Year 8 into Year 9

Year 9 into Year 10

Year 11 into Year 12

Year 8  into year 9

Choosing Courses for Year 9 at Island School

In Year 9 students start to take control of their education in terms of the subjects they choose. There are choices in both Entrance and Elements courses. Students start the process of finding out where their future success and love of learning will lay. In making choices this year, they are preparing for the greater freedom they will have in the years to come. They are starting to answer questions about how to make responsible decisions.

The Mandatory Courses

All students will continue with English and Maths. In both of these areas the programmes lead to IGCSE examinations in English Language, World Literature and Mathematics in Year 11.

Science is also mandatory in Year 9 and covers a range of aspects from Biology, Chemistry and Physics to prepare students for choice in this area the following year.

A new course to the students is Explorations. The content of this is an IGCSE in Global Perspectives, which will be completed in Year 11. Alongside this is the IE Award in Applied ICT, a GCSE Equivalent course. Students will learn key communication skills in ICT that they will use to express their responses to the global issues they are researching. A key element of this course is collaboration, which is learned through working in groups and finding out how to make this successful for all individuals and the group as a whole.

All students in Year 9 will also have compulsory Wellbeing and Physical Education lessons – a continuation from their Years 7 & 8 lessons.

When The Choices Are Made

Final choices for Elements and Entrance courses are made in January of Year 8.

Students will choose one language Entrance course: Chinese, Spanish, French or Japanese.  They then choose six other Entrance courses from a possible nine courses. There are three options in each of the Arts, the Humanities and the Design subjects. In the interest of breadth we recommend two from each area, and certainly at least one.

Students will choose two Elements courses for Year 9 out of a choice of 30. If they do not get what they want this year, then they are all available again in Years 10 and 11. For this reason they are also required to make a second choice if the first choice is not available this year.

Thinking Ahead

At this stage no course choice closes any doors for the future. Obviously students should choose the subjects that fire their interest, and these are likely to include those that they take on in the future. However, none of the courses in Year 10 have any pre-requisite that a particular course is studied in Year 9.

Choosing Courses for Years 10 and 11 at Island School

The Aims

Student are encouraged to a balance of depth, in subjects they choose to study intensively, and breadth, of understanding a wide range of learning areas. During these two years students should discover their strengths and build on them. They should find out what their passions and interests are and find paths to pursue them.

We aim for students to enjoy the experience of school for its own sake and because students perform better in a climate of enjoyment. We also aim to blend the academic curriculum with co-curricular life.

The Mandatory Courses

All students will continue the English and Maths courses that have begun in Year 9. They will follow these through to the end of Year 11, where they can sit IGCSE exams in English Language, World Literature and Mathematics. These vital core skills are important for future education and life in general. They prepare for mandatory courses in the IB Diploma Programme (IBDP) and optional courses in the IB Careers Programme (IBCP).

All students will also continue the Explorations course however they will now be learning in combined classes with the Year 11 students. This will lead to an IGCSE in Global Perspectives and the IE Award, a GCSE equivalent qualification in ICT.

English Language IGCSE is examined at the end of the Year 10 while the other three IGCSEs mentioned are examined at the end of Year 11.  The IE Award is assessed by coursework during the two years.

When students choose their courses

Final choices for Elements and Entrance courses are made in January of Year 9.

Students will choose five Entrance courses leading to a total of nine IGCSEs, and the IE Award, including the core courses. Once chosen, the students will stay with them for two years leading to exams at the end of Year 11.

Students will choose four Elements courses for Year 10 and then a different four for Year 11. Some of these courses are stand alone, and others are linked so that one leads on to another. Yet others are so flexible that students can take them twice building in the skills learned the first time round.

What is the difference between Entrance and Elements?

The first difference is the time frame. Entrance courses are “long and thin”. This means one period a week for the whole year, giving steady growth in understanding. Elements courses are “short and fat”. A single treble period a week for half a year, allowing an intensive burst of concentration in a particular area.

