Sponsored Content: For many parents in Hong Kong, the idea of sending their child to boarding school is a contentious one. Even if they appreciate the benefits a boarding education can offer, the thought of their son or daughter being overseas, far away from the family unit for months at a time, is simply too daunting.
The good news is that there is a solution. Opened in 2012, Harrow International School Hong Kong, located near the city’s Gold Coast, offers two education models: day school and weekly boarding (from Year 6 upwards). It’s the only school in Hong Kong to do so, and the set-up is proving extremely popular with parents and pupils alike.
An International Education
Housed in an impressive crescent-shaped building, with all the facilities you would expect from a world-class boarding facility, Harrow Hong Kong is part of the wider Harrow family of schools, which was originally founded in the UK in 1572. As such, the school is able to draw on a rich history and many years of experience in helping boarders flourish both academically and personally.
“Harrow is a genuine international school,” explains Principal Deputy Head (Pastoral) Mr Barney Durrant. “Very often in UK boarding schools, you find that pupils form a clique with those from their own country. Harrow is different. Because we opened just seven years ago, we have been able to bring all the things we love about British public schools and integrate them into our international community.”
A Progressive Approach
So, how does Harrow’s model work, and why is it a better solution for many children than full boarding? “Weekly boarding offers the best of both worlds,” explains Mr Durrant. “You can absolutely throw yourself into a full five days at school then go home at the weekend to recharge, see your family and build those relationships. Pupils head home on a Friday after school then come back on Sunday evening, refreshed and ready to begin the week ahead.”
According to Dr Reena Gogna, the school’s in-house psychologist, the balance the approach offers is a great way of nurturing wellbeing and positive mental health. “Boarding at Harrow gives pupils a sense of belonging,” she explains. “It teaches them how to build positive connections with people and provides a feeling of security while allowing them to maintain a strong bond with their parents.
“So many children in Hong Kong live a hectic lifestyle. Weekly boarding provides stability. Harrow pupils enjoy all the benefits a boarding education offers, as they develop key skills such as independence, responsibility, emotional intelligence, confidence and grit. It’s not just about the academic curriculum – our boarders develop real life skills for the 21 st century.”
“As adults, we might assume that everyone knows how to make a bed or wash up,” adds Mr Durrant. “We take that for granted – they’re simple things, but in reality, many young adults going away to university have never had to do them, particularly when they’ve grown up here in Hong Kong, where most families have a domestic helper. A boarding environment helps to promote self-sufficiency and self-care.”
Speak to the pupils themselves, and the feeling, particularly among the boarders, is that they are very much part of a community. Mr Durrant shares that the school’s vertical house system plays an important part in that, with key staff, such as house masters and mistresses, ensuring that pupils always have someone to turn to if they need support or guidance.
“We genuinely care about and take an interest in each and every pupil, both from an academic point of view and in terms of pastoral development,” he says. “The interaction between the younger and older age groups within the houses is quite special, too. The older pupils develop important leadership skills as they support their younger friends, and the younger children benefit from mentoring. It’s all about living up to the school’s ethos and motto; it’s about making a positive difference for other people and genuinely helping others.”
Of course, what really sets the Harrow community apart from other boarding schools is the involvement of parents. The simple logistics of being based in the same country as their child makes a huge difference when it comes to peace of mind and means they can be there for those all-important sports games and concerts.
“Traditional UK boarding schools often kept phones away from children for the first three weeks to try and stop them from being homesick,” says Mr Durrant. “We feel that approach is outdated. To us, keeping communication lines open is really important.”
“We make sure that we’re flexible,” adds Dr Gogna. “Parents are an integral part of the Harrow family – they’re very involved. Of course, in today’s world of tech, it’s easy for our pupils to stay in touch with home. And if they need a little extra support at any time, we can facilitate that – whether it’s mum and dad coming to school mid-week for a catch-up dinner or even working with family therapists. Our wellbeing curriculum and pastoral care system are core to the Harrow way.”
A Cost-Effective Solution
Another boon for parents comes in the form of financials – the saving on daily transport fees alone makes a huge difference to the overall cost when compared to other options both here in Hong Kong and abroad. And because everyone is in the same country, you don’t have the added cost of flying back and forth to see one another. It’s a win-win.
