South Island School celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2017. From small beginnings in an annexe at the Island School with a cohort of 6 staff and 165 students, it has grown in its permanent home to a staff of approx 150 and 1400 students. SIS is regarded as one of the most successful schools, both academically and in the field of athletics. As such, it is one of the most sought after schools on Hong Kong Island.
South Island School is part of the group of 22 Schools in Hong Kong that operates within the English Schools Foundation government ordinance. The school is accredited by the International Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO), whose review took place in 2012, and by the UK-based Council of International Schools (CIS) and the US Western Association of Schools and Colleges, whose reviews took place in 2015.
The school is highly regarded in areas such as debating, rugby, and basketball, and is known for producing some of the highest grade averages for the exams that SIS students sit. It is regarded as one of the top secondary schools within Hong Kong in terms of academics and athletics.
Established in 1977, SIS opened as an annex of Island School with 165 students and six teachers. Consistently a centre of innovation, the introduction of the IB Diploma programme took place in 2007, replacing ‘A Levels’, and the IB Centre was completed and opened for senior students. This was followed in 2008 by a Bring Your Own Device policy, which ensures that all 1,400 students carry their own laptop to school. A year later, SIS introduced the Advanced Diploma Programme as an alternative to the IB Diploma, with 3 BTEC subjects including Business, Sports, and Hospitality, which continue to be offered.
In 2016, following ESF’s decision that all High Schools should move to the MYP Programme for Years 7 to 9, SIS became an early adopter school. At the same time, the IB Career-related programme was introduced to enhance the existing BTEC offer.
With a total student body of approx. 1,400, a teaching staff of 110 (together with a further 40 support staff), and a student to staff ratio of 14:1, SIS has come a long way since its early days. Average class sizes are approx. 24 students in Years 7 to 9, 22 in Years 10 to 11, and between 7 and 18 for Years 12 to 13, depending on the subject choice. The school is not selective; admission depends above all on the student’s ability to benefit from an ESF education and their residential address.
Students come from two primary feeder schools (Bradbury School and Quarry Bay School), but many entrants come from other ESF and non ESF schools or are new to Hong Kong. The school reserves 24 places for students with high levels of additional learning need. The Individual Needs department is staffed by 6 specialist teachers and 16 Educational Assistants, some of whom are parent funded. These staff support both students and teachers.
In common with other ESF schools, the leadership of the school is accountable to the Board of Governors (Executive Committee) of ESF, but SIS also has its own School Council (local Governing Body) comprised of parents, community members, staff, and students. The Chair of the School Council is an independent person and is appointed to the school by the Board of Governors. The School Council oversees the strategic direction and the performance of the school.
Graham Silverstone has been Principal at SIS since 2010, having previously been Head teacher of two large High Schools in the United Kingdom. He graduated from Cambridge University with a Masters in History, working in a variety of areas (including banking and magazine editing) before training as a teacher in 1988.
SIS has a very evident focus and strategic direction which has been clearly set out. As Graham says “Put simply, it is our core aspiration that, during their time with us, every individual student makes a positive difference – a difference to their own lives and a difference to the lives of others. As South Island School is an inclusive school, we adopt a holistic approach by:
Students and staff are said to be "the two most precious assets" of the school by its leaders, and SIS has high expectations and ambitions for them. It also understands that "for them to succeed, the school must provide a caring, supportive and challenging environment in which they can grow and flourish".
SIS students come from 38 different countries, and a key focus of the school, given the diverse nationalities of its students, is to encourage them through the curriculum and in their day-to-day school lives, to develop their international mindedness and an appreciation that there are many different perspectives from which to view human existence.
Considering the academic success of the school, it might be surprising that SIS underscores with all its young people that what really matters is not gaining qualifications for their own sake but learning – always being open to personal growth, having a mind-set that welcomes and tackles problems, being resilient when times get tough. South Island School aims to raise consciousness in its school community about the way individuals can make a difference in a complex world. The school promotes a wide range of languages through its curriculum (Chinese, French, Spanish, Japanese, Korean, and others) to show an appreciation of multilingualism and as a reflection of both a common humanity and the cultural differences between nationalities.
On joining SIS, students in Years 7 and 8 are placed into tutor groups of 16 – 20 children. Students in Years 7 to 9 study a broad range of subjects including English, Maths, Sciences, PHE, Individuals and Societies (incorporating Geography, History, Psychology, Business Studies, and Economics) and a range of Creative Arts options, which may include Art, Drama, Media, and Music. Students also select either a single or dual language pathway with options of Chinese, French, or Spanish.