The time difference allows, and requires, a different style of teaching and learning. Elements courses lend themselves to subjects where intensive study or practical sessions are important. They also allow time for students to take their learning out of school to make the most of Hong Kong without interrupting other learning.

Entrance courses are aimed to provide a base for future study in the particular subject areas. Elements courses are more experience-focused, they allow teachers and students to explore their greatest interests, which may be different for different students. In a sense there is no limit on where an Elements course can go.

We believe that the two types of learning in Entrance and Elements complement each other and contribute to a complete education.

The Choices


Entrance courses in languages are offered in Chinese, Japanese, French and Spanish. Each leads to an IGCSE at the end of Year 11. Chinese IGCSE exists at different levels for students with different facility in the language. Chinese exams are at three levels, first language, semi-native or foreign language speakers. None of these are beginner’s courses. Students and parents will choose the language, with guidance, and the school will decide the appropriate class and level. These courses will enable students to take language A or language B courses at IBDP or IBCP.

There are also Elements courses in French and Spanish. These are for beginners in these languages, and would enable students to follow the IB ab initio courses in Year 12.

The Elements course “Independent Language Centre” supports students who are studying their mother tongue in a language that we do not teach. We can help find tutors for these languages, where available, which are at the parents’ cost.

A second language (IB Group 2), other than English is mandatory for the IBDP and optional for the IBCP.

  • Japanese heritage students may also study for first language GCSE in school alongside their foreign language counterparts.
  • Near-native speakers of Japanese, French, Spanish, German and Korean may also opt to study for a First Language IGCSE exam at the ESF Language Centre, after normal school hours.


Global Perspectives iGCSE is mandatory. All other humanities subjects are made by choice and there is a wide range in both Entrance and Elements. It is important that students include humanities courses in their programme for these two years. Studying Humanities help students understand the world in which we live and what it means to be human. Whilst none of the courses are a pre requisite for the IBDP or IBCP, the Entrance courses form a firm base for the subjects to be pursued at a higher level and the Humanities department would therefore encourage students to take one humanities option within the Entrance programme. Students can start any IBDP or IBCP course in Humanities (IB Group 3) without having studied the subject before.

Sciences and Technology

In Entrance science is offered at IGCSE in Biology, Chemistry or Physics. There are also a number of science Elements courses on offer to students.

Science teachers help students choose the best combination of Entrance or Elements courses based on their preference and intended further study. Students wishing to student Biology, Chemistry or Physic at IB should study these studies in the middle school either as a Entrance or Elements course.

There are many Design and Technology courses available in Entrance and Elements, and students who love this area, or want to try it, can pick up a series of courses in Computing, Graphics, Design, Food, Textiles, Engineering, Architecture or Robotics.

The Arts

As in the other areas there are courses available in Entrance and in Elements in a wide variety of artistic domains. Some Elements courses lead naturally to others, where learning skills in one semester can lead to a production, performance or exhibition in the next. Students of this particular mindset can concentrate on their area of passion by picking up several courses. Others, who are not so certain, can try different areas to see whether there are things they would like to pursue.

The best package of courses

We strongly advise that some Arts, Design and Science is included in all students’ packages. They are a vital part of education and indeed human culture as a whole. In the interests of the breadth of education and the full range of ways of thinking, students should keep some level of all of these strands alongside the Language, Literature, Mathematics and Humanities that are in the core.

Beyond that students should look for a balance of academic challenge and pursuing stretching their comfort zone, and the opportunity is there to go into real depth in areas of interest and passion.

Choosing Courses for Years 12 and 13 at Island School
Click here to view the 2021 Options Presentation to Students
Click here to read the IBDP and IBCP FAQs  

What are the broad aims for all students in these two years?

We aim for students to have a balance of depth, in subjects they choose to study intensively, and breadth, of understanding a wide range of learning areas. During these two years students should discover their strengths and build on them. They should find out what their passions and interests are and find paths to pursue them. They should be able to take some subjects through to a significant level of understanding. They should be able to try a wide range of different areas of study. By the end of the middle school, students should be well placed to make informed choices for the next phase of their education based on their strengths, skills, interests, passions and learning styles. We aim for students to enjoy the experience of school for its own sake and because students perform better in a climate of enjoyment.

