The ISF Academy

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1 Kong Sin Wan Road, Pokfulam, Hong Kong



Here are several recent comments, that originally appeared on the "Schools in Hong Kong" thread.

Anonymous wrote:

Does anyone have any experience with the relatively new ISF school in Cyberport? On paper it looks like the ideal combination of offering Chinese and English in a small class environment. But I'd like to know the pros and cons from someone who is in the inside.

Ex-HKer wrote:

If it is a fairly new school, I doubt anyone has had enough time to learn on the inside either as a parent or student. And one might have to hear from sufficient number of responses to arrive at an accurate assessment. Still, this may not be enough.
How about a chat with the principal and a tour?
My mother and I visited and enrolled me at the "Sam Yuk" elementary school just north of Nathan Road and east of Boundary Street. It was a brand new school about 60 years ago, and my time there turned out to be one of the most happiest and memorable - small class size, caring teachers and friendly environment/ground.

Gweipo wrote:

My husband and I visited the ISF Academy this morning.  It has thrown me into a dilema since on the one hand I'm very happy with my kids education at the moment in so far that they're very happy at school and seem to be learning well, on the other, I am aware that they're not getting as much / enough putonghua to be bilingual.

We were pretty impressed by what we saw. 

My impressions (from the outside, looking in) of ISF based on todays visit was (randomly, not divided into pros and cons):

 * lovely purpose built campus with airy classrooms and lots of space

* Lots of concrete No grass or trees

*  Fabulous library - spacious and very well stocked with English and chinese books - author's visit in progress when we visited (separate senior school library)

* Very friendly and polite children and staff

* A sea of Chinese (asian) faces with one or two non-asian faces bobbing up in the lower year groups.  Similar to the teacher body. (apparently the ratio has to be 70% local to 30% expat.  Local also means HK permanent residents)

* Bursaries available (29 which is a large number) for financially needy families

* Wonderful art, music, dance facilities

* Smallish playground with one climbing structure

* Desk work.  At my kids current school the lower classes spend a lot of time sprawled on the floor, here a lot seems to happen at tables / desks.

* Copious amounts of work in work books, forms and worksheets filled out.

* An impressive, very very impressive level of putonghua (70% of class time in lower primary), and very impressive worksheets / books of character writing.

* Playground talk has to be English or Putonghua 

* An impressive amount of maths tuition (in both languages)

*  One teacher in the class room at a time (current school has 2 at all times)

* Quite a long school day (8am to 3.30 pm. for 5 days a week.  Currently my kids have a 1/2 day on a Wednesday)

* School canteen - catered by Sodexho

* Assembly every morning

 * small class sizes - I think maximum is 18, lower classes have 15 per class.

* School fees on par with other international schools

* appear to have spaces in most classes subject to children passing an admissions exam 

* I have heard of one family leaving the school due to concerns on english level of their child

* admissions officer candid about the fact that it would be a tough 2-3 initial months and that "there had been tears" from other children when first coming into the school (I prefer honesty in this - we've been through this at spanish local school so know that tears are not forever).  

* not only chinese language but culture and value systems emphasized. 

When we left we requested the admissions officer to let us contact other foreign families with children at the school where neither parent was chinese speaking.  Within an hour I had a contact person, who replied to my email question immediately.  The feed back was very good.  We'll meet later this weekend to discuss in detail, so watch this space.

We'll look forward to hearing more from Gweipo, and if you're a parent with children at ISF, we'd love to hear your comments too.

ISF homework

Did you get an idea of how homework is handled?

If the worksheets are in Chinese, and the student must write their homework in Chinese, it will be difficult for parents that don't read Chinese to help, or even to stay abreast of what their child is working on. Did you get any idea of how they help parents work around this?



The lady I spoke to showed me all the homework her daughter had. There was a weekly sheet of what had to be covered in that week with reference to each subject. The items were both in English and in Chinese.
Once one got to the relevant book however, if the book was Chinese math, the questions were all in Chinese (characters). This mother has a tutor 3x a week to assist her daughter and herself. The first session of the week she asks him to help translate the questions for the week.
The mother had done 1 year of the HKU intensive mandarin course herself prior to enrolling her child. She also has her teacher translate into pinyin / English all she needs to know (like addition, subtract, equals, times, divide, count etc. etc.).
Without a doubt it is a substantial amount of work and commitment from both the parents and child. The homework also takes a bit longer than it would someone who reads characters fluently and easily.
The homework situation is very well structured, with expectations known well in advance. So they try and plan the week to ensure everything gets covered on time. And apparently the school is supportive in helping hapless parents as long as they show the willingness to help themselves as well.

no homework

another thought just crossed my mind.  I'd prefer it that way than the way my kids now have NO homework, so I have very little idea about what they're actually learning unless they bother to tell me.  I'm also clueless as to their level of mastery of things without homework.

They have fortnightly teacher letters and then I can get a small insight into what's gone on, and prompt them further.   