In Year 9, students are given advice and guidance to enable them to make informed decisions about which courses they would like to study in Years 10 and 11. In addition to following the IB MYP programme, students take either IGCSE, GCSE, or the SIS non-certified course of between 6 – 12 subjects.
All students take English Language and Literature, Maths, Science, PE (examined and non-examined), and Expressive Arts (a vast range including Fine Art, Drama, Fashion and Textiles, Food Preparation and Nutrition, Music, and 3D Design – all available at iGCSE or GCSE – and Media which is not examined). Within Individuals and Societies, students can study at iGCSE/GCSE Geography, History, Psychology, Business Studies, and Economics. Additionally, time is built into the timetable for individual study or specific projects, including either a Global project and iGCSE Global perspectives in Years 10 and 11, or an individual “passion project”.
In Years 12 and 13 there are three possible pathways for students to take: the SIS Advanced Diploma, the IB Career Related Programme, and the IB Diploma programme.
The SIS Advanced Diploma provides a breadth of learning and practical experience; there are no GCSE entry requirements. The progression for these students is meant to be towards further learning, work experience, and preparation for fully enhanced adult living. Students are encouraged to take on leadership roles and to be proactive in the community, which is evidenced in a portfolio of CAS (Creativity, Action, and Service) experiences.
The IB Career Related Programme is a programme of international, career-related education founded on the IB mission and philosophy for 16 – 19 year olds. The third option is the full IB Diploma programme – recognised as one of, if not the most, academically challenging pre-University curricula globally, and increasingly regarded as the Gold Standard among top universities.
However, the school curriculum is not just focused on the academic subjects and successes. A broad focus on creativity, technology, and extra curricular activities support the more academic subjects. The school aims to keep the art curriculum at the forefront of contemporary art practice. Students are challenged in a myriad of ways whilst working both individually and collaboratively, exploring a range of art disciplines. The Art department encourages students to express, to answer, to invent, to change, to revolutionise, and to originate.
In the Lower School, Years 7, 8, and 9 work on year-long projects where they engage with a variety of media and techniques in a range of disciplines such as drawing, painting, printmaking, and digital photography. In Years 10 and 11, the General Certificate of Secondary Education is offered, and in Years 12 and 13, the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme and the Advanced Diploma Programme enable students to maintain their involvement in the Arts.
Students are encouraged to consider the importance of both aesthetic and concept, and to investigate the characteristics and qualities of materials in order to resolve meaning. Three major art exhibitions are held each year for the GCSE, BTEC, and IB students, and the school also publishes an annual catalogue of IB students’ work.
A further area of investment at SIS has been in the field of IT. The school considers Digital Literacy an important area of priority in an increasingly digital culture. The school aims to furnish students with the skills, knowledge, and understanding that enable critical, creative, discerning, and safe practices when engaging with digital technologies in all areas of life. SIS is committed to a 1:1 laptop initiative enhancing and expanding the learning opportunities for all students, and has opted for Apple computers after analysis of a variety of computing products, services, and pedagogical needs. The School ICT infrastructure and e-resources are set up for Mac platform.
In the 2016-17 academic year, the English Schools Foundation adopted the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) standards, with SIS working to embed these strands into the curriculum. The school has partnered with Beyond Skin Deep (BSD) Coding Academy to use the Launchbox: an online platform in which students have the opportunities to learn coding skills in both Maths (Y7 Probability Unit) and Science (Y7 Robotics Unit).
The success of South Island School’s approach to the education of its students can be found in the public exam results that the school publishes. SIS students consistently achieve excellent IGCSE results – in 2017, recording an A – A* pass rate of 60% with 31.2% of grades at A*. 13 students achieved 9 or more A*, 13 students 6 A* or better. SIS continues to exceed Asian and international average scores in all areas by significant margins.
SIS students also celebrated excellent achievement at IBDP as the May 2019 results show.
• Average score: 35.8
• Pass rate: 97%
• Top score: 44
• No. students scored 40 points and above: 27%
• No. students scored 35 points and above: 62%
• No. students scored 30 points and above: 87%
The school achieved a very creditable average diploma score of 35.8 points, which marginally higher than last year's average of 35.2. The school's highest score of 44 was achieved by Paco Chow, Joshua Kwok, Jasmine Lai, Bernice Lam and Tiffany Tsoi.
SIS said: "This year, 62% of SIS students have achieved 35 or more points, the highest percentage since 2016 – and an incredible 27% of our students have achieved a world class score of 40 or more points, the highest percentage achieved by any cohort during the last 7 years!"
