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SNN Presents: SEN Secondary Schooling - what are the options?

Navigating the secondary school landscape can be particularly daunting in Hong Kong for parents of children with special educational needs (SEN). Selecting the best school for your child – or even finding a place at a school – can be a challenge. To help our members understand more, SNNHK was delighted to host a line-up of expert speakers on Tuesday 25 October 2022 via Zoom. The event was well attended and we received many questions in the chatroom.

Our first speaker was Trisha Tran, a fellow parent and advocate, and Co-founder of HopeShare. Trisha has a deep understanding of the journey SEN parents are on and she presented a comprehensive overview of the secondary school landscape for children with special educational needs. She talked about the transition from primary to secondary, and how to help your child cope with the new environment, new friends, new teachers and different ways of teaching.

There are several considerations for selecting a school to suit your child. These include the values and community aspects of the school, how the school will help them transition to adulthood, and the levels of support the school provides. Your child is physically becoming an adult but is perhaps intellectually some years behind. How does the school equip them with the skills to cope with these changes? These are factors which need to be taken into consideration, as well as their career aspirations.

Trisha also described her inspirational journey to setting up the Plus One Centre at ICHK. This led into an in-depth overview of the Plus One Centre by Kathryn Lung, Head of Learning Support at ICHK. ICHK is a unique school that integrates outdoor learning into its teaching, taking advantage of a stunning location in the New Territories. Learning support at ICHK falls under three different categories of Differentiation, Accommodation and Modification, throughout the primary and secondary schools. ICHK Mainstream school offers a variety of learning support packages depending on the needs of the child, from Package A which is “light support” 5 sessions in class and a biweekly email home, to Package D which is 22 sessions and full-time support.

The Plus One Centre is an integrated centre for secondary students that takes a responsible inclusion approach, making sure that the environment is the best for the child. The maximum capacity is 12 full-time students staffed by three teachers and two learning support students, with crossover support from teachers from other departments. They take a “best fit” approach for students and their main aim is to promote independence, maintain focus and attention, incorporate multiple skills such as gross motor and fine motor, and encourage deeper interests and research. Students spend a lot of time outdoors learning about social skills, road safety and questioning, while in the school they learn cooking and life skills, knowledge of the world and cultural awareness.

When children reach Year 10-13, in addition to GCSE and BTECH exams, the Plus One Centre offers a variety of ASDAN courses (ASDAN is an educational charity providing accredited courses and programmes to young adults with special needs).

With affordability of international schools becoming an issue for an increasing number of families, our members often ask about the Hong Kong public school system and what resources are available for non-Chinese speakers. To answer these questions, our next speaker was Franky Poon, Principal at HKRSS Tai Po Secondary School, who presented an overview of Hong Kong’s public secondary school landscape for SEN children, with a particular focus on non-Chinese speakers.

Franky explained that the key questions parents need to consider are the intention to learn in Chinese, and the level of support needed. If the child has an ability and an intention to learn in Chinese and his or her support level is low, the mainstream system is a good option. For those who require high levels of support and cannot learn in Chinese, the special school system is a good option. It is particularly suitable for non-verbal students. The Education Board (EDB) has been quite diligent in producing a guide to the Chinese language curriculum for non-Chinese speakers and the schools receive financial support from the Government for taking in non-Chinese students.

Local mainstream schools have a certain level of additional support, such as a SENCO teacher and two additional support teachers, two social workers, speech therapists and educational psychologists. For children with additional needs and disabilities they can be admitted to special schools and these have a much higher level of support, for example in one school with 70 students they have 22 teachers, as well as speech therapists, physiotherapists, OT, social workers, nurses and technicians.

If your child only speaks English and requires relatively low levels of support, they can still be admitted to an English Medium of Instruction (EMI) local school. But there are larger numbers of children trying to apply for these schools and the environment is very competitive amongst local families and elite students. Franky also talked about his experience enhancing diversity in his own school and his experience managing the Jockey Club Diversity programme. All students there take the HK Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE) but the school spends a significant amount of time helping students find their interests and life skills. We appreciated Franky’s transparency in acknowledging that in many local schools it can be very difficult for children who don’t speak Chinese, even if accommodation is given.

To conclude the evening’s discussion, we heard from Nicki Ward, Senior Manager of Strategy and Planning at English Schools Foundation (ESF) and Dr Gail Wright, Head of Individual Needs at West Island School. Nicki explained that ESF’s vision is for every student to “be the best they can be” and the schools enable this through a personalised approach to learning.

ESF offers three broad categories of learning support, known as “Levels of Adjustment”. It offers 124 places with learning support across all of its secondary schools. Levels 1 and 2 are for mainstream students who require some support, such as modified tasks or in-class additional effort. Levels 3 and 4 are for students who require daily levels of learning support, and the Jockey Club Sarah Roe school is the highest level of support for Levels 5 and 6; it offers 70 places for students across primary and secondary who require a high level of continuous support and individualised specialist resources. This school offers a specialised curriculum.

What does a typical day look like for a student in Levels 1-4? Dr Gail Wright explained the various pathways and topics that children can learn, including an in-depth review of the variety of curriculum choices and qualifications offered to students. In Years 12 and 13, students are offered vocational training opportunities and real-life work experience in a vocational environment.

The Q&A session following the panel session was lively, with questions about the local system – is there any website or resource that parents can go to? Franky explained there is not, but often the best option is to go along and visit the school of your choice. Interest in the Plus One Centre was high but the limitation of only 12 places is a constraint – are there any plans to expand the programme outside ICHK? Kathryn replied that she would be happy to talk to other schools about how to integrate the Plus One system elsewhere. If parents have any further questions they are welcome to contact SNNHK at and we will forward your questions to our panelists.

Speakers’ slides can be accessed from the SNNHK website Members Resources page, here: Resources (Members Only) | snnhk