How and when are choices made?

Final choices for Year 11 are made in January of Year 11. There is a careers-based pastoral programme in Years 10 and 11 that includes Naviance self-assessments carried out in conjunction with the Higher Education Department, which helps to guide and support students.  In the winter term of Year 11 there is a dedicated Options Afternoon for students and parents.  As well as providing an overview of the Options process, there is a chance to speak to subject teachers about individual subject choices.

Preliminary Round options are made in December of Year 11 and are the basis of further consultation with the student, parents, tutors, HE counsellors and subject teachers. Each student will have an individual appointment with the Higher Education department as well as a Tutor for Learning session before the Final Round of options take place.

Please note:  Preliminary round options are not final.  They do inform timetabling and staffing therefore a lack of interest in a certain course could lead to it not running.  Any change requests made after the final round in January will be subject to availability.

What is the difference between the IB Diploma and the IB Careers Programme?

Students following the IB Diploma must choose 6 subjects.  Those following the IB Careers Programme  chose the equivalent of three BTEC qualifications as well as one or two IB subjects.   It is possible to study different combinations of BTEC and IB subjects but these will need to be discussed on an individual basis.

Both the IB Diploma and the IB Careers Programme have a compulsory core element to them.  The IB students complete an Extended Essay, study the Theory of Knowledge and complete CAS commitments (Creativity, Activity, Service).  IB Careers Programme students complete an Extended Project, Work Experience as well as the same CAS as all other Year 12 and 13 students.

The IB Diploma and the IB Careers Programme both have clear routes into Higher Education.  The key is choosing the pathway that is most appropriate for the individual student.  It is important to research carefully during the Options process to ensure students have full knowledge of the options available to them.

How will the choices made impact upon the future choices at Higher Education?

The IB Diploma has gained extensive recognition and respect from leading universities across the world.  The BTEC courses on the ALP are also widely recognized and accepted across the world.  If you follow our pages on the IB Diploma and IB Careers Programme as well as the Higher Education website you will find detailed information on where IB and IB Careers Programme students are progressing.

Different universities in different countries will have a range of requirements in terms.  For IB Careers Programme students BTEC subjects are a UK based qualification so naturally routes into UK universities are more established.  We are however finding students increasingly progressing from the ALP to universities in a range of different countries.  Some of the highest performing universities may also be unwilling to offer students taking BTEC courses.  It is however worth noting that those universities are also likely to only offer places to IB students with significantly high predicted grades.

In terms of IB subject choices there may well be certain requirements to access specific courses at certain universities.  For example, typically to study medicine students should be taking two sciences at IB and at least one of them at Higher Level.  The Island School Higher Education department will provide further advice and information on this area.

Curriculum choices for languages other than English

  • In Year 12-13 students must study a foreign language as part of their IB Diploma or may do so as an optional IB Certificate if they are following the IB Careers Programme. The following courses are offered:
  • Chinese Language A Literature and Language Higher/Standard level (for native speakers, leading to the award of a Bilingual IB Diploma, which may be advantageous for entry into further studies or employment in Hong Kong and China)
  • Chinese Language B (foreign language) Higher/Standard Level
  • French/Spanish/Japanese Language B (foreign language) Higher/Standard Level and Ab Initio (for beginner/near-beginners)
  • School-Supported Self-Taught Language is offered as part of the IB Diploma.  This is run by the EAL department in conjunction with the ESF Languages Centre and private tutors. All Literature A standard level languages can be catered for with advance notice. These courses will lead to the award of a Bilingual IB Diploma, which may be advantageous for entry into further studies or employment in the country.

It is a requirement for all students entering the IB Diploma in Year 12 to have achieved five GCSEs at grade C / level 5 or above. Equivalent qualifications will be considered for students joining Island School in Year 12.