ESF - English Schools Foundation

Three-hour commute: ESF school’s plan to temporarily shift campus to New Territories sparks fears of student exodus

Island School redevelopment plan has parents and students upset about 20km trip from Hong Kong Island to makeshift location in Sha Tin; dedicated bus service now being discussed

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 March, 2016, 12:11pm
UPDATED : Monday, 14 March, 2016, 11:15am

Concern is growing that an English Schools Foundation (ESF) secondary school in Hong Kong’s Mid-Levels could face an exodus of students over a plan to temporarily relocate them to Sha Tin in the New Territories so that their existing campus can be redeveloped.

The prospect of a 20-kilometre journey caused such a stir that Island School chiefs have launched a dedicated website to address the concerns of students, teachers and parents.

Meanwhile, one local legislator said the government could have allocated the ESF school a makeshift campus closer to home as there are over 100 vacant school premises scattered across the city.

The temporary relocation - due to take place next summer - will create room to redevelop the school’s 45-year-old campus on Borrett Road. The project, partly funded by the government, is expected to cost HK$1 billion (US$128.9 million).

However, it could leave some students facing a daily three-hour commute.

The secondary school’s 1,200 students are expected to move into two temporary campuses in Sha Tin Wai and Tai Wai, and stay there until the summer of 2021. About 700 students are expected to graduate at the temporary sites.

Some students expressed concern about the extra travel and said it may result in them leaving.

“A lot of people are moving away,” said one Year 9 student who asked not to be named. “Most people I’m really close to are talking about leaving.”

Another student in the same year, who also requested anonymity, said her parents were considering moving her to another international school.

An ESF spokeswoman said “very few” parents have applied to transfer their children to another ESF school. She declined to give exact figures, saying the withdrawal rate would only be released in June at the end of the school year.

“All of our schools are generally full and places available are ... limited,” she added.

Roughly half of the school’s students live on Hong Kong Island. A January survey by the foundation found that 51 per cent of the families wanted a dedicated bus service to either pick up kids from their homes or from pick-up points in Central or Admiralty.

The spokeswoman said the school would consult further with parents to determine the number of buses and routes needed.

Caroll Chu said the school told her and other parents the school bus fees would increase after the relocation, which she said she could accept if a door-to-door bus service were made available.

But if the buses only stopped at pick-up points, it would take her son almost an hour to get to school, she added.

Her son Justin Ming, 14, said he did not think it worthwhile to pay “really expensive fees” to go to a school so far away. He said he was upset that he and his younger sister, who plans to enrol at the school this coming September, would be in different campuses.

Under the relocation plan, students in Years 7, 8, 12 and 13 will study at one campus while Years 9, 10 and 11 will go to the other one.

“My sister is very little,” said Ming. “I won’t be able to see her often and make sure she is safe.”

Civic Party lawmaker Kenneth Chan Ka-lok, whose children study at ESF schools, said he hoped the government could handle the campus allocation better.