Now that the English Schools Foundation appears to have finally put its house in order, the first item on the agenda of its new board will be negotiations with the government on the future of generous public subsidies to its schools. This funding makes them affordable to many Chinese middle-class families as well as non-Chinese-speaking parents. But the annual subvention, now HK$267.7 million, has been under review by the Education and Manpower Bureau since the government first proposed its withdrawal in 1999. This raises questions about a child's right to a subsidised education. The ESF is an institution with colonial origins that failed to move with the times after Hong Kong began running its own affairs. The way it accounted for the use of public money left a lot to be desired. The Audit Commission and the Legislative Council Public Accounts Committee both issued damning reports on its management. Reform could not be put off. It has resulted in a new governing structure that is more accountable. As we report in Education Post today, chief executive Heather Du Quesnay argues it would be political suicide to take the funding away overnight. But there are issues to be tackled. ESF schools may be compared with local schools funded under the Direct Subsidy Scheme, which have more freedom in admitting students and adopting curriculums that encourage diversity. However, they not only operate outside the local system but are much more like international schools - that get no subsidy - and with which they therefore compete unfairly. ESF schools fit the definition of international schools in terms of curriculum and exams designed for people who are not going to remain in Hong Kong. If the definition were still relevant, this would be an argument for cutting off government funding. But given Hong Kong's status as a multicultural society, diversity and quality should be encouraged. Parents' choices should not be limited to schools providing a local curriculum. This is an argument for considering per capita subsidies to schools that accept rules applying to DSS schools, such as appropriate local curriculum content including Chinese language. Indeed, it has been argued that to retain funding, the ESF should raise the quality of its Chinese-language teaching to that of local schools. Ms Du Quesnay describes this suggestion as challenging. But it is no more so than the English-language teaching achievements of local schools. The distinctions between local and international schools and their funding arrangements no longer reflect the realities of parental demand or Hong Kong's future interests. The review of the ESF subvention is a timely reminder to education planners of the need for a new approach.