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Baby blues: is it fair to take school enrolment applications from birth?

Updated: Apr 21, 2021

Getting into the ‘best’ school in Hong Kong is an inexact science. Sometimes it feels like the only way through the hallowed gates is via a family connection, a near-perfect test score, or forking out millions for debentures. Whichever way, it’s almost always a case of parent pays.

Unfortunately, simply having the means to afford the fees is not usually enough to guarantee entry into the city’s top private schools, and families have gotten used to the idea of having to compete for a finite number of places. However, the tide has started to turn, and hopefully the command that admissions offices hold will wane as new schools open and parents gain more power.

Until recently, the market demand has enabled many schools to accept applications from birth. But most parents agree that this practice achieves little other than taking advantage of parents’ often exaggerated concerns.

Until recently, the market demand has enabled many schools to accept applications from birth. But most parents agree that this practice achieves little other than taking advantage of parents’ often exaggerated concerns.

Raising this issue on various forums such as the “Hong Kong Schools” Facebook page  elicited dozens of heartfelt responses within minutes. Every parent agreed that the outdated practice only serves to fuel their anxieties rather than ease them.

Winney, a first time mother from Hong Kong, learned that she should apply to one of her shortlisted schools – Kiangsu Chekiang International Section– from birth on the same Facebook group. "As a first time mum, I felt under such pressure to read up on application procedures. I applied when my child was 18 months old and was told I might not make the cut for the interview invitation,” she said.

Sammy, another mum, called the whole process “distressing.” While Lisa Browning said, "It creates a sense of superiority. I know some of the schools are good, but are they that good?!”

For many schools, accepting applications from birth is an opportunity to attract potential families early on, not to mention gain an important source of revenue. Yet many schools that accept applications from birth, including Kellett School and Canadian International School, do not guarantee entry to those applying early, nor ensure priority access above those who apply later.

Fleur Murdoch, Marketing and Communications Assistant Manager at French International School, where enrolments are accepted from birth for HK$2,800, is an advocate for the administrative benefits of the system. “The International Stream at FIS accepts applications from birth and parents can submit an application specifying any year group or entry year in advance. This allows parents to plan ahead and have flexibility in their schooling options without worrying about application deadlines.”

Many parents believe that, if they are enrolling their student at birth, then the student will be granted some kind of priority or placed higher up the waitlist. However, this is rarely the case. Waitlists have largely been replaced by wait pools nowadays, and so the system appears to only work in favour of the schools, which make final enrolment decisions based on family background, interviews and discretion.

At French International School, the from-birth sequence organises the admissions process and determines a candidate’s position on the waiting list. “However, it is not a factor for selecting students or influencing admissions decisions,” said Fleur Murdoch. “All children are assessed prior to entry, and candidates will be invited to attend an assessment in the order they are on the waiting list. The candidate at the top of the list will be given an entrance assessment when a space becomes available.”

The obvious question is why schools such as Canadian International School, Kellett School, German Swiss International School, French International School, and a few others, don’t just acc

ept applications one or two years prior to entry and give up on the applications from birth altogether? The answer is simply that they do both.

“We [FIS] accept applications throughout the year and operate a rolling admissions system,” said Fleur Murdoch. And this is true for most schools.

The notion of accepting applications from birth for international schools is also inherently flawed due to the fact that they are keen on attracting children who aren’t born in Hong Kong. And, on the flip side, children born in Hong Kong to transient expats have often moved on by the time their child is of age.

Why make early parenthood more complicated than it already is? It’s time to stop this practice and ease the burden on families in the stressful (though blissful!) baby years. Let there be at least a couple of oblivious years before school application anxieties set in.

Originally published January 13, 2017 in the (defunct) Education Post.


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