Good Schools Guide

One family, two schools

  • Many parents wouldn’t dream of sending their children to different schools, but it brings some very important, and surprising, benefits, writes Ruth Benny
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 October, 2018, 10:05am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 October, 2018, 11:04am

Parents choose different schools for their children for many reasons. They often don’t do so deliberately yet, when faced with this as a necessity, it turns out to be a positive experience.

As a decision, it may come down to the child's personality, curriculum, learning “style”, class size or location. A growing number of parents are bucking the traditional “one family, one school” model and splitting up the children, a path they feel supersedes the convenience of the single commute and aligned holidays.

Many families balk at the idea, but there are some surprising benefits in sending Jack one way and Jill the other. I am one of these parents, and not for the first time. My children were separate, then together, and now separate again. The first time was not by choice; this time, it most definitely is.

My two children are very, very different. My son does weekly boarding, which is not only fantastic for him, but for his sister. We have so much more time with her during the week and it's doing wonders for her confidence. She has her school, and he has his. While it can be challenging logistically (our mid-term breaks are entirely different), many perceived advantages of having your children in the same school don't apply, especially by the time they reach secondary.

Actually, one of the most unexpected advantages is that my children have more reason to talk to one another and share. They are genuinely curious about each other's schools and like to compare and contrast; not competitively, but in a social way.

A good friend of mine, Ngai So-wa, faced a dilemma when her younger son was not accepted into his elder sister’s school. The same school, where my own daughter was studying, had rejected my son a few years earlier! When Ngai’s son was not accepted, they chose a local DSS school with a good reputation, about 15 minutes from their home.

“Although we were disappointed with the reality that we had to send our kids to different schools, the experience turned out so well that we actually prefer our son to be in his current school because of the distance and his personality,” Ngai says.

“My daughter is creative and artistic, and she loves to perform, create arts and crafting projects, and enjoys hands-on science projects. The school she is in gives her opportunities to develop her talents. My son, on the other hand, is analytical, focused and self-driven. His school nurtures those qualities.”

Angela Wang faced a similar situation when only one of her children was accepted by a super selective international school with a tough entrance exam. Despite initial concerns, Wang reflects positively on the experience. “We’ve done this for about a year now. In hindsight, we see the pros and cons. Our eldest is obedient, so her school suits her because she is always willing to please. My youngest didn’t get into that school because she didn’t pass the exam, but we’re very happy with her school too, which is more open, nurturing and free-spirited. So it’s helped with the youngest as it really fits her own personality. Sometimes you can’t plan for that kind of positive outcome.”

Wang admits to getting some funny looks, however, when she tells other parents about their arrangement. “Of course, everyone’s like, why would you choose separate schools? They just wonder what parent would put themselves in that situation. A logistical nightmare! The holidays! Having said that, there are also drawbacks to having your children at the same school. All schools have their competencies, so there isn’t one that’s the best. The best thing in my experience is to align your child’s personality, and the way they learn, with the right school.”

Another factor influencing Hong Kong families to divide their children’s education between more than one school is age group. Many families who relocate from abroad at relatively short notice can sometimes miss key cut-off dates for enrolment.

“We came back to Hong Kong in 2015 from London,” said Simmy Leung, who has one child at a stand-alone kindergarten and another at a primary school. “Neither of my children can speak Cantonese, so we had to go for an international school. The older one was accepted by the three primary schools that we selected for him, but the younger one couldn't get a place at those schools as he was supposed to enter Year One, and places for Year One are very tight. So, when the kindergarten accepted him into K3, we had to go for it.

“I think that often parents send their children to the same school because of logistics – it’s easier to manage one set of administrative stuff, one set of timetables, one set of travel arrangements, for more than one child. But this has been the question I have kept asking myself over the past three years: is it best for me [or] for my children for them to be at the same school?

“I have to admit that we are quite lucky with our decision to stay in separate schools,” Leung says. “I can see that they are both suited to their own school, and they have developed their own individuality rather than being labelled ‘so and so's brother’. They do come home and share with each other about their experiences at their school. Of course, it is challenging at times; however, I am always glad and proud to say that our decision wasn't based on our own convenience but on our children's benefits.”

Parent Amanda Hong Sun took a proactive approach in splitting up her children from the outset.

“I was given a choice of putting them together in one prestigious school, but I chose to split,” said Hong. “The main reason was my different expectations of their development, and the differences in their personalities and learning styles. Their social group and peers were also part of the consideration.

“There are advantages [to attending different schools] that I didn’t expect. Like the fact that they now get out of their own social circles and have more friends who are not from their own school. Sending kids to different schools also helps parents to think in different ways.”