SIS is one of of only five schools in Hong Kong to currently offer the International Baccalaureate Career Programme (IBCP), and 94% (15 students) of its first small IBCP cohort passed.
The school added: "Along with our IBDP students, our IBCP students have received numerous university offers from top-ranked institutions worldwide. The IBCP deliberately allows students to pursue specialism ahead of breadth – and it is clear that our first cohort of IBCP students are already highly specialised in their chosen fields!"
Read our roundup of Hong Kong's 2019 IB results here.
Inevitably, such results also impact the university destinations of SIS students. Approx. 40% of students go to the UK, whilst Hong Kong has regained second spot with a significant increase to 24% of all confirmed destinations. North America-bound students stayed steady at 28%, though a greater proportion of these headed for Canada rather than the USA. Others took up places in Korea, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and India, with a small number of applications to Australia and New Zealand.
The universities of Bath (6), Exeter (5), and York (4) clinched the first three places in the UK, with 3 apiece at 6 other universities, including Oxford, Imperial, and Durham. At the highly selective end, one student went to Yale, two to University of Pennsylvania, one to Cornell, and two to UC Berkeley. Advanced Diploma students, most of whom head for the UK, surpassed their IB counterparts by securing 100% of their ‘Firm’ offers in UCAS and are pursuing a mix of Business Management, Sports, and Hotel/Hospitality courses.
In order to support the academic ambitions of its students, SIS places strong emphasis on its Pastoral curriculum and a third area, the Value in Action curriculum. All 3 strands (Academic, Pastoral, and ViA) are integral to the school curriculum.
The school describes its Pastoral curriculum as the ‘nourishment for the learning journey’ to which all students have an entitlement. The Pastoral Learning Curriculum (PLC) aims to explicitly teach and promote health and well-being, build resilience, enhance academic care, and build human and social capital among the community. The PLC is a planned programme of learning though which pupils acquire the knowledge, understanding, and skills they need to manage their lives in school and beyond. As part of a whole school approach, it is designed to develop the qualities and attributes pupils need to thrive as individuals, family members, and members of society.
In addition to the on-going programme of Pastoral care for students once they are settled at SIS, every effort is made to assist in the transition process from primary to secondary school with a comprehensive liaison programme to which all students are invited. Through the links with primary teachers, SIS aims for continuity and progression in learning and also self-esteem and confidence of an individual student.
‘Values in Action’ (ViA) is the third strand of the SIS Curriculum. ViA is the term used for all the out-of-class opportunities for students that help them to become more rounded and engaged individuals. The Third Curriculum is where students put school values into action and become active members of the school, the community, and the world around them. It is the students’ chance to ‘Make a Difference’ and feeds well into the IB Creativity, Action, and Service programme. Several particularly effective initiatives have been developed as a result of the ViA strand.
Among these, the Environmental Sustainability Group is SIS’ dedicated environmental awareness group, which is committed to taking steps that drastically alter the school’s dependence on non-renewable energy and things damaging to the environment. The group is made up of students from a range of years that all lead projects they are passionate about, enabling them to make a difference both inside and out of the school about it. Initiatives have included the introduction of solar panels and an electricity usage tracking system, which have made a significant difference to the running of the school. The estimated electricity saving per year is 3,200 kWh. New water fountains have been recently introduced that are energy efficient and that display the number of water bottles that have been saved – not only does this show that small actions can make a difference, but it makes the students aware of the plastic problem both within and outside of school.
Other non-academic opportunities open to students are numerous and vary every year and every term. The extra-curricular programme offers both sporting and non-sporting activities; Drama and Music programmes offer opportunities for students to develop creativity and public performance. All programmes allow students to take on leadership roles, often working with younger students to develop skills. The majority of extra-curricular activities (for example, Model United Nations and TEDx) and the Make a Difference Service trips (to countries such as Laos, Thailand, the Philippines, and China) provide students with the opportunity to engage in cross-cultural perspectives and issues.
The SIS learning philosophy and environment seeks to promote freedom of thought, expression, and action. SIS aims to educate all students to develop their skills and their deep learning, so they can make informed decisions and take action responsibly.
A vast range of sports is offered in the extracurricular programme, and includes athletics, swimming, cross-country, basketball, football, rugby, netball, badminton, tennis, hockey, squash, dragon boating, archery, athletics (including track and field), biathlon, horse riding, martial arts, rowing, rugby, sailing, scuba diving, swimming, wall climbing, water polo, and water sports. To facilitate sports such as rugby, football, and hockey training, sessions are conducted off-site at the Aberdeen and Happy Valley pitches.