The ISF Academy is a private

The ISF Academy is a private school and not a international school. Students can learn chinese in an easy way. If the parents can't understand chinese, it's not easy for the kids to study in this school when they are in higher grades. If parents support and agree the school's philosphy and its immersion program, it must be the right school for your child.

Non-chinese children at ISF

You can follow local blogger Gweipo's progress here. She's an expat mum, whose daughter has recently applied to, and been accepted by the ISF.


We don't always have to do the homework at home now. We have Chinese and English Support, so we can do our homework there.  We are also aloud to do our homework during class or ask questions about the homework. 

The teachers will help us if we ask for help, we do the homework in school whith them when they have time.  They tell us when to go and where.

know more about ISF

My family is moving to HK the end of June, 2010.  The biggest problem now for me is to look for a right school for my 7 years old boy.  He is now happily studying in one of the private bilingual school in Shanghai, English and Putonghua.  When he continues his education in HK, I want him to keep up with strong Chinese in Mandarin, not in Cantonese.  I search and find ISF.  Can people have kids in ISF share with me more about your experiences with the school?  My main question: how do you compare ISF to CIS; or ISF to Sigaporean International School?  If you happen to know, please help.  Thank you.

ISF information

Shanghai Mama, thanks for your post, and best wishes in making your move to Hong Kong.

MrB and I don't have first-hand knowledge of ISF, but one of the previous commenters on this thread, Gweipo, certainly does. If you haven't done so already, I strongly suggest you go over to her blog and check out her many posts discussing the pluses and minuses of that school.


Hi Shanghai mama,

To keep it brief - you can follow stuff on my blog further:

ISF vs. CIS - much more chinese in primary school, less conspicious wealth floating around, but ISF less established.

ISF vs. Singapore intl - not entirely sure as it wasn't on my short list.  I think they have an int'l stream and a chinese stream.  Definitely they do simplified not traditional characters, there are fewer western children. Very strong on math, science and IT.

Worth looking into would also be Victoria Shanghai,

Canadian has about an hour a day mandarin - but don't think that's enough.

They're having an open day on 20th March so it may be worthwhile attending that.

I would not send my kids to

I would not send my kids to ISF. they lack resources and is not considered a 'quality' school, although they say they are.

Well they have been running

Well they have been running for about over 6 years now yet they are still quite unstable. I heard kids are leaving and they have to keep the numbers up by 2012 in order to stay open. I personally think a good school would not have kids withdrawing from a school. I would like my kids to learn mandarin, however if a school is unstable I would rather go elsewhere, regardless of the mandarin curriculum. Teachers leave ISF every year too which shows that they dont' treat teachers well. Good luck. (my kids go to Canadian)

Their 'open day' does not

Their 'open day' does not reflect the real quality of the school. I heard the teachers work very hard just to put on a 'show'. To make it look grand but in reality, what you see at the open day is not a daily accurance at ISF. They are losing kids and need more to get numbers up, so I heard!

What parents want

We've had our issues with ISF and our son.  Some are related to the school and some are related to him.  The bottom line is that at all times we've had access to the teachers, the guidance counsellors, the school principals (primary and whole school), and bilingual specialists.  

We're all working together towards a solution to matters that can be resolved.  Our concerns are taken more seriously than they ever were at any other school in HK.

The new principal has been at the school for 8 months.  In that time he has turned around a lot in the school and resolved so many things.  Change takes time to filter down.  He is not responsible for many of the current hires, nor can he be held responsible for teachers and children who left in the past.  I do have considerable hope for the school in his hands and the hands of people he's putting in place now.

The student / parent body is not homogenous by any means.  They are united by one thing only, and that is the desire to have their children educated bilingually.  A lady I was speaking to on the soccer pitch this morning was talking about the extremes in expectations in her son's class.  Her conclusion was that there were parents who'd be better off at St. Paul's and other parents who'd be better off at Canadian (just as an example) And then the school would suit the rest in the middle ground.  I think she has a valid point.

We have no hesitation in re-enrolling both our children at the school for next year.

The open day is an extra-ordinary day.  It shows how kids at every level from the very youngest can work together on various themes and projects in order to show the parents and public the wide range of activities they're engaged in during the year.  It's a 'summary' and a brief glimpse into many aspects of the school.  Of course not every day looks like that!  Be real.


can you tell me how to log onto gweipo's blog site, it seems to be by invitation only, really need info on school asap, am considering for my child

re: isf

It's only just gone offline - I could still access it at the start of November, so hopefully it is a temporary change.

re: isf

Gweipo writes: "... it's temporarily suspended following a rethink on the format and content, and I'll update you as soon as I decide what to do."

re: isf

Gweipo's blog is online again ( But only for a limited time. She writes:

[...] At the end of the week, though I'm going to delete everything and start with a clean slate.  [...]

In the mean time, I've started another blog, which is in its complete infancy called LingdaoJie, which is dedicated to the topic of learning Chinese and bilingual education.  I am hoping it will be a more open and definitely more interactive blogging experience than Gweipo.