Frequently Asked Questions
Q. How does the UK education system compare to Hong Kong?

A. There are many similarities between the UK and Hong Kong education systems. For a full comparison, visit our UK Schools page.

Q. What are Key Stages?

A. Like in Hong Kong, school years are divided into key stages. These are the Key Stages in the UK:

Q. What are State, Grammar, and Independent schools?

A. State, Grammar, and Independent are the three main types of school in the UK.

State schools:funded by the government and free to attend for UK citizens and now the dependents of Hong Kong BN(O) citizens. Parents may express preference, but students are allocated to their closest state school with availability.
Grammar schools:government funded state schools that select students by means of an entrance examination taken by some students in Year 6, often called the eleven-plus. Grammar schools often have a more academic focus. As with state schools, students must live in the catchment area to be eligible for a place.
Independent schools:private, fee-paying schools governed independently. These schools can set their own curriculum and may have entrance examinations. Independent schools can be day schools (attended during school hours) or boarding schools.
Q. When is the best time to join a UK school? (Key Entry Points)

A. There are definitely points in a child’s school career when it is easier to transition than others. The best time will depend on the individual, your family’s plan, and the school you are applying to.

If you are moving to the UK as a Hong Kong BN(O) citizen and plan to enroll your child in free state-funded education (primary or secondary), then you can do this at any point. Ideally, you should time your arrival with the start of the school year in September and it is inadvisable to transition part-way through GCSEs (Year 10 or Year 11).

If your child is planning to attend an independent day or boarding school, there are key entry points to aim for. Key entry points refer to the school years in which schools open their admission to new students, both local and international. Most independent schools have key entry points at:

Therefore, if your child is turning 7 years old before the start of the academic year 2022/2023, which is on 1st September, you can apply for 7+ entry in 2021 when admission begins. If the age of your child does not match the key entry points at the moment, you need to wait until they are old enough to join the school at the nearest entry point.

Q. When should we start applying to UK boarding schools?

A. Planning is key to a successful boarding school application. If studying at a UK boarding school is something you are considering for your child’s future, start preparing sooner rather than later. This is because there are many aspects to consider:

Many prestigious schools also require students to submit applications two years before their anticipated entry. So ensure you have researched the admission information for your chosen schools.

Visit Our Services page to find out how i-Learner’s OES can assist you throughout the planning, preparation, application, and transition process.

Q. Are UK schools welcoming to overseas students?

A. The UK is a popular destination for Hong Kong students, which can be great if your child isn’t ready to step out of their comfort zone. Hannah Patient is a former student at Colchester Royal Grammar School (CRGS), and her sixth form had ‘thirty boarders in total split across Year 12 and 13, and most of them came from Hong Kong or Macau.’

Choosing schools with large populations of familiar peers can ensure a strong support network in a new country. The school is also able to cater well to the needs and interests of a child-like yours and settle them in with events they’ll enjoy. At CRGS, Hannah says, ‘The school runs lots of trips and social events at the weekend (e.g. to Thorpe Park, London and Cambridge), and boarders have access to all the facilities outside of school hours.’

Schools with smaller international populations give your child an immersion into local life. Ryan Wightman went to Sale Grammar School, which ‘had a few international students, and they quickly became a part of the school team…All students made an active effort to include international students in their groups and to hear their stories; they were treated very well and thrived in the school!’

Over a third of boarding school residents in the UK come from overseas. These numbers vary from school to school, and many places are popular with those from certain countries. Make sure to ask about the student body of schools you’re interested in to find the right fit for your child.

Q. Is boarding school lonely as an overseas student?

A. Schools like Colchester Royal Grammar School, with plenty of week-round boarders, make sure to pack the weekends with fun activities. However, this isn’t the case at all schools. Those with mostly day-students or week-day boarders can be lonely places at weekends. Get statistics on who stays at the school at weekends, and ensure your child isn’t left to fend for themselves for two long days out of every week.

Of course, it isn’t just the other boarders who help create a support network. A strong population of local residents can be fantastic at the right school. At Dwight School London (formerly North London International School), Clare Males got to share her neighborhood with her international peers: ‘About 30% of the students were from London originally and 70% were born elsewhere… Many teachers were also international, which helped them make connections with international students. It was nice to have some Londoners too, who gained a stronger appreciation for their city as they shared it with their classmates.’

Q. How fluent in English should applicants be?

A. Expats in Hong Kong rarely become fluent in Cantonese. At best, they pick up a few essential phrases, and they mainly communicate in their native language with the large populations here from overseas. Learning Cantonese from scratch is very difficult, even in an immersive environment, and the same is true with English.

If your child can’t communicate confidently in English, they’ll seek out Cantonese speakers and stick close to them. To truly benefit from the immersive environment in England, children should boost their English before arrival so that they’re able to make local friends. This doesn’t mean they need to be completely fluent though. Many schools provide support for second-language speakers, and you should make sure this is sufficient for your child’s needs. Ryan Wightman from Sale Grammar School said overseas students there were ‘provided with additional English support if they needed it.’ And at Dwight School London, Clare Males was pleased to see that ‘The school provided ESOL lessons for those with weaker English so they could catch up quickly.’

Q. What is the Eleven-Plus (11+)?

A. The 11+ is the common name for entrance exams sat by Year 6 students in England to gain entry to selective state schools called grammar schools. Many independent schools also set entrance examinations at this age for students wishing to attend.

It is NOT compulsory for all students, only those who would like to attend selective state grammar, or independent schools.

Generally, the 11+ tests students’ proficiency and suitability for their chosen school. The exam often includes the following disciplines: English reading, Maths, Verbal reasoning, Non-verbal reasoning.

The 11+ now varies from school to school and so test papers can be quite different. You should always try and see a past paper from the specific school you are applying to. See Our Services page to find out how i-Learner OES can support your preparation for entrance examinations.

Q. What are SATs?

A. Standard Attainment Tests (SATs) are national compulsory assessments that aim to measure the attainment of primary school students in relation to the National Curriculum. There is no concept of passing or failing SATs, they are used to gain an accurate measure of students’ progress and attainment. Only students at state-funded primary schools are obliged to sit SATs at the end of Key Stage 1 and 2 (Year 2 and Year 6).

Key Stage 1 SATs assess students’ ability in maths and reading and often takes place informally in the classroom. Students often don’t realise they are being examined.
Key Stage 2 SATs are more formal and test students in English (grammar, spelling, punctuation, and reading) and maths.

Q. What are GCSEs?

A. General Certificates of Secondary Education (GCSEs) are the end of Key Stage 4 assessment taken by the majority of students across the UK. GCSEs are similar to HKCEE, which used to be the public examination for F5 students in Hong Kong.

Students study for their GCSEs for 2-3 years and sit final exams in Year 11. Generally speaking, students take GCSEs in around 7-10 different subjects including core subjects of English Language, English Literature, Maths, and Science (Physics, Chemistry, Biology).

Other subjects include:

GSCEs are awarded on a graded scale, from 9 to 1, with 9 being the highest and 1 being the lowest. In order to qualify for A-level programmes at their chosen Sixth Form or College, students must meet the entry requirements e.g. 5 GCSEs at grades 9 to 4.

Q. What are A-levels?

A. General Certificates of Education (GCE), or A-levels as they are commonly known, are the most common subject-based qualification taken by students in England and Wales in Year 13. The A-level programme lasts two years and is a common route to university study.

Most students will study for A-levels in three subjects (up to a maximum of five) over Year 12 and Year 13.

A-levels are not the only qualification students can take in Key Stage 5. The International Baccalaureate is also a popular option, particularly at independent schools.