Beyond the organised extra-curricular programme, SIS celebrates the fact that the diversity within the school community supports students, both in understanding global issues and in developing pluralistic attitudes. This environment allows the students to embrace the differences which surround them, almost intuitively at times and without conscious intent. Chinese students dance in Diwali celebrations, Europeans join the Lion Dance Team, sports teams do not separate on racial lines, and student leaders come from all sections of the community.
As would be expected, in order to deliver the curriculum and results for which the school is known, the facilities are impressive. All classrooms are fitted out to a high standard with the latest interactive and digital facilities, served by high speed broadband and a robust wireless network. Students have their own locker and personal form room. For Years 12 and 13, there is a dedicated study facility and common room space.
Specialist sports facilities include an artificial Astroturf field which is suitable for 5 a-side football and other outdoor activities, and is floodlit for evening bookings. There are also two outdoor courts for basketball, netball, volleyball, and tennis, and a covered multi-sports area ideal for small group activities such as badminton, basketball, trampoline, mini-tennis, and gymnastics. A fully air-conditioned fitness training room is equipped with free weights, cardio, and resistance machines.
The 30m x 20m Sports Hall offers air-conditioning, an audio system, and includes six badminton courts, one netball court, three volleyball courts, two practice basketball courts, a rock climbing wall, and a full-length court that is ideal for multi-purpose activities. The Hall can be split in half by an electronic curtain for multi-activity events. The other main sports facility is the 25m indoor swimming pool, which is heated during the winter months.
Apart from its Sports Facilities, SIS also has 3 different exhibition, conference, and performance options, including the John Wray Auditorium (named after a former Head Teacher), The Space exhibition/performance area, and a fully equipped Theatre/Hall. The school also offers a full range of Drama Studios which are sound proof with professional sound and lighting equipment, Art rooms, Design Technology workshops, a Media Studies room, and Science Laboratories.
The final common facility is the Learning Resource Centre, where two librarians help with enquiries and a team of student librarians assist with LRC programmes. The LRC has its own online resources platform on the school Learning Gateway. Students benefit from the free access of the Library Online Catalogue and a wide range of e-resources anywhere at any time. All Year 7 students have a bi-weekly lesson in the LRC to learn research skills. Workshops and tutorials are provided to different year or subject groups to support the curriculum and individual needs.
Whichschooladvisor.com cannot help but be impressed by what we have learned about SIS. Rarely is a school as open and clear about its objectives, the breadth of areas for which it feels itself accountable, and the strategies it has put in place to ensure that its objectives are met. We are particularly impressed by the very clear and evident focus on the “whole child”, and the extent to which the school has thought through its pastoral care and community engagement programmes.
SIS seems intent on delivering all three elements of its curriculum and that is to be lauded. The school's academic successes suggest that, 40 years on, it is still very good at delivering on its commitments.
Note – In accordance with the ESF Ordinance, membership of the PTA is compulsory and is set at $600 per family. All parents are encouraged to be involved with the PTA and to support its social, educational, and fund raising activities. The PTA arranges school buses, sells both new and second hand uniforms, and organises events aimed at informing parents about educational themes within the school, as well as social and fund-raising events.
South Island School receives a subsidy from the Hong Kong Government to provide an education for English speaking children who cannot access the local system. This subsidy is being withdrawn over a 13 year period that commenced in 2016, and as a result new students joining the school will be required to pay a non-refundable capital levy (NCL) which varies depending on the school year of entry.
Admission and fees
To apply for admission to this school, parents should live in Causeway Bay, Happy Valley including Tai Hang Road, Wong Nai Chung Road, Blue Pool Road, Wan Chai, Stubbs Road, Queen’s Road East, Kennedy Road (east of Hopewell Centre), Jardine’s Lookout, North Point, Shaukeiwan, Chai Wan, Shek O, Stanley, Chung Hom Kok, Repulse Bay, Deepwater Bay, Tai Tam, and Shouson Hill.
The ESF sets standard fees for all its secondary schools, which is HKD 128,400 for Years 7 to 11 and HKD 135,000 for Years 12 to 13. There is also a one-off non-refundable capital levy (NCL) which starts at HKD 26,000 in Year 7 and reduces to HKD 3,800 in Year 13. While ESF schools are not as cheap as they used to be, they still offer a more affordable education when compared to most international schools in Hong Kong.
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