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All aboard: Choosing a boarding school for your child

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By Danny Harington 

Deciding on the right school for your child is one of the biggest decisions a parent has to make. For many Hong Kong-based families, the decision can be even more fraught, with the option of boarding school thrown into the mix. No longer are you purely trying to find the right establishment, you are preparing to tackle a whole new family dynamic.

Traditionally, expat parents have tended to look to their home countries for boarding, however many independent schools now operate satellite campuses, complete with boarding, in the Asia region, providing families with more options.

So, with all that choice available, how do you select the right setup for you and your child? According to Debbie Gispan of London-based firm Panoba (www.panoba.co.uk), a lifestyle service company offering assistance to people based overseas, most families find the school search a real uphill struggle and often fall foul of common mistakes such as basing their decision on a friend’s experience, or only considering the top-performing schools.

Debbie warns that it’s important to keep things in perspective. “Managing to secure a place for a child in a ‘top-named’ school does not necessarily ensure the happiness and success of that child,” she advises. “Academic ability has to be considered too.” That being said, the big-name schools have the reputations they do for a reason, and can provide a great start in life.

It sounds obvious, but the first thing you should consider is curriculum, especially for older children. Although many Asia-based schools run along the same lines as their overseas counterparts, programmes can vary, with many using the IB Diploma for Years 12 and 13. This is an excellent academic preparation for university, but it’s often felt that it is less suitable for those with lower academic goals, so may not be right for every child.

There’s also a new complication with regard to A-levels, which have now been split into two types—the GCE, a linear two-year course, compulsory in the UK, that is wholly examined at the end of those two years, and the International, which retains the modular format of ‘Curriculum 2000’. Some people prefer all their exams in one go, others to spread them out. Both are acceptable for university so it comes down to personal preference.

Then there’s the network factor. Part of the attraction of boarding school is the lifelong friendships that will be made, so think about the demographic of the school and whether that will work well for your child.

One of the biggest concerns for families of course is the issue of separation. Debbie’s business partner Nicky Sakpoba says that, for overseas families especially, being so far away from each other can be tough. Guardian companies can help here by offering homestay options and academic progress services (APS), giving families the peace of mind that come parents’ evenings someone will be there with their child to support them and find out how they are progressing. They then report back to the families abroad and highlight any areas of concern or any social or academic issues they feel should be flagged.

Whatever your situation, and no two families are the same, there are a few simple dos and don’ts that will help you along the way…


  • Go into the process with an open mind and without preconceptions
  • Start early, school places fill up fast
  • Ensure that you give as much information to the agent or school about your child as possible so that they can help you narrow down your choices and maximise your chances of a successful application


  • Tables and just go by exam results–a happy and successful student doesn’t just leave with good grades but with a whole set of skills for life
  • Assume that a school that is right for a family friend will be the right school for your child–every child is unique
  • Presume that all schools have the same entry criteria and processes–they can vary widely

Contact Danny Harrington, director and founder of ITS Education Asia, at [email protected], or visit www.itseducation.asia.

This article appears in The Best of Lantau 2017/ 18 annual guide. Read it online here or email [email protected] to request for your FREE copy.

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