The international education sector in Hong Kong has undergone dramatic changes in recent years with a rapid expansion in the number of schools. With a career spanning 40 years, 21 of those as principal of Kellett School – The British International School in Hong Kong, Ann McDonald is well versed in navigating the education system in Hong Kong and understands how overwhelming more choice can be for parents.
“I frequently meet with parents struggling to chart a course for their child,” Ann says. “Often, they’re more familiar with each school’s blurb than those who wrote it, and they’ve scoured the relevant education chatrooms and discussed the school at length across the dinner table, at baby group and over coffee. In my experience, all too often the greater the research the greater the indecision.”
Ultimately, though, Ann says that while there is a lot more information to consider when it comes to choosing a school in Hong Kong, the wealth of choice has many benefits. “Many of the newer schools offer alternative curricula to the International Baccalaureate (IB) Programme, and more school places should equate to shorter waiting lists,” she says. “Given the choice of schools in Hong Kong, this could also lead to a decline in the need to pack bags at 11 or 13 years for overseas boarding education.”
The veteran Kellett School principal has some sound advice for parents who are trying to weigh up the best options for the children – with a key one being you know what’s best for your child.
“It’s rare to find a 100 percent perfect match for what you want from a school,” she says. “However, engaging with a school and understanding any limitations goes a long way to creating the perfect school-home partnership.”
Ann’s top tips for choosing a school
Do your homework: School registration requirements differ. While waiting lists are softening, they do remain, so register as early as possible.
Trust your instincts: Look for schools that align to your values and beliefs. A selective school, for example, may not be for you if you don’t want your child to go through an interview process at a young age.
Look forward: Look for curriculums that easily transfer into a variety of settings if Hong Kong is a short-term destination. If your stay is likely to be lengthy, the international schools here share fantastic expertise at placing students into universities, colleges and careers.
Visit your shortlisted schools: Visit schools and look beyond the brochure blurb. The key question to ask is, “Can I see my child thriving in this setting?”
Be methodical: Select your top three preferred schools at which to register. A year before your child is due to start school, revisit each and rank your selection. Once offered a place and accepted, let the other schools know. Releasing places assists others in achieving their first choice.
Find out more about how Kellett is tackling the issue of student stress and read our guide to international schools in Hong Kong
This article first appeared in the December/January 2017/18 issue of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue