Hong Kong schools: Internationals schools and the ESF

A reader asks: What are the ESF schools like? I'm coming to work in one soon. Are they ANYTHING like the fairly decent comprehensive I'm leaving?

Mr Tall replies: Don't panic -- the ESF schools have a reasonably good reputation. They're not 'local schools' in the sense that most of us on batgung.com have been using the term, i.e. they teach in English and are mostly for expats' children, or for local people who want their children to have a western-style education. NET teachers aren't assigned to ESF schools; their purpose is to help raise the English language standard in local schools.

The big issue of the day regarding ESF schools is their funding: they receive an enormous government subsidy, which is coming under heavy fire from the HK public these days.

A reader adds: If you are interested in a government-funded ESF school, do your best to find out its reputation, about its principal, its feeder system, the role it expects from parents, etc. I would say that big questions to be answered are how does the school review teachers, ensure uniform articulation (making sure that a year 3 child etc has learned all expected in the previous year) and a uniform homework policy across year bands.

I'm an American married to a Brit with a child in year 2 here. Sadly I have crashed up against an ESF principal who restricts interaction with parents and wants no role for parents save fundraising.

Simon over at Simonworld has the other side of the story about school admissions.

For his daughter, the whole thing couldn't have been easier. Find out why here. It's a very interesting account, and I learned a number of things I didn't know from it. Simon also brings up a serious moral dilemma that was involved -- it seems even when school admission in Hong Kong is easy, it's never simple.

This reader adds an interesting and maybe not-that-well-known observation about the demographics of the ESF schools:

My son has just started at an ESF primary school. and so far I am very happy with the approach and the way the school works.

Rather to my surprise at least 85% of his classmates are Chinese, with the rest being Caucasian or Caucasian/Chinese mixed (like my son). The teachers are British or Australian.

ESF gets subsidies from the government, so it's not the most expensive option, but obviously it's more expensive than the government schools.

This reader contributes a rather enthusiastic endorsement of the ESF:

I had the opportunity to go to 3 schools in Hong Kong (4 if you include the Montessori Kindergarten). Here's my insight if you care for it.

All ESF schools are remarkable. The teaching staff are impeccable and the quality of study is astounding. I had the good fortune to attend Bradbury Junior school for 3 years before I moved to the UK for a period. If you live on the South Side, you'll either be in BJS or Kennedy Road's catchment area (as I remember it anyway).

I spent half a year at the Lycée Internationale Française. (FIS or French International normally) It's a disgrace. Suffer not to let your children attend it :) Ridiculous hours and, well the generally 'French' way of doing things pulled it down in my estimations substantially. (Note I don't mean to be xenophobic but the French, like every group of people have a way of doing things which either appeals to or irks you).

I spent my Sixth Form years at Shatin College (also an ESF institution) the same incredible quality of education was provided along with a very healthy ethos and atmosphere. Can't recommend it enough

Go ESF if you can afford it. It really seems to me the better choice.

Regular contributor Saikungmama, whose daughter recently switched from a local school to an ESF one, adds:

So far, I've been impressed with the ESF approach to teaching P1 children. The teachers do their best to encourage all of the children, even if their work is not perfect, and they certainly don't give them much pressure. I don't think they even give marks for work, so they couldn't deduct any for poor punctuation, but of course they point out the errors and try to help them to do better next time.

Overall the objective is to make learning fun and to help the children to think for themselves. In my opinion this is the right way when you are dealing with 4 & 5 year olds -- I'd hate for them to be trying to learn by rote and being penalised for small mistakes.

Finally, this reader has experience with the International Baccalaureate, which some international schools in Hong Kong have adopted:

I don't know about how Hong Kong schools use the IB, but I felt that I should share my experience with the system. I'm a recent graduate of the system from UCC in Canada.

It is for overachievers. Demanding, tough, and rigorous in its preparations, it has the ability to produce students who are well prepared for the first 2 years of college. When applying for college admissions, IB opens many doors and is looked upon favorably by elite institutions and programs.

However, the more laid back will be turned off by from certain fields of study due to the intensity of work. Parents should take heed of their children's personality before choosing it. If one is focused on a certain field, IB will certainly be beneficial. But for those looking to explore various fields, it would be wise to reconsider. IB binds you to a field for 2 years. Complications in course selection.


ESF schools

I am an ESF teacher who has worked in many international schools, in five different countries. My current ESF school (secondary) is still probably the best I have worked in judged by the experiences of students. However, expect this to change. The strength of the ESF has not been its central management, nor its school management, but in the excellence of its rank and file classroom teachers.The ESF central management is a joke, and most of the schools are now managed by lemmings who simply try to copy whatever is the latest UK 'initiative' (roughly translated as change for change's sake).This in spite of the claim to embrace 'internationalism'.Teachers are being prevented from doing what they do best by this timewasting nonsense, while simultaneously being demoralised by repeated cuts in pay and conditions (while the useless fat cats at Head Office grow both in number and salaries).The exodus of the best teachers is already underway. If you send your children to ESF schools in the near future, expect them to be taught by inexperienced backpackers who will up and leave for the next tourist destination after one contract.

school "initiatives"

Thanks for the heads-up, anon.

As someone who's obsessed a bit about educational philosophies and practices myself, I'm interested in your juxtaposition of the UK 'initiatives', and 'internationalism'. Don't the two coincide? What kind of initiatives have been implemented, and what are the goals/premises of internationalism, if I may ask?

Mr Tall

Go experience it, tall guy.

I'm a very recent graduate.

Yes, they use to be great schools, from primary through to the end of secondary, and really the teachers are the greatest resources...and sometimes the principals. But I must agree that it is certainly deteriorating and teachers are getting worse and worse and that's right, they are literally 'in exile'.

Sad to see, but true - I'm glad I graduated already, before this finishes and the whole exile thing happens. Local kids go to these schools, use these funds. Local schools have subsidy for 9 years. What's all the fuss about? In the end, we all pay too.

And ultimately, these international schools are STILL in Hong Kong. Why only the fuss with the ESF, and not the Australian, American, Canadian, Chinese, French, Hong Kong and Japanese International Schools. Hong Kong people take the resources back from Hong Kong. If you're not happy then don't live here. See how your money becomes used wisely in another part of the world and goodluck.