Do Affordable English Schools in Hong Kong Exist?
Despite free education for all legally resident children, English only speaking families - and a rapidly growing number of local families - prefer a private education, delivered almost entirely in English. While some parents will be prepared to make extreme sacrifices to be able to afford the high fees, others simply don’t have that luxury. An affordable English language education: does such a thing actually exist? Let’s find out.
English Schools Foundation
For years, the English Schools Foundation provided a high-quality, affordable education. Although, the government withdrew their annual subsidy of HK$283 million in 2016, the annual tuition fees remain very affordable when compared to international schools. ESF fees for 2016/17 are at HK $106,500 for Year 1 (5 years old), as compared to international schools such as Hong Kong Academy at $179,700, Kellett School at HK$157,300 and the soon-to-be-opened Shrewsbury School at $169,000, not to mention additional annual levies and mandatory debentures.
In the days when parents and other lobbyists were advocating for the continuance of the subvention, the argument often put forward was that ESF was the only affordable option for English speaking families. This was never the case.
These are the schools that offer a non local curriculum exclusively. A modest budget of HK $120,000 or thereabouts does greatly limit options. However, several high quality options do remain.
The newly opened HKCA Po Leung Kuk School in Tin Hau set their fees at just HK$89,900/year. This fits a school established by charitable organization that provides educational services at over 120 schools in Hong Kong. One of the driving goals when setting up HKCA Po Leung Kuk School was to establish a school offering an international education in a not-for-profit manner. This sits in stark contrast to a number of the larger schools run by private equity backed corporations netting hundreds of millions, even billions, dollars of profit.
Granted, these schools may lack fancy facilities but schools are much more than bricks and mortar.
It isn’t well known that all private schools are obligated to set aside 10-15% of revenue for bursaries, scholarships and fee remissions. Historically, these funds have been reserved for enrolled students. For example, parents find that their financial situation has changed due to a loss of a job and can claim up to 100% fee remission. Increasingly, though, schools are more overtly promoting these schemes in order to attract talented and diversified students.
Direct Subsidy Scheme (DSS)/Local private
The idea of an English medium local, semi-private school that offers an international program is highly coveted. Sadly, it is little more than an idea. By definition, a local school uses the local language – Cantonese – and the local curriculum. A few DSS schools – those that receive a partial subsidy from the government and charge tuition fees on top – do use more English than others, sometimes around 50-60%, but this is at secondary level, not primary – and some do supplement the local curriculum with IGCSE or IBDP or other.
Diocesan Girls’ School (Secondary) describes itself as a “local grammar school with an international outlook” where “English is the medium of instruction (MOI) at all form levels except for Chinese Language, Chinese History, Chinese Literature and Putonghua.” This means Cantonese is used for all these subjects listed, except Putonghua, and Cantonese is surely the dominant social language. Also, interviews are conducted in English and Chinese.
In addition, these schools are highly selective and highly competitive.
The fees are surely a draw. For example, Creative Secondary School offers the IBDP for $116,120 and Diocesan Boys’ School for $93,700 with no capital levies or debentures. Both of these schools offer the local Diploma of Secondary Education for about half of this amount.
It’s fairly clear that our government will not and should not subsidise too many schools that shun the local language. If an English language education is the goal, parents should expect to pay the private fees. If not, the local schools still do and always will provide free education.
The founder of Top Schools, Ruth Benny, has over 20 years’ experience in the education system in Hong Kong. She has the advantage of many years in different areas of education – as a teacher, a teacher-trainer, a parent and now advisor for both the local and international sectors.
Ruth writes and speaks about private and international schools for parents, corporations and other groups. She is a frequent contributor to local media and generally regarded as the go-to expert on this topic.
Originally from the UK, Ruth has been in Hong Kong for over 22 years and is the mother of two children.