Choosing a Primary School
This is a huge decision and something many parents start thinking about while the child is still in a playgroup. However, there is some caution to be taken with this approach as some schools in Hong Kong open for applications from birth and others 1-2 years in advance, so be mindful of your preferred choices earlier than playgroup and check the application deadlines.
Before you get started, it is useful to think carefully about the things that are important to you as a parent.
These will vary from family to family and might include:
- Atmosphere and ethos: Does the school feel friendly? Are children valued and cared for? Are teachers friendly and willing to engage with you?
- Academic standards: How do students do academically at the school? Do all children make good progress?
- A rich curriculum: Does the school invest time and money in the wider curriculum? How does the school’s Early Years curriculum work? What is music teaching like at the school? How much emphasis does the school give to sport and healthy living? Are drama and the arts taught throughout the school?
- School campus: Does the school have plenty of outside space? Is it well used? What are the classrooms like? What other facilities are available?
- It is very important to visit the school often. Remember, it is not just they who are interviewing you, you also have a choice. We have experienced many parents through the course of the application process change their mind about a school after visiting a few times. Your whole feeling about the facilities, play areas, cafeteria, IT rooms and classrooms, should all be part of piecing that puzzle together. A useful rule of thumb is that if you walk around the school and find yourself thinking “Oh, my daughter will love that” quite often, the school is likely to suit. On the other hand, if you find yourself thinking “That’s great, but I don’t suppose she will get much use out of that”, then it may not be quite so ideal.
- It is good to consider the school’s culture also. The best school sometimes boils down to the school with the best fit in terms of culture and environment for your child. As parents, you know your child’s strengths and abilities best. While some schools may be popular for their academic rigour and academic ranking, you’ll have to make sure your child can cope with the pressure.
- It is necessary to understand the admissions process for your preferred schools. Most international schools in Hong Kong and Singapore, have a limited number of students that they can take, either by their size, by policies on passports, debenture policies, siblings and alumni. Many good schools are over-subscribed, which means they have far more applicants than places. Get yourself familiar with the admissions policies before you pay the application fee. In Hong Kong, application fees are between US$190- US$350 and in Singapore between US$175 -US$500.
- Do the students look happy to be there? Is the playground at breaktime a happy, bustling place and are the classrooms lively and colourful?
- Are teachers keen to meet parents and involve them in school activities? Are administration staff helpful?
- Does the school have a good reputation? Is it known to excel in a particular area?
- Are the buildings and facilities clean and well maintained, and are there resources such as musical instruments, a canteen, computers and a well-stocked library?
- Does the school have specific policies on bullying, canteen food, sun safety, air pollution, and teacher-parent relationships?
- Are school rules clearly outlined and enforced?
- Are there learning support programmes in place?
- How many children are in each class?
- Does the wider school community (parents, teachers, other staff) seem friendly and welcoming? Does the principal interact with the children?
- Are there any extra costs, such as for uniforms, textbooks, stationery and field trips, camps, co-curricular?
Remember that it’s your child who will spend seven years at primary school, not you. If the school has the right mix of factors that you think your child will enjoy then they will most likely have a happy, fulfilling and educational time at primary school.