Children whose first language is English and who lack Cantonese to be given priority as 'demand outstrips supply' The English Schools Foundation is overhauling its admission system in response to growing waiting lists for places, a move expected to disappoint local parents. The ESF this week posted interim admission arrangements for students on its website, and spelt out who would have priority. For Year One admission in 2006 parents will no longer apply to schools in their area, but to head office, which will split them between schools based on the geographic distribution of the applicants. 'Both home address and ease of transportation will determine the school that the applicant is allotted,' the guidelines state. Priority for interview for all students has been divided into three categories, with those who speak English as a second language and who qualify for admission to local schools in the lowest. Students whose first language is English and who cannot attend local schools because of their lack of Cantonese are to be given first priority, followed by those whose first language is not English but who still lack Cantonese. Within each category, priority is given to those with siblings in the school and then those attending an ESF Educational Services kindergarten, as well as to ESF employees and alumni. Students arriving in Hong Kong who have no school place will have preference over those already in a school. Chris Forse, acting assistant chief executive, said the new criteria had been published to improve transparency and in response to a waiting list that had grown to 2,300. Of those, 1,600 were in Kowloon and the New Territories. By handling applications centrally, parents in areas where the shortage of places was most acute would have better chances of finding places in other ESF schools. 'We can't have areas that are virtually off limits where parents have little chance of accessing our schools,' Mr Forse said. The categories, he said, reflected Education and Manpower Bureau expectations that the ESF's priority should be to serve the international community. A series of meetings with parents and staff from kindergartens and other private schools is now under way to explain the system. Mr Forse said some private schools were suffering as parents transferred children as early as possible to the ESF to ensure places. 'We want to consider ways we can work with our partners in the private primary sector,' he said. 'We have no wish to harm them. 'Demand has outstripped supply,' he said. 'And supply can't be expanded. Some people are going to be disappointed and not get children into our subsidised schools.' Parent Alex Chiu Chi-suen said the new guidelines were not unreasonable, accepting that priority had to be given to non-Chinese speakers. But he added: 'This is not good news for the local community. Many local parents want to send their children to ESF schools. They are not satisfied with the local system because it is chaotic and teaching methods are not as liberal.' A full review of the admission system will be carried out this summer and autumn and will be published at the end of the year, setting a new policy for use from 2007.