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Pros and cons of all-through schools vs standalone schools in Hong Kong

By Renaissance College Hong Kong Sponsored | 17 September 2020

Header image courtesy of Ben White (via Unsplash)

Schooling in Hong Kong is a huge deal. In metropolitan and highly competitive Asian societies such as Hong Kong, children are generally under immense pressure to perform well. It sure gets tough trying to stand out within so many overachieving peers! This then means that every year, parents tear their hair out to find the best schools available for their children, ones which can provide their little ones with leading educational upbringing and bring out the best in their characters.

It’s all too easy to get sucked deep into the overwhelming vortex of schooling research, so we’re here to simplify things for you! One of the main decisions that a parent makes for their child is whether to send them to an all-through school or a standalone school. We spoke to the educational experts at Renaissance College Hong Kong to weigh up the pros and cons of these two systems.

What is an all-through and a standalone school?

Simply put, all-through schools are primary and secondary schools combined into one. They offer schooling from Year 1 through to Year 13, and their students go through a continuous schooling experience from the beginning of their schooling age all the way up to university.

In contrast, standalone schools have separate primary and secondary schools. These may be affiliated, but not linked in the sense that students can go straight through the years across schools, without sitting for entrance exams.

Why should parents choose an all-through school over a standalone school?

As every parent will know, most children are incredibly sensitive to their surroundings, even if this manifests in subtle ways. The transition from a junior to a senior school after spending six of their formative years in the same place can prove to be very jarring. Suddenly having to adapt to unfamiliar settings, people, and routines can unsettle a child. Unfortunately, this most often also means a dip in productivity, performance, and enthusiasm, right at the beginning of Year 7, when students typically have to gear up for secondary education.

For this reason, there are education specialists who advocate for lessening, or doing away with, this transition as much as possible. Sure, you can always argue that children are tough, that they will adapt sooner or later—and they will eventually—but if there’s a way to smoothen this process, then all the better!

Another factor that all-through schools weigh heavily on is the familiarity that the school establishes with the student. It’s not just a matter of the child being used to familiar surroundings, it’s also a case of the school growing with its students, understanding individual needs on a deeper level, and being able to pass on this information to other staff as the student progresses through the years. This level of pastoral care comes in particularly useful for students with special educational needs; their individual concerns, requirements, and progress are passed straight up the ladder even as they move from primary to secondary level.

Thinking ahead, choosing an all-through school may well grant your child exposure to specialist training, too. Due to the nature of their teaching, most faculty staff at senior or secondary schools are subject specialists, while those who teach in junior schools are mainly primary specialists, educating across a broad range of subjects to primary-age children. The only classes taught by subject specialists at a primary level might only be PE and music.

With standalone schools, students will meet these two teaching styles in separate sections of their educational journey. In all-through schools however, junior school students will likely also have access to the subject specialists, which means they can experience the best of both teaching styles earlier on.

The real reason parents choose all-through schools?

It’s not an understatement to say that the key phrase here is: less hassle. Getting your child into an all-through school at a junior level all but guarantees them a place at the senior level as well. The huge benefit of this is that the student does not need to sit for the Pre-Secondary One Hong Kong Attainment Test, the 11-plus exams, or senior entrance exams.

These exams are an annual source of anxiety for thousands of students and their fretful parents. The Secondary School Places Allocation System is undoubtedly a major headache that possibly no one—apart from Hong Kong’s multitude of academic tutors—benefits from. Placing your child into an all-through school means as a parent, you don’t have to worry about having to whip them into shape or having to make them stand out academically enough to gain entrance into a good secondary school. You also wouldn’t have to worry about—horror!—possibly even being relegated to the central allocation system and being assigned to an institution that you don’t like.

In an all-through school, the student is able to progress naturally through the years, bypassing these major hurdles.

What about the benefits of a standalone school over an all-through school?

Typically, each student goes through five major stages of education: nursery, pre-school or prep, primary, secondary, then university or tertiary education. Each of these key stages offer different specialisms, so it is entirely possible for parents who want to specialise their child’s education to fine tune their choices through each of these stages, enrolling them into institutions that are catered to what their child wishes to excel in. This is the main benefit of choosing the standalone system.

Who knows how a child will develop when they’re at primary age? They may already display inclinations towards certain subjects, but it’s often too soon to tell which area they would excel or have a keen life-long interest in. By choosing different schools for each of the key stages, parents can have a firm grip on their child’s educational growth and ensure the journey is personalised to their child’s needs. This is something that an all-through school may not necessarily be able to provide, because there is little incentive for students to move to a different school at the Year 7 mark.

Of course, this is definitely not for the faint-hearted parent! If you are reeling from the thought of all the in-depth research, preparation, applications, and interview processes you will possibly have to go through five times for each child, then a well-rounded standalone school is likely to be the better choice for you.

Choosing an all-through school

In Hong Kong, there are 16 local schools that offer an all-through system, referred to as “through-train” schools. Within the English-led ESF schools, there are only three which are all-through. When selecting an all-through school, it’s important to select one which is dynamic and benefits from strong support from parents, staff, and possibly the local community.

Established in 2006, Renaissance College Hong Kong is an English medium international school that is part of the ESF family. This young and vibrant school is an accredited member of the International Baccalaureate (IB), and offers four authorised IB programmes, namely the Primary Year Programme (PYP), Middle Years Programme (MYP), IB Diploma Programme (DP), and International Baccalaureate Career-related Programme (IBCP).

Home to 2,080 students, RCHK runs programmes from Years 1 to 13 on their world-class campus, led by an experienced international faculty. The diverse study body comprises of 40 nationalities with 20 languages represented altogether. English is the main medium of instruction used, while Mandarin Chinese is taught at every level.

Scholarships are also offered at RCHK to high-achieving students at the secondary level, for sectors including academic, music, visual arts, drama, and sports. Financial aid is also available for students and families in need.

With a focus on developing the creativity and individual talents of each student that goes through its doors, RCHK takes a hands-on approach to learning, combining traditional in-classroom learning with real-world experiences. Aside from academic achievements, RCHK wants their students to be truly happy, and also offer a learning and wellbeing series specifically for parents, so they can better support their children on their educational journey.

Get in touch with Renaissance College Hong Kong now, and find out what this excellent all-through school can do for your child’s academic development and well-being!

Renaissance College Hong Kong

Renaissance College Hong Kong was established in 2006 by the English Schools Foundation to serve the needs of the local and expatriate communities in Hong Kong. They are an English medium international school, and an accredited member of the International Baccalaureate (IB), where students are educated by experienced international staff from Year 1 to Year 13 on a world-class campus.

5 Hang Ming Street, Ma On Shan

(+852) 3556 3556