply directly to the schools within their residential zone.
In March the foundation announced its third annual fee rise since 2005, bringing the total increase over three years to 22.8 per cent for primary schools and 13.5 per cent for secondaries.
This year fees will go up by 5 per cent at ESF secondary schools to HK$89,250 and by 7 per cent at primary schools to HK$58,100 from August, subject to approval by the Education Bureau.
English Schools Foundation, 43B Stubbs Road, Hong Kong. Tel: 2574 2351; E-mail: email@example.com 
Web: www.esf.edu.hk