Welcoming many of its students from Kennedy Primary School, this large English Schools Foundation secondary school follows the IB programme. It's perhaps best-known though for its unique one-on-one tutoring model, its sporting achievements and its academic success.
If there’s one thing that’s guaranteed at West Island School (WIS), it’s that your child will get plenty of personal attention. While all schools will claim to develop close relationships with each student, WIS’ biggest strength is its commitment to a unique one-on-one tutoring model. This English Schools Foundation (ESF) secondary school in Hong Kong Island also has a reputation for its inclusive policies, pioneering learning support, and strong academic and sporting records.
As principal Christopher Sammons explains:
“Our focus on knowing learners as individuals and nurturing their unique talents and interests builds a secure foundation for experiencing success from a young age.”
Established in 1991, this International Baccalaureate (IB) secondary school is home to more than 1,200 students aged 11 to 18 years. Sammons joined WIS in August 2016, stepping into the shoes of the very popular Jane Foxcroft, and he seems to have made a very promising start.
An IB education
In line with all ESF secondary schools, WIS is adopting the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme (MYP) for students in Years 7 to 9, and the Year 7 cohort joining WIS in August 2018 will be the first group to follow the MYP. IGCSEs will continue to be taught in Years 10 and 11, and senior students work towards their IBDP in Years 12 and 13. There are also plans to introduce the International Baccalaureate Career-related Programme (IBCP); this alternative to the IBDP is specifically developed for students who want to focus on career-related learning.
Traditionally, the school has followed a unique Middle Year Diploma programme in Years 7 to 11. This was closely aligned to the IB, so we can expect the school’s shift to the MYP to be fairly seamless. Language options at WIS include Chinese, French, and Spanish; and sports covered include swimming, football, netball, hockey, badminton, athletics, trampolining, water polo, volleyball, tag rugby, basketball, cricket, rounders, dance, and ultimate Frisbee.
Most students take nine IGCSEs at the end of Year 11, while some will complete ten or eleven. As well as studying the core subjects and electives in the areas of language, humanities, technology, sport, and the creative arts, all students take a non-examinable course of PE, ICT and learning skills, and the IGCSE in Global Perspectives.
Students in Years 12 and 13 continue their education by choosing to take the IBDP or the bespoke WIS International Diploma, which is based on a BTEC qualification and allows students to focus on two main areas of study. WIS offers specialist Level 3 BTEC qualifications that cover engineering, art & design, business studies, performing arts, sports, and exercise sciences.
One student, one tutor
If you’re concerned about your child getting lost in a traditional classroom environment, then you’ll certainly find WIS’ tutoring model appealing. Each student is assigned to a tutor group of approximately 15 students, which they stay with throughout their time at WIS. As well as spending time with this tutor every morning, students have regular one-to-one sessions with them to discuss their progress, strengths, difficulties and so on. Described by the school as a “mentor”, the tutor develops personalised learning programmes for every student – and gives them individual learning goals, support, and guidance.
The school website explains,
“During the one to one discussions the tutor is not there to provide the solutions, but to act as a mentor. The tutor’s role is to guide students’ own analysis regarding their learning and enable each child to reflect and evaluate on their current progress inside and outside of the classroom.”
An international education
Accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), WIS is a fully inclusive school. In 2009, it opened the doors of its dedicated learning support centre for students with moderate learning difficulties; it also works with gifted and talented students in equal measure.
The school takes its largest intake of students from the ESF Kennedy Primary School, so you’ll find plenty of existing friendship groups amongst children and parents within Year 7. With a mix of more than 40 nationalities – largely Eurasian, Indian, Japanese, Chinese, European, and Australian – WIS is clearly proud of its diversity. International events held throughout the event include the Chinese New Year assembly and the spectacular Diwali Ball.
WIS introduced a 1:1 laptop programme more than 10 years ago and it continues to be a technology-driven school, with recent initiatives including student digital leaders. It is also very committed to the IB Creativity, Activity, and Service (CAS) programme, and a highlight of the school calendar is the annual Horizons Week. Activities range from Year 7 students taking part in an activity-based camp at Treasure Island on Lantau to the Year 8 Create Programme, which offers students the choice of eight experiences ranging from Potty about Pottery to The Amazing Race.
There’s a wealth of student leadership opportunities at WIS, everything from sports team captains, student receptionists, and CAS committee members to community event ambassadors and Student Forum members. Leadership is an integral part of the curriculum, so don’t be surprised to see students helping at parents’ evenings and open days, mentoring students in lower year groups, and hosting termly student surgeries. Senior students are also encouraged to put themselves forward as leaders of the school’s houses, called the Dynasties, which are named Han, Ming, Qing, Song, Tang, and Yuan.
Sporting excellence, artistic streak
WIS has a legacy of sporting achievements, including several wins in the Bauhinia Bowl Awards and alumni such as the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens captain Mark Woodward and Olympic swimmer Geoffrey Cheah. The school fields more than 100 teams in competitions across Hong Kong and overseas, and students are lucky to have access to the facilities at the University of Hong Kong’s Stanley Ho Sports Centre nearby. It also hosts inter-Dynasty sports events like swimming, cross country, athletics, and biathlons, and extra-curricular activities include the Ronaldo Football Academy.
Away from the sports pitch, WIS is well-known for its focus on creative skills. The school’s Circle in the Water programme covers a wide range of theatre and musical productions, dance, music, art, film exhibitions, activities, and performance events within the school and Hong Kong community. Held both during and after school, there are student bands and ensembles, orchestras, choirs, drama clubs, film shorts clubs, and art workshops, to name but a few.
WIS is also one of the few schools in Hong Kong to make it (almost) compulsory for IBDP students to take an arts subject.
In 2019, its cohort of 143 students achieved an average score of 36, which is one point lower than the last year but higher than the global average of 29.78.
• Pass rate: 98%
• No. students scored 40 points and above: 19%
• No. students scored 35 points and above: 56%
• No. students scored 30 points and above: 92%
19 students completed both a BTEC Level 3 National Diploma and a BTEC Level
3 Subsidiary Diploma; there was a 100% pass rate and 65% of students achieved the highest grades of Distinction or above.
Principal Christopher Sammons said: "Regardless of which pathway our students have chosen, they have earned places at a range of excellent universities around the world. We are proud of each individual and these average statistics cannot do justice to the many stories of personal growth."
Designed by architect Patrick Lau, WIS is perched on a clifftop in Pok Fu Lam, overlooking the busy Lamma Channel. Built in 1994, this campus has two sports halls, an indoor swimming pool, auditorium and multi-purpose halls, and four main teaching blocks that are linked by open walkways. There are sea views everywhere you look, and plenty of wide open spaces for students to perform in.
The PTA has very active role at WIS, with responsibilities including school transport, the uniform shop, the WIS Life magazine for parents, and fundraising.
Admission and fees
There’s always a waitlist for WIS and, as with all ESF schools, parents must live within the catchment area. This is Central District, Sheung Wan, Western District, Kennedy Town, Mount Davis, Pok Fu Lam, Aberdeen, Ap Lei Chau, Discovery Bay (shared with Island School) and the outlying islands.
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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