Shortage of local education places forcing DB parents to find schooling elsewhere

Holy Family School Peng Chau

DB has some great schools, both local and international, but what happens if your child doesn't get a place?

For DB resident Nikki Boutellier, the news that her son Edgar had missed out on a P1 place at SKH Wei Lun Primay School this year and would have to go to school in Peng Chau came as a shock.

"At the beginning, I cried," says Nikki, worried about the logistics of it all. Her first course of action was to put Edgar forward for standby registration and interviews at Wei Lun, where the children are assessed on their Chinese, English and maths skills, however Edgar was still not offered a place.

Having exhausted all options, Nikki was faced with the choice of either accepting the place at Holy Family School in Peng Chau, or seeking an alternative school in Tung Chung. Impressed with the warm and welcoming nature of Holy Family School, she decided that she would send Edgar to Peng Chau and see how the commute worked out.

The biggest problem with the commute is the ferry schedule, she explains. "School starts at 8.15am. We have to take the 7.10am because if we take the 8.00am ferry we will be late. But the good thing is there are two teachers who take the same ferry, so I just need to drop Edgar off at the ferry and they will take him to school."

Coming back, the timings aren't great either. "School finishes at 3.25pm but the next ferry doesn't leave until 4.15pm," she says. "We are lucky though, because the principal is very nice and lets us stay in the classroom to do homework. So actually, by the time we get on the ferry, we are homework free. When we get back to DB, Edgar is already free to play."

Edgar explores the playground on a visit to Holy Family School

Difficult times

The shortage of P1 places for the 2016/ 17 academic year is an issue across Hong Kong, and one that is only set to get worse, the birth rates between 2010 and 2012 having been significantly higher than usual. "They were the years of the tiger, rabbit and dragon," explains Nikki. "Lucky years."

Although understanding of the situation, Nikki is critical of the school admissions system, which doesn't take proximity to the school into consideration. "It’s a lottery game between DB residents and Peng Chau residents," she says. Nikki believes that the issue is due to a lack of clarity around the nets for secondary school allocations. Officially, the two areas share the same net for primary, but not for secondary allocations, with DB schools feeding into the Western Central District and Peng Chau schools feeding into the Lantau Island District. Many Peng Chau parents are therefore keen to get their children into Wei Lun in order to enjoy priority for secondary schools in Central, unaware that modifications have been made to the secondary net for Peng Chau, which include a lot of good schools on Hong Kong Island.

Nikki also believes the current situation has had a direct impact on the plans for a second government subsidised school in DB. " Back in 2000, the government said yes for a second aided primary school to be built," she says. "It’s now 2016. Why have they procrastinated for so long?" She believes the problem is that many DB residents are offered places in Peng Chau but turn them down in favour of other options, such as international schooling. "The seats in Peng Chau can never be filled," she says, "and the projected figures will not be enough to convince the EDB to build the school." She also believes that there are still a handful of discretionary places available at Wei Lun that have not been allocated, which in turn will impact on the decision.

The organic farm at Holy Family School

Settling in

So how does Nikki feel now that Edgar has been at school in Peng Chau for a few months? "Right now I have to say I am very happy with the Holy Family School," she smiles. "They are a small school and they really help us a lot. Because the classes are small, the children get all the attention and resources."

Nikki also believes that Holy Family is the perfect school for expat parents who want their children to be educated in the local system. "Peng Chau is perfect [for expat children] because of the small class size and because they have special teachers to take care of them and give them extra help with Chinese. It's a lovely school," she continues. " They have a playground, an organic farm and great outdoor space, and the homework workload is light too."

So things have worked out for the best for Nikki and her family in the end. "There's an advantage to small schools," she says. "We are happy."

Images courtesy of Nikki Boutellier

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