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LCQ8: demand and supply of public sector school places

     Following is a question by the Hon Cyd Ho Sau-lan and a written reply by the Secretary for Education, Mr Michael Suen, in the Legislative Council today (March 17):


     Primary and secondary schools have ceased operation one after another in recent years as a result of the dwindling student population.  Yet, the annual number of births in Hong Kong has been on the upward trend since 2004.  There have been comments that different population growth rates and uneven distribution of the student population in various districts have led to a mismatch of student places in certain districts, while the education needs in various districts also vary with the changes in population distribution.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) how the authorities assess the birth rates in the coming 10 years and their impact on the demand for primary and secondary school places (including the respective annual intake of school-aged primary one and secondary one students, as well as the respective numbers of primary and secondary schools in various districts which have to cease operation or be built in response to changes in student numbers), so as to make proper arrangement for education resources;

(b) whether the authorities will review the existing method of applying for admission to primary and secondary schools on the basis of school net, as well as plan afresh and reallocate the education resources for different districts so as to cater for the education needs in various districts which have changed because of changes in population distribution; and

(c) given that the authorities are exploring the feasibility of facilitating schools to collaborate with one another or with post-secondary institutions/ professional bodies, etc. in operating special featured programmes to develop studentsˇ¦ abilities in different areas of special expertise, with a view to alleviating the pressure of schools having to cease operation due to the decline in student numbers, of the details of the plan concerned and the resources involved; how the authorities will provide teacher training to cater for the need to operate special featured programmes and ensure the quality of education?



(a) The territory-wide population projections and the projections of population distribution by district updated regularly by the Census and Statistics Department and the interdepartmental Working Group on Population Distribution Projections respectively form a common basis for government planning in various programme areas, such as housing, education, social services and health services.

     As far as long-term planning in education is concerned, the Education Bureau (EDB) will make reference to the school-age population projections, which are compiled based on the former two sets of population projections, and take into account the actual numbers of students at various levels at present and the latest demographic changes, including the number of newly-arrived children from the Mainland, in estimating the future demand for school places and relevant resources.

     For the primary level, the school-age population aged six (considered appropriate for primary one) for the coming 10 school years from the 2010/11 to 2019/20 school years is projected to increase gradually by about 14,000 (an increase of 27%) from 51,800 to 65,800.  As regards the secondary level, following the earlier wave of decline in primary school-age population, the school-age population aged 12 (considered appropriate for secondary one) is projected to decrease gradually from 69,500 in the 2010/11 school year.  The population is projected to rebound from the 2017/18 school year onwards to reach 72,200 by the 2019/20 school year, representing an increase of 2,700 (an increase of 4%).

     Since the population projections refer to the projected number of children in the respective age groups, irrespective of whether they are enrolled in schools or not, the figures provided above should not be taken as the projected number of students.  Besides, in view that students under or over the above-mentioned respective age groups can enroll in primary/ secondary schools, the actual number of students could be different from the projected school-age population.  

     Besides, the population projections have taken into account a number of factors and assumptions.  Amongst those assumptions, of particular relevance are those related to the newly-arrived children from the Mainland and babies born in Hong Kong to Mainland women.  This is because the actual numbers of such children/ babies who would arrive or settle in Hong Kong are difficult to predict accurately.  Any deviations of the assumptions from the actual situation may render the projected figures different from the actual figures.  Furthermore, the district population