Q&A: How To Apply To An ESF School

Planning to apply to an ESF school? WhichSchoolAdvisor.com answers all your questions on how and when to complete the application process, which starts on September 1, as well as news of ESF's new KG debenture scheme.
Q&A: How To Apply To An ESF School
By Carli Allan
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Are you looking for a school place in Hong Kong? Well, if you want to apply to one of the 22 kindergartens and schools run by the English Schools Foundation (ESF), the application process for the 2020/2021 academic year starts on September 1.

Parents have the choice of more than 80 international schools in Hong Kong, and ESF is the largest provider of English language education here with 16 primary, secondary and all through schools plus five kindergartens and one special school. These include Kowloon Junior, Beacon Hill,  Sha Tin Junior, Bradbury, Peak School, Glenealy School, Clearwater Bay, Quarry Bay and Kennedy schools; Sha Tin College, South Island School, King George V, West Island School, Island School, Discovery College (DC) and Renaissance College (RCHK).

There are limited places available and long waitlists at most ESF schools, just as you’ll find at many of the top-tier international schools in Hong Kong. But a recent change from the ESF admissions office means that all students joining ESF K1 from August 2020 will be guaranteed a place at an ESF primary and then secondary school. 

The school says: "The waiting lists for ESF schools are long on the Kowloon side schools. They are relatively shorter and hence more opportunities on Hong Kong Island side schools. As of June 2018, there were about 2,000 on the waiting list across all ESF primary and secondary schools."

ESF has always had a reputation for being considerably cheaper than most international schools in Hong Kong, although this is changing. Until 2016, ESF schools received a government subsidy, which meant that fees were lower compared to other international schools. However, this annual HKD 283 million subsidy from the government is being phased out over the next 13 years; subsidies have already stopped for Years 1-4.

To help secure your school place for the 2020/2021 academic year, read on to find out more about the ESF application process.

How do I apply?

There is a ‘one form’ application system for all ESF primary and secondary schools including  the group's two all-through private independent schools, Discovery College (DC) and Renaissance College (RCHK). Parents can only submit one online application per child with their selected preference of schools; you can choose up to three selected schools including the ESF school in your zone, DC and/or RCHK. 

If a parent chooses the ESF school of zone as a selected school, there will be a fourth option available for parents to select an alternative ESF out of zone school.

When is the application period?

All applications for K1, Year 1 and Year 7 must be received during ESF’s Central Application Period. This runs from September 1-30 for K1 and Year 1, and September 1-23 for Year 7. It doesn’t matter when you apply during this month as all applications are processed in random order from October 1.

If my child is attending an ESF kindergarten, do I still need to apply to a primary school?

Yes, currently, children graduating from ESF kindergartens are given priority and an interview-free process when applying for Year 1 at an ESF school. However, starting from 2022/23, students who joined an ESF kindergarten from August 2020, will be guaranteed a Year 1 place at an ESF school.

If my child is attending an ESF primary school, do I still need to apply to an ESF secondary school?

All primary students are guaranteed a place as they transition to secondary.

Can I get priority for admission?

Yes, ESF has Individual and Corporate Nomination Rights Schemes, which gives families priority for admission to primary and secondary school; these families can apply to a school outside of their catchment zone.

To apply online, click here: http://www.esf.edu.hk/admissions/

This year, ESF has launched a new kindergarten debenture scheme which allows holders to secure a priority interview at an ESF Kindergarten; they will then be guaranteed a place in an ESF primary and secondary school. There is a limited number of debentures available for HKD 500,000, which is the same amount as the Individual Nomination Rights Scheme.

Can I apply to any ESF kindergarten?

