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The Truth Behind Wait Lists at HK Schools

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Hong Kong is notorious for having long waiting lists in most of the International Schools and demand is greatest in the Primary School years. Gill Keefe, Jones Lang LaSalle’s education expert, takes us through why that is.

For newcomers and new parents alike, it can be easy to get overwhelmed by long waiting lists and discussions about debentures. Indeed, the stress for incoming families is usually immense and sometimes off-putting, especially as each school has its own policy and different priorities for children new to Hong Kong.  Why all the waiting lists these days?  In short:

Low Turnover Rates: Unlike some other countries, International Schools in Hong Kong are open to applications from local as well as expatriate students. Local students tend not to move schools once accepted, thus reducing student turnover.

Expats are getting younger by the day: Expatriate executives tend to be younger than previous expat generations and therefore their children tend to be younger, increasing the demand for primary school places

In it for the long run: Expatriates are tending to stay longer in Hong Kong so there is less student turnover in the schools.

Bored of boarding: The trend amongst expatriate families to send their children to boarding school abroad from a young age has changed and they tend to keep their children with them, hence increasing the demand for places.

Researching and applying for schools can be daunting – and the journey can start from birth. There are some schools where it is possible to register the day the child is born, while at others you are required to apply perhaps one or two years before the first year’s intake. So it is important that new parents understand these differences and keep in mind the deadlines for applications as they come up.

For incoming students, you should approach the situation assuming most International Schools are full and with waiting lists, and that you must wait for a current student to notify their intention to withdraw before the school is able to offer that place to another on its wait list. As there are many local or long term expatriate children nowadays in the Internationals Schools, the turnover at these schools is far less than in previous years. Expatriates used to come on assignment for two or three years whereas nowadays they tend to stay longer. Hence coupled with the local populations, the turnover at some of the more popular International Schools can be less than 5% a year.

In most International Schools the greatest demand is in the primary year groups. This is due to several factors. Firstly, expatriates moving to Hong Kong tend to be younger than in previous years and this generally means they have younger children, usually primary age. Secondly, local or long-term expat parents with young children tend to be happy to change their primary aged children during the primary years to their target school if offered. Hence the demand is greater from this sector too. Parents are generally less likely to change school once the child hits secondary school age.

There will be an increase in the number of internationals school places with the opening of Harrow International School HK next month as well as, on a much smaller scale, Island Christian Academy in Mid-levels. Next year will see another increase in numbers with the new Kellett campus opening in Kowloon Bay whilst Hong Kong Academy will be moving out to Sai Kung also next year.

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