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L is for Learning: What are your best options for international schooling in Hong Kong?

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Are you worried about getting a place for your child at international school, or concerned about the application processes? Jones Lang LaSalle’s school expert, Gill Keefe takes us through ideas to help work out which primary or secondary school is best suited for your child. Her Three L Guide – long-term plans, language and location – is a handy checklist to help you figure out the best option for your little one.

There can be big differences between each international school in Hong Kong and therefore doing your homework as parents is critical. Subjects to cover include:

  • What are you looking for, for your child and your family?
  • Family history and long-term plans.
  • Class size; will your child be fine in a larger class or do they need the one-on-one attention that a smaller, more nurturing class provides?
  • Lifestyle – for example does a 7.30am or an 8.45am start work better for your family?
  • Parental involvement. Do you expect, or want to be active at your child’s school?
  • Entrance criteria.

Long-Term Plans

If you are a family with US links, and plan to return while your children are still in education, it may be wise to look at US or North American curriculum schools in order to make the transition home easier. If you plan on sending your child to a UK boarding school, then a UK curriculum in Hong Kong is probably a better choice. However, as schools adopt more internationally focused programmes such as the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum, it may be possible to transition from less established options. It is useful to look into the curriculum of your long-term focus, so you can keep in mind what they are doing here and how that relates to where they will be studying later.



Most international schools use English as their medium of instruction, but it’s important to think about the language demands on your child. Some schools offer English support for children whose English is not quite at the level they need to follow the curriculum, however many schools offer little or no support. Remember that if a child cannot function in the language of instruction, they will find it difficult to contribute to the class or have discussions with their classmates, and therefore it may be difficult for them to learn.

Also bear in mind that not all children are born linguists! How important is Mandarin to you, and can you support your child learning Mandarin with, or without private tutors? Different schools offer different amounts of tuition. If the family has no exposure to Mandarin at home then a child in a bilingual school setting may find it tough and may need more hours of private tutoring than his peers.

Location, Location, Location

Although you don’t need to live next door to the school, it is useful to live on a school bus route, as a long bus journey can impact on the amount of time a student has for their homework and extracurricular activities. There is not necessarily a direct correlation between the distance from school and the length of time your child spends on the bus. It is the number of pick-ups that determines the duration of the journey. So you can in fact live close to the school and be on a bus the same length of time as a student who lives a long way away but who is the last to board the bus before it sets off for the school.

ESF schools operate a catchment area system. Wherever you live in Hong Kong, you will be in the catchment area of an ESF school. When you submit your application, it will automatically be sent to the appropriate school, based on your address. This has the advantage that your child is likely to travel to school with their classmates, whether by bus or on foot, and they will be able to meet friends quite easily outside of school as they will most likely live locally to you.

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