The English Schools Foundation (ESF) has angered parents by introducing a fast-track system for its private school in Discovery Bay, in which parents can get priority on the waiting list by agreeing to pay HK$400,000 if their child is accepted.
The ESF started the system for 'nomination rights' on Thursday and said it had been introduced for parents seeking to enrol children at Discovery College from the next academic year.
The ESF said yesterday that it had already received expressions of interest and applications for the scheme, under which parents who agree to pay HK$400,000 after a child's eventual enrolment will be guaranteed priority on the school's waiting list and a place subject to an interview.
The scheme has alarmed some parents, following a 6 per cent rise in fees and pressure on the loss-making Discovery College to balance its budget and pay off its HK$175 million debt to the ESF, saying the foundation was more concerned with making money than educating children.
'I have heard some rumours that whoever gets the nomination rights will be guaranteed a place, regardless of interviews,' said Ada Cheng of the Concerned ESF Parents Group.
But the ESF said that applicants under the nomination rights scheme would still have to undergo an interview.
According to the Discovery College website, applicants must pay a deposit of HK$10,000 when applying for the nomination right, with the remaining HK$390,000 to be settled when a child receives an offer of a place.
An ESF spokeswoman said a refund of the scheme's HK$10,000 would be guaranteed if children were not accepted.
The school said that those currently on the waiting list as well as existing students would not be affected by the scheme.
However, Hans Ladegaard, another member of the concerned parents' group, said that selling 'fast-track' tickets to parents could undermine the quality of education, as it meant wealthy families had a better chance of sending their children to the school than those who could not afford it.
'I don't care what they do in the private school. But personally I think it's not a good idea,' Ladegaard said.
The debt-ridden school at Discovery Bay, which does not get government funding, needs to pay ESF HK$175 million for capital investment. It also runs an annual deficit.
The school has raised its fees by 6 per cent for this academic year, with similar increases expected in coming years, prompting an outcry from parents. Also, it has been proposed that each student pay a non-refundable building fee that amounts to a maximum of HK$9,500 a year.
Meanwhile, the primary roll for the school will expand from three classes to four at each grade, starting in August next year with an extra class of 30 pupils in both Year 1 and Year 2. The number of students at the primary division will increase from 540 to 720 by 2016.
Discovery College is one of the two private all-through schools run under the ESF umbrella, along with Renaissance College in Ma On Shan.