How to prepare for UK schools when you have just moved from Hong Kong

Moving to another country is a stressful experience. It takes a lot of time and effort to get settled and adapt to a new culture. For many parents, understanding a foreign education system is a complex affair. This is why it is important to do your research on the variety of schools available and prepare beforehand. This post will guide you through your school search and how you can best prepare for your child’s move.


1. Understand the school system

The United Kingdom is the home of one of the world’s most prestigious education systems, renowned for its comprehensive national curriculum and large variety of academic institutions to choose from. Children attend primary school from the ages of 4 to 11 and secondary school from the ages of 11 to 16.

When choosing an ideal secondary school, a major problem that many Hong Kongers face is deciding between state schools and private schools. The largest difference between the two is one is fee paying and the other is not.


Fee paying schools

In the UK, fee-paying schools can come in the form of public schools, independent school and private schools.

The difference between independent schools and private schools are purely operational: independent schools are overseen by a board of governors or trustees, private schools are run by the owners.

In Hong Kong, the terms public schools and state schools are often used interchangeably, as both refer to schools that are subsidised or fully funded by the government. However, in the UK, public school has a different meaning and are known to be the most exclusive private schools in the UK (e.g. Eton College, Harrow School). Entrance into these public schools are highly competitive and may contain boarding options.

The majority of fee-paying schools require children to participate in a competitive entrance exam and interview. Children can join these schools at certain ages but the most common entry points are for children age 7 (7+), age 8 (8+), age 11 (11+), age 13 (13+) and age 16 (16+).


Non- Fee paying schools

On the contrary, government-funded schools are labelled as state schools. These schools provide education free of charge. Children can also attempt to gain a space in academically orientated grammar schools when a child is age 11, also known as the 11 plus exams. Grammar schools are dotted around the country, but are usually over-subscribed thus competing for a place is difficult.

Please note, international students must have a British or European Union passport in order to enrol into a state school.


2. Decide which schools to apply to

Things you might want to consider when seeking a school to apply to include the school’s academic performance, quality of teaching, school curriculum and opportunities they provide for the children.

Apart from school fees, the greatest difference between state and private schools is the facilities and opportunities they provide. As the key objective of most private schools is to train high-achieving students to enter top universities, many private schools have greater resources, offers more subjects for students to choose from and offers a wider-range of extra-curricular activity. Class sizes are also generally smaller in independent schools, so children benefit from more attention and support from teachers.

Statistically speaking, over 60% of current Oxbridge students are from private or independent schools. Considering the estimated figure of children who are privately educated is only 7 per cent, this speaks volumes, and is an indication of the superior education children receive in many independent schools.

Nevertheless, there are some state schools producing excellent academic results and offering a wide range of opportunities for children. According to a study conducted by the University College London, there is “no evidence that management practices in private schools in Britain are more advanced than in state schools”; this suggests an equal potential for strong productivity and efficiency for both state and private schools. These superb state school places are usually given to students based on catchment area (those who are closest to the school will have a higher chance), which means even though children do not need to compete in a test to gain entrance, you will need to face higher house prices to live closer to the school.



3. Prepare your child for the exams

Once you have an idea of the schools you would like your child to attend, it is now time to consider the exams they will need to pass the gain their space in the chosen schools. Entrance exams are generally quite competitive regardless if it is at 7+ or 11+. There are four common subjects which will be tested. These are maths, English, non-verbal reasoning and verbal reasoning. Children are likely to need tuition or guidance to help them understand the different question types and topics they will encounter in the exams.

Preferably, children should start preparing for these exams by age 9 so they have enough time to develop the necessary skills. At 11 Plus London, we offer an initial first free assessment for all students so we can assess their ability and potential before recommending appropriate schools and the tuition needed. We believe each child is an individual, therefore we look at each child holistically and attempt to finetune their strengths and improve their weaknesses with our classes, courses or with one to one tuition.

You can assist your child at home by encouraging them to expand their vocabulary by reading challenging books, ensuring their mental maths skills are top-notch and discussing with them current affairs for their interviews.



We would be happy to assist you with your entrance exam journey. Please feel free to give us a call on 0203 488 1278 or email us at for genuine advice.