British schools offer tailor-made courses after surge in HK pupils

Top News | Erin Chan 9 Apr 2021

British secondary schools are offering Hong Kong students tailor-made support amid an uptick in mid-year applications as British National (Overseas) passport holders immigrate.

Britain opened the pathway enabling BNO holders to get permanent residency in January.

The Mount, Mill Hill International, a coeducational independent day and boarding school based in north London for students aged 13 to 17, received 32 applications from Hongkongers to start in the 2020/21 school year, compared to nine last year.

Another 13 Hongkongers applied to join the school in January, up 5 to 10 percent on Hong Kong applicants in the same period last year, while 22 will start this autumn.

Sarah Bellotti, the head of Mill Hill, said the school has launched tailor-made programs to cope with the mid-year influx of international students.

International students joining Mill Hill in year nine will take a one-year program on the basics of the British school curriculum before the two-year General Certificate of Secondary Education program.

Those joining in year 10 or 11 can enroll in a one or two-year GCSE program, both bridging to a two-year A-Level program.

In response to the pandemic, Bellotti said the school had considered replacing the two-year GCSE program for students starting year 10 this September with a one-year pre-GCSE program and a one-year GCSE program.

The pre-GCSE program covers five core subjects - English, maths, biology, chemistry and physics - in addition to 14 other subjects such as art and design, business studies and computer science.

Via the program, students can also join a game session each week, take part in extracurricular activities and engage in community-action activities.

"The program will enable pupils to embark on a challenging GCSE level curriculum in a broad range of subjects," Bellotti said.

Students with lower English proficiency will be provided with an intensive English course that supports them in taking the GCSE or A-Level program.

"At Mill Hill International, pupils don't just learn English with the English teachers," Bellotti said.

"All teachers are trained and experienced in adapting their subject to the needs of the international learner and place great emphasis in developing language in their lessons, with a particular focus on oracy."

Fifteen-year-old Hong Kong boarder Carina, who is in year 10 and taking English, maths, physical education, geography and computer science, started at Mill Hill while in year nine. "I used to hate geography and science-related subjects in Hong Kong, as they mostly consisted of teachers talking," she said. "But the lessons at Mill Hill have lots of interactions and case studies, which make the subjects more interesting."

The keen table tennis, hockey and netball player also cited the diverse sports among 200 extracurricular activities Mill Hill offered as another aspect of the school that drew her in.

Similarly, Oxford Sixth Form College, catering to students aged 15 to 19, said Hong Kong students made up around 3 percent of all applications for the school year that started in September.

Carly Balmforth, senior regional sales manager of Oxford International Education Group's South East Asia & South Asia, said the school had two brand new programs that could help international students transition to the British education system.

One is a four-term A-Level bridging program starting this month that allows students to spend 12 hours a week in the summer term preparing for the official one-year A-Level program beginning in September.

Another is the Six-month International Foundation Year Business Pathway, which started in January, which prepares students aiming to seek a career in business for relevant university degrees in just six months and is equivalent to a two-year A-Level program.

Tailor-made programs are covered by the school fees.

Day students and boarders at Mill Hill pay tuition fees and accommodation fees of between 8,663 (HK$92,572) and 14,054 (HK$150,180) a term during the 2020/21 cohort.

At Oxford, day students and boarders pay tuition fees of 1,470 (HK$15,709) to 9,250 (HK$98,845) for the 2021/22 cohort.

Samuel Chan Sze-ming, founder of educational consultancy Britannia StudyLink, said his consultancy had seen a rise in queries about British private schools, especially boarding schools, since the announcement of the new BNO visa scheme last year.

"When the announcement came, we thought more parents would choose state schools as their education is free, but the result says otherwise," he said.

"On average, we received around 800 applications for the September start at private schools in each of the previous years, but the figure has exceeded that so far this year - around 30 to 50 percent higher than the previous years."

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