Hong Kong’s biggest international school group has decided to freeze tuition fees at its 22 schools for a second consecutive year amid the coronavirus pandemic, but at least five private schools have proposed an increase of up to 4.9 per cent for the upcoming academic year.

The English Schools Foundation (ESF), which has more than 18,000 pupils at kindergartens and schools, also said in a letter to parents on Wednesday it was “experiencing more withdrawals than usual” this year while more parents faced financial difficulties.

Even though some parents called for a freeze at fee-paying schools this year, a Post check of 20 private and international schools – which typically charge parents more than HK$100,000 annually – found five were planning a rise for the 2021-22 school year.

The city’s education sector has faced unprecedented challenges over the past year. In-person classes have been suspended for months because of Covid-19, leaving pupils scrambling to adapt to online learning, while many families have also left the city or plan to do so.

Education authorities have yet to decide on a full resumption of face-to-face lessons, with most schools bringing a third or more of their pupils back for half days, despite the mass vaccination programme starting in late February. So far, about 5.4 per cent of the city’s population has received a first dose.

“Both globally and locally, the impact of [Covid-19] on the economy has been massive, with far-reaching consequences for many of our families,” Belinda Greer, the ESF chief executive, told parents on Wednesday when announcing the freeze.

Kindergartens and schools under the school group currently charge pupils between HK$77,000 and HK$175,400 annually, but one ESF school said a fee freeze was the “minimum expectation” some parents had, given that children missed out on months of in-person lessons.

“I would not expect anything else … Freezing is not equal to saving, we are still paying lots of very high school fees,” the father said, adding he hoped the ESF could offer a further refund in addition to the 45 per cent discount on fees for last June and September.

Richard Vanderpyl, head of school at the Christian Alliance International School, said parents had largely supported it raising fees.

Among schools proposing to raise fees in the next academic year are Christian Alliance International School, Hong Kong International School, Hong Kong Academy, Stamford American School, and Independent Schools Foundation (ISF) Academy.

Christian Alliance International School, which currently charges pupils between preparatory class and senior secondary levels from HK$113,400 to HK$180,100, plans to increase fees by about 4.9 per cent. The school said they had consulted parents over the matter, adding that additional operating costs for campus facilities and retaining teachers with competitive salaries were among the reasons for the raise.

“Only three parents raised a concern with me, out of 1,450 students,” Richard Vanderpyl, the head of school, said. “We feel that with only three parents asking some questions, that nearly all our parents saw validity in the rationale for the increase.”

Stamford American School, which is also proposing a fee raise of an average of about 4.9 per cent, said it took “great care and consideration in setting our fees to ensure that we create and maintain a long term sustainable future for our school”.

The school offers education from preschool to secondary levels and would be charging parents from HK$187,400 to HK$226,200 in 2021-22 if the increases were approved.

Hong Kong International School was planning a fee raise of about 1.5 per cent, while Hong Kong Academy said it would seek an increase of less than 2 per cent. ISF Academy, meanwhile, only said it planned a “modest adjustment” in fees.

Four other schools, the Harbour School, American School Hong Kong, Mount Kelly School and Invictus School, plan to freeze fees for the upcoming school year.

The remaining 11 schools have not yet made a decision or did not reply to the Post.

Ruth Benny, founder of education consultancy Top Schools, urged schools proposing a fee increase to reconsider the move.

“We sincerely hope that the few schools suggesting an increase for next year will reconsider – at least for parents who have paid fees during school closures,” she said.

The Education Bureau said it would consider factors including the burden on parents when deciding whether to approve schools’ applications.