Q&A: How To Apply To An ESF School for 2024

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.
Q&A: How To Apply To An ESF School for 2024
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 2024/2025 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 all students joining ESF K1 are guaranteed a place at an ESF primary and then secondary school. 

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 1-7.

To help secure your school place for the 2024/2025 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 Year 1 (children born in 2019) and Year 7 (children born in 2013) must be received during ESF’s Central Application Period. This runs from September 1-30. 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?

All students who have joined an ESF kindergarten from August 2020 are 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/

ESF offers a 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?

Yes, this year the ESF scrapped its geographical or ‘zoning’ requirement for admissions, which means families in Hong Kong can now apply to any of its 22 schools.

Previously, all ESF schools, other than Renaissance College (RCHK) and Discovery College and the five ESF Kindergartens, operated a system where families can only seek a place for their child in a school that sits within their allocated geographical area in Hong Kong based on their residential address

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

What year group should I apply for?

For the 2024-2025 academic year, children joining K1 should be born in 2021, Year 1 in 2019 and Year 7 born in 2013.

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 2024-25 have not yet been published. 

ESF has increased fees for primary and secondary students by an average 5.8% for the 2023-24 academic year.

Tuition fees in Years 1-6 at ESF’s rose from HKD 119,100 to HKD 126,200; the fees for Years 7-8 are HKD 167,100; Years 9 to 11 are HKD 145,400; and families of students studying the IBDP in Years 12 and 13 pay HKD 152,900, up from HKD 144,700.

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.

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