Following is a question by the Hon Sin Chung-kai and a written reply by the Secretary for Education, Mr Eddie Ng Hak-kim, in the Legislative Council today (July 17):
It was published in the press on February 27, 2012 that the following question had been put to the candidates running for the post of Chief Executive (CE), "will you continue to offer financial support for the English Schools Foundation (ESF)?" In reply, the incumbent CE had said, "I support continued subvention to ESF to enable it to fulfil its duty of providing affordable English-language education for non-Chinese speaking children in Hong Kong." In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) given CE's clear commitment above, why the Government now intends to progressively phase out the recurrent subvention for the mainstream primary and secondary schools of ESF starting in the 2016/17 school year;
(b) of the Government's policy on the provision of subsidised school places for the children of English-speaking Hong Kong permanent residents, who have not been admitted to the local mainstream schools which use Chinese as the main medium of instruction; and
(c) of a list of those local schools that have confirmed that they are willing and able to offer places to English speaking students who will no longer be able to afford ESF school fees once the subvention is withdrawn?
Established in 1967 under the English Schools Foundation (ESF) Ordinance (Cap. 1117), the ESF is now directly operating nine primary schools, five secondary schools and one special school. At present, in addition to an annual recurrent subvention, the ESF also receives capital subvention in the form of capital grant or interest-free loan from the Government. Our response to the three parts of the question is as follows:
(a) Report No. 43 of the Director of Audit released in November 2004 pointed out the preferential treatment of the ESF over other similar international schools and recommended that the historical reason for the subvention had to be re-visited in the present day context. With the enactment of the ESF (Amendment) Ordinance 2008, the ESF has established its Board of Governors and various Committees. It has also set in train a series of reform measures to improve its governance and corporate management. This has paved the way for resumption of the discussion on the subvention review since early 2011.
The international school sector has experienced significant changes since the ESF was established in 1967. In addition to the 14 primary and secondary schools operated by the ESF, there are now another 34 international schools in the community providing similar curriculum for very similar student mix. We have been implementing various facilitation measures to support the development of the international school sector, including the allocation of greenfield sites and vacant school premises yet no recurrent subsidy is provided. Hence, the ESF, being the only international school operator receiving government recurrent subvention, flies in the face of our established policy of not providing any recurrent subsidy to schools mainly running non-local curriculum.
The subvention review aims to establish the unique position of the ESF in the entire school system, having taken into account the latest development of the school sector and the arrangements for schools which operate in a like-fashion in terms of governance and oversight mechanism, admission policy, curriculum and student mix etc. While we recognise ESF as an established and valued member of the school system in Hong Kong, ESF is no different from other international school operators in terms of curriculum, student mix and operation. It is difficult to continue providing recurrent subvention to ESF without inviting similar claims for government subvention from other private international schools.
On the argument of continuing recurrent subvention to the ESF to ensure fulfillment of its mission of providing affordable English language education, our research indicates that there are about ten international schools (marked with asterisk at Annex) currently charging tuition fees within the ESF school fees range of $66,100 to $102,000 for its primary and secondary schools though they are not receiving any subvention from the Government. The list will be longer if we factored into account the government recurrent subvention to the ESF (amounting to about $20,940 per primary student and $28,880 per secondary student per year) or ESF's estimated increase in the tuition fee (see the row marked with # at Annex) to fully cover the reduction in subvention. On the other hand, the tuition fees of the ESF after the phased withdrawal of the recurrent subvention and consequential upward adjustment are estimated to be still within the middle stratum of the range of tuition fees charged by international schools.
After intensive negotiations with the ESF over the past year, it is agreed that the existing recurrent subvention provided by the Government be phased out in 16 years. The proposal was accepted and supported by the senior Government echelon. The Board of Directors of the ESF formally accepted the phasing out arrangement at their meeting on June 18.
(b) and (c) The Government is committed to encouraging and supporting early integration of non-Chinese speaking (NCS) students into the community, including facilitating their adaptation to the local education system and mastery of the Chinese Language. We assure equal opportunities in education for all eligible children (including NCS students) in public sector and Direct Subsidy Scheme (DSS) schools. A series of support measures have been put in place since the 2006/07 school year, including the provision of an additional grant to schools and school-based professional support (Note). In the 2012/13 school year, there are over 7 900 and 6 900 NCS primary and secondary students respectively, including English-speaking Hong Kong permanent residents, studying in about 580 public sector and DSS schools. In the 2013/14 school year, we will provide an additional grant ranging from $300,000 to $600,000 to schools admitting 10 or more NCS students. It is estimated that about 100 schools will benefit. School-based professional support services will also be provided to empower schools to support NCS students.
Note: Other support measures include the provision of the "Supplementary Guide to Chinese Language Curriculum for NCS Students" complemented by diversified learning and teaching materials and teacher professional development programmes so that schools admitting NCS students can cater for the diverse needs and aptitudes of their NCS students; provision of after-school support to reinforce what the NCS students have learnt during lessons; organisation of briefing sessions on school admission dedicated for NCS parents as well as provision of relevant information in major ethnic minority languages.
Ends/Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Issued at HKT 14:18