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One size fits all: Does school size matter?

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By Anne Murphy

Choosing the right school for your child can be a daunting decision, particularly here in Hong Kong where the options are seemingly endless. Should you opt for a large international school with on-site facilities, a small community school or something in between?

Truth be told, although ‘small,’ ‘medium’ and ‘large’ are relative terms, the size of a school can make all the difference to your child’s learning and overall academic success, so it’s important to take the various different factors into account. Let’s look at each option…

Small Schools

One of the key benefits of smaller schools is that they are often able to tailor classes to meet the needs of individual students, with low student- teacher ratios meaning staff can really get to know the academic strengths and weaknesses of each child. 

“Small classes enable teachers to monitor students’ progress easily,” explains Tom Vujnovac, principal of Lantau International School. “They make individual support and flexible learning possible. Students can also gain confidence quickly through working in small groups.”

Another factor helping students feel more confident in the classroom is the strong sense of family and community that small schools tend to foster.

According to Rachel Humphreys, principal of Discovery Mind Primary School, this family atmosphere is key in enabling teachers and staff to provide a personalised approach to learning and development. “We really know each individual child,” she explains. “We celebrate their achievements, we know what they need to learn next, and we take care that our tailored style of learning best suits their profile. Ensuring each child is heard and that their contributions are valued has a significant impact on their confidence and attitude to learning.”

Another plus for small schools is the strong bond that students develop with teachers and fellow classmates, building relationship skills that will benefit them later in life. This is particularly positive for children who are shy or introverted, as they learn to become comfortable sharing ideas with teachers and fellow students. Add in other plus points, such as the sense of responsibility students gain from high levels of engagement in the school community, and the benefits of small schools are easy to understand.

Of course, the nature of small schools often means that there are less on-hand facilities in terms of sports fields and so on. However, Hong Kong isn’t short of supplementary venues, and a smaller setting can actually feel more secure for some children – a unique, intimate learning environment that allows them to flourish and build strong academic and emotional foundations.

Medium and large schools

Sending your child to a larger school can be advantageous for different reasons. One of the primary arguments is the variety of classes and subjects on offer. For instance, a small school might only be economically equipped to offer Chinese, while larger schools might employ specialist teachers for Chinese, Spanish and French, or even offer accelerated programmes for gifted students.

Larger schools are also often well equipped to provide specialist support for children with additional needs, as well as those who may be struggling academically or socially. Medium- and large-sized schools generally have more to offer students in the way of extracurricular activities (ECA) too. For example, Canadian International School has an extensive ECA programme covering over 70 activities and clubs, including sports, drama, music, coding, robotics and photography. “It is a priority for us that our students are able to take classes they enjoy,” says Melanie Hnetka, senior manager of communications.

Combine those offerings with a wealth of resources such as on-site swimming pools, extensive libraries and specialist classrooms, and larger schools clearly have a lot of appeal. According to Lisa Olinski, marketing manager at Stamford American School Hong Kong, despite their size, larger campuses still provide a great opportunity to create a caring and close-knit community. “This enables both staff and students across grades and departments to interact and support each other both in and outside the classroom,” she explains.

Decision time

So how do you decide on the right path for your child? At the end of the day, it comes down to your personal requirements. In order to make an informed decision, visit each school to see what it feels like, and don’t be led by others – what’s right for one child isn’t necessarily right for another. When children are comfortable and happy, they can go anywhere and do anything.

Questions to consider:

– Does the school offer enough variety in terms of curriculum and ECAs?
– Does the size feel limiting/ overwhelming?
– Do students receive an appropriate level of attention?
– Is there a discipline or bullying problem?
– Are there factors in your community causing an increase or decrease in enrolment?
– Are parents actively involved in the school community and does the school welcome parent involvement?
– Are the majority of students achieving at a high level?

Contact Anne Murphy, director of ITS Education Asia (School Advisory Services) at [email protected], or visit www.itseducation.asia

Photo: www.pexels.com

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