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Planning your child’s education

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Planning your child’s education is usually the first priority for new parents in Hong Kong, reports DB resident Anne Murphy (Director at ITS Education Asia).

For long- time residents, the planning starts even before a little one is born. With an ever-increasing population, competition for school places, as well as the financial aspect of a better quality education, early planning is essential.

To help you through this process, read what Anne Murphy, Director of the School Advisory Services at ITS Education Asia, has to say and what options are available to you and your family.


The arrival of baby heralds an exciting period as new parents adjust to the demands and sleep deprivation of parenthood. While most parental dilemmas revolve around the night feed schedules, parents in Hong Kong face the added stress of planning their child’s education as some schools literally accept applications from birth. So where do you begin?

The school application game begins as soon as your child is issued a birth certificate. Schools will accept an application for a placement as soon as your child’s birth can be verified. Schools which accept applications this early and place strong priority on the date of application are: Discovery Bay International School, French International School, Hong Lok Yuen International School, German Swiss International School, and Kellett School. The earlier you apply to these schools, the higher chance your child will have of being offered a school place/interview.

It is advisable to visit these schools before your child arrives so that you are sure that you want to apply to them this early. What might seem the best option when your child is only a few weeks old, might turn out to be a terrible decision when your child is 4 years old.

1 – 2 Years

For those who want to make the most of meeting other moms there’s a wealth of activities offered in Hong Kong; not just ‘mum and baby classes’ but everything from ‘swimming classes’ and ‘music with mummy’ to ‘sensory stimulation’. Also, start to investigate nurseries, kindergartens, preschools and early childhood education programs. Visit some different playgroups/kindergartens and ask lots of questions so you are sure you are making the best choice.
Methods of getting an application will vary depending on the school. With some schools, you can download the application online, while other schools require you to visit first. In certain cases, there are restricted application periods. It is a first-come-first-serve basis for many kindergartens and preschools, so the sooner you get started, the sooner you will get your child’s name on the waitlist. It is important to note that some kindergartens will not accept an application until your child turns 1 years old.

3 – 4 Years

Filing an application from birth doesn’t guarantee a place. Many sought-after international schools offering kindergarten programmes require an interview and each school has a priority system. Therefore, it’s important to have a backup plan in case your child does not get offered a place. Even if your child fails to meet the school’s entry requirements, there is still hope that he or she may be offered a place for subsequent grades. However, you will need to re-apply and most probably pay for another interview.
Some schools such as Australian International School, Hong Kong International School and Chinese International School accept applications from when a child turns 2-years-old. But applications are not on a first-come-first-serve basis so just make sure you meet the deadline for these schools. *Australian International School does accept applications on a first-come-first-serve basis.
Canadian International School and Nord Anglia International School accept applications from birth but no priority is given regardless of how far in advance applications are received. Applications open every year and close at the end of October for the Canadian International School and Nord Anglia accepts application all-year round (depending on space availability of course). However, it is advisable to apply early so your child can at least be considered for the first round of interviews.

Discovery Mind Primary School, Island Christian Academy, International Christian School, Christian Alliance School, Hong Kong Academy, ISF Academy and Singapore International School accept applications one year in advance. Do not miss out on these deadlines.
ESF schools and the ESF Private Independent Schools only accept applications for Year One entry, one year prior to entry, from the 1 to 30 September. *(2011 born children will be eligible to apply in Sept 2015 and 2012 born children will be eligible to apply in Sept 2016).
Other schools, such as Harbour School, American International School, accept applications and accept students depending on space availability. Again, if these schools are a strong option for your child, it is advisable to apply early so your child’s name can get on the waitlist.


5 – 7 years

The International Baccalaureate (IB) Primary Years Programme (PYP) is currently the most commonly used curriculum by international schools in Hong Kong. The (PYP) is for students aged 3-12. However, in saying this, some schools offer the UK national curriculum (Key Stage 1) and the American Curriculum. While the Australian International School follows the curriculum of New South Wales.
During these formative years, teachers build on a child’s confidence, self-worth and desire to learn and expose them to different aspects of learning, in both academic and non-academic areas, so that students will have a well-rounded primary education.

8 – 11 Years

Under the UK national curriculum, children move onto Key Stage 2. Filing applications for secondary schools normally begin at age of eleven (Year 6) with children preparing at least 2 years in advance for the entrance tests.
Some schools simply say acceptance is based on passing a face-to-face interview and taking verbal and non-verbal reasoning tests for which you cannot prepare. The real situation, however, is that demand is high and schools can only accommodate a certain amount of students, so you do need to plan early and apply to more than one secondary school if your child is not already attending a through-train school.
Private Independent Schools and ESF schools accept applications for Year 7 one year prior to entry from 1 to 30 September. *(2005 born children will be eligible to apply in Sept 2015 and 2006 born children will be eligible to apply in Sept 2016).


12- 16 Years

Students in Hong Kong will either enter the IB Middle Years Program (MYP) or continue on to Key Stage 3 and Key Stage 4 under the UK national curriculum or move on to High School under the American System. Under the American System, these 3 years are more commonly called by names such as: 9th Grade is known as Freshman Year; 10th Grade is known as Sophomore Year; 11th Grade is known as Junior Year. Parents considering a move into the American school system, however, need to bear in mind that students will be required to take the Standard Schools Admissions Test (SSAT).
Students studying the IB Middle Years Programme are required to study at least two languages (as part of their multilingual profile), humanities, sciences, mathematics, arts, physical education and technology. In their final year, students will also undertake an independent ‘personal project’ to demonstrate the development of their skills and understanding.
Under the UK curriculum, the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) is the principal means of assessment for 16 year olds (Year 11). The compulsory subjects are English, Mathematics and Science, whereas subjects like Engineering and Business Studies are preferential. All GCSE subjects are a two-year course (Year 10 & 11) and will require both coursework and exams.


17 – 19 Years

During these stages, students are in a school which offers Advanced qualifications whether Advanced Subsidiary Level/ Advanced Level (AS/A levels), IB Diploma Programme (IBDP), or Advanced Placement (AP). A wrong decision at this stage can have significant consequences for future degree and career choices.

Subjects and subject combinations need to be carefully considered. If in doubt, check-out degree requirements and their compulsory and preferred subject choices or arrange a meeting with a consultant at ITS Education Asia to help you navigate your options. This is also an ideal age to gain some work-experience and ensure sufficient, relevant skills to build up on a university application. The different options are explained under our Secondary School Section.

To know more about how to plan ahead for your child’s overall academic life, contact Anne at [email protected] for a consultation.

Photo credit: buildyourcore.com

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