Overview of the International and Local School Systems in Hong Kong

The large number of expats moving to Hong Kong has put pressure on school applications and it is vital to plan your child’s education as soon as possible.

  • Do your research and make sure that you understand what the application processes are including key dates and potential assessments required.
  • It is worthwhile placing your child on the waiting lists of all schools that you may consider, even without seeing them first.
  • Once you arrive in Hong Kong, visit and then shortlist, by putting the name on the waiting list first will give you a small head-start in what can be the worst part of relocating.

In many schools, a debenture is required which can cost up to HK$500,000 and will give your child priority, but will not guarantee a place.  Many employers offer debentures to their senior staff or you can apply for a personal debenture, but these depreciate over the duration of the child’s time at the school and are generally not refunded at the end of the child’s education (there are exceptions to this and it’s best to look at each school’s individual policies).   These costs in addition to school fees need to be considered when applying for schools.

There are numerous international schools available, and we’ve covered the most popular.

Here is a breakdown of the different schools available:

Hong Kong International School (HKIS) follows an American curriculum with mainly American teachers and has an excellent standard of education for children aged 4-18.  Due to the excellent academic and pastoral standards, places in HKIS are highly sought after and many places are offered via corporate debentures.  Full details including latest fees and entry criteria can be found here.

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English Schools Foundation (ESF) Most ESF schools now follow IB curricula. The primary schools follow Primary Years Programme (PYP) and the secondary offer IGCSE at Year 11 and either IB Dip or the Edexcel BTEC for the more vocationally minded at Year 13. There are TWO through schools – Discovery College and Renaissance and they offer full IB all the way through – PYP, MYP and Diploma.  Full details including fees can be found here.

The ESF have recently announced the launch of a Nominations Rights Scheme, which is aimed at the business community in opening up places for children of incoming and resident employees.  The cost is HK$500,000 with a deposit of HK$50,000 and the balance paid on acceptance after interview.  There are 150 places available across all the ages and the fees are being used to raise capital for school improvement projects.

In addition to HKIS and ESF, there are the other international schools including the French International School, Australian International School and Japanese International School.  These schools generally follow the International Baccalaureate System and have pupils from a range of different countries speaking many different languages.  Many focus on English as the primary language of teaching with a strong emphasis on other language options.

For older students who may wish to have more flexibility and independence in their learning, ITS Education runs two schools with academic-only timetable options under the UK National Curriculum.  ITS is accredited as a full Edexcel Academic Centre. Students can use ITS as their school to take full A-level options and make their UCAS application to UK universities. Ideal for students who arrive mid-term, cannot find a school place, or prefer home-school style approaches but with the support of international subject specific teachers.

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Local schools provide education either solely in Cantonese, or dual language Cantonese Mandarin/Mandarin English with a minority tri-lingual Cantonese/English/Mandarin.   In addition to the difference in language of instruction, the style of learning can be more intense and less enquiry driven than the international schools.  Testing and examinations are still a significant part of the school calendar and many children will be intensely tutored in order to get into the right school. Local schools

For school application assistance and advice on the right school for your child, contact Top Schools.

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