An All-Round Education
So, what do the pupils get up to during the week outside of school hours? For one, they keep on top of their homework. Being based in the school environment provides them with the systems and structure required to fully support their ongoing learning, with no outside tuition (or nagging from parents) required.
Then there are the extracurricular activities (ECAs). While academic achievement is obviously high on the priority list – and the school’s outstanding results speak for themselves – Harrow goes beyond that. By boarding, pupils have access to a wide array of additional activities in areas such as sports, performing arts, STEAM, enterprise initiatives and community involvement. And because the pupils aren’t spending time commuting to and from school each day, they have more time to get involved and try things out.
“Our ECA programme is a core part of the Harrow education,” says Dr Gogna. “Top universities aren’t just looking for straight As anymore. They’re looking for strength of character and experiences.”
“We focus on the whole child,” adds Mr Durrant, “It’s not just about doing lots of activities. Our ECAs feed into the school’s overall vision of making a better world – it’s about supporting each other and giving back to the local community.”
A Child-Centred Approach
Ask Dr Gogna what advice she would give to parents in the process of deciding on a school for their child, and she replies that all too often, the child is left out of the process. “Remember that every child is different,” she says. “Parents will often be led by other parents, but don’t assume that what’s right for one child will be right for another. Put your child centre, and make them part of the decision – children need to feel involved. We shouldn’t make assumptions on their behalf.”
Mr Durrant agrees. “Very often, it’s the parents who hold back, while the pupils are begging them to board. It can be difficult to let go at first, but the longer a child spends in the boarding environment, the more the parents come to appreciate the benefits.
“Weekly boarding really does offer the best of both worlds. Parents can go to work and stay late without worrying about getting back in time to see their child before bedtime. The child gets more sleep, because they’re not staying up to see mum and dad. Everyone benefits. And you can enjoy quality family time together every weekend.”
What the Pupils Say
“Boarding allows me to spend more time with my friends at school. We respect each other and make sure nobody is feeling left out. It’s also great to have roommates because if you are stuck on your prep, you can ask them for help. Of course you can ask the teachers too. I really enjoy that the school provides with extra activities to keep us entertained and to be more productive. There are a lot of advantages in being a boarder. [It] allows you to be more sociable and can build your confidence.”
– Lyra Lau, Year 7 boarder
“Now that I am in Sixth Form, I have my own ensuite room which allows me to work harder without distractions, which is crucial to Sixth Form. Being a border, I am so much closer to school so that when I finish an after-school activity, I don’t need to worry about arranging travels back home or wasting time on the road. Being a border maximises my time efficiency and therefore I can get an extra hour of sleep! Teachers are always around to help you with topics you don’t understand. The guidance is really useful.”
– Stephen Liu, Year 13 boarder
“My favourite things about boarding is how everything is so easy and convenient and how you can always participate in fun activities, such as doing sports, music and art. There is such a wide variety of things to do. I play football, tennis and I also run for school. You’re never lonely and there’s always someone to talk to. My housemistress and all the house tutors are always supportive.”
– Alexandra Joseph-Hui, Year 8 boarder
What the Parents Say
“My older son started at Harrow Hong Kong in Year 1 when it opened in 2012. When he reached Year 6, the weekly boarding option was a no-brainer for us. We live in Midlevels, and the longer school day and daily homework means that weekly boarding ticks all the boxes for us. He is now in Year 8 and is still boarding. He absolutely loves it; he enjoys all the evening activities and being with his friends. He has never once complained about going back to school at the end of the weekend.”
– Parent of Year 8 boarder
“You can’t beat the balance. My son is on the football pitch at 6am, doing something like 20 hours of sport in a week whilst getting all the academic support he needs. He calls every night, and I also make it to some of the weekday fixtures. I can’t wait to see him every Friday evening, and I also can’t wait to drop him off again on Sunday! He is thriving, and it was the best decision not to send him away to board.”
– Parent of Year 8 boarder
Find out more about boarding at Harrow Hong Kong. A dedicated ‘Boarding Open Evening‘ will be held on Wednesday 4 December 2019, starting at 6pm. You will have the opportunity to speak to current boarders and alumni, meet the House Masters and House Mistresses and learn about what pastoral care really means at Harrow Hong Kong.