You can apply to only one ESF kindergarten, but you can choose which one as there are catchment zones. Families are recommended to apply to the following based on their location:

• Hillside kindergarten: Hong Kong Island
• Abacus kindergarten: Clearwater Bay, Tseung Kwan O, Hang Hau and Sai Kung
• Wu Kai Sha kindergarten: Ma On Shan, Tai Po and Sha Tin 
• Abacus or Wu Kai Sha kindergartens: Sai Kung
• Tsing Yi kindergarten: Kowloon 
• Tung Chung kindergarten: Lantau, including Discovery Bay
• Tsing Yi, Tung Chung or Wu Kai Sha kindergartens: New Territories 

Can I apply to any ESF school?

No, it is based on where you live. Except for Discovery College (DC) and Renaissance College (RCHK), ESF schools only accept students living within their catchment zone. Proof of a Hong Kong residential address is required as part of the application process. Renaissance College and Discovery College do not have catchment zones.

Parents can only submit one online application per child with their selected preference of school.

What year group should I apply for?

For the 2020-2021 academic year, children joining K1 should be born in 2017; Year 1 (born 2015); or Year 7 (born 2009).

How much does it cost to apply to an ESF kindergarten or school?

The application fee for kindergarten is HKD 500.

There’s an application fee of HKD 2,000, followed by a deposit of HKD 10,000 for primary and HKD 16,000 for secondary once a place is offered; this fee is offset against the first term’s fees. All new students must pay a non-refundable, one-off capital levy which starts at HKD 38,000 for students entering Year 1 and is reduced on a sliding scale for subsequent years.

For example, the cost of securing a Year 1 place at an ESF primary school such as Sha Tin Junior would be HKD 50,000; for a Year 7 place at an ESF secondary such as King George V it would be HKD 44,000. While ESF schools have some of the most affordable tuition fees in Hong Kong, they don’t always have the lowest admission fees.

What happens after I apply?

Successful applicants will be invited for an assessment, either for a guaranteed place or a reserve list place. Alternatively, you will receive a letter/email confirming that your application has not been successful. 

What are the tuition fees?

All ESF schools have the same fee structure, with the exception of the two PIS schools, Renaissance College and Discovery College. Tuition fees for 2019-20 in Years 1-3 at ESF’s primary schools are HKD 115,800 per year, and Years 5 to 6 are HKD 98,500. 

At ESF secondary schools the fees for Years 7 to 11 are HKD 133,800; Years 12 and 13 fees are HKD 140,700. Fees range from HKD 124,000-167,900 at RCHK and HKD 129,700-175,400 at Discovery College.

The revised fees for the 2020/2021 academic year will be announced in March 2020, and there is typically around a 4.5% increase every year. For more information about ESF fees, click here.

What curriculum does the ESF group teach?

All five of its secondary schools offer IGCSEs and the IBDP; there are currently five ESF schools offering the International Baccalaureate Career-related Programme (IBCP), including West Island School. All secondary schools are currently phasing in the IB Middle Years Programme (MYP) for Years 7 to 9 to replace the previously bespoke curricula offered by each school.

How are Discovery College and Renaissance College different to the other ESF schools?

These two all-through schools are Private Independent Schools (PIS). They have received government assistance – land on a 10-year lease and a grant to construct a school building – and at least 70% of their student population must be Hong Kong permanent residents. Although both schools are run by the ESF, they differ from other ESF schools as they do not have a catchment area, do not offer IGCSEs (instead they offer the full IB programme), and tuition fees are slightly higher.

Which ESF schools currently have places available for the 2019/2020 academic year?

• K1: Vacancies at ESF Tung Chung International Kindergarten

• Years 2-8: There are no vacancies.

• Year 9: Vacancies at Sha Tin College and Renaissance College (RCHK)

• Year 10: Vacancies at Discovery College (DC), Island SchoolSouth Island School and Renaissance College (RCHK); shorter waitlist at West Island School

• Year 11: Vacancies at Discovery College (DC) and Renaissance College (RCHK)

• Year 12: Vacancies at Discovery College (DC), Island SchoolSouth Island School and Sha Tin College

• Year 13: Vacancies at Discovery College (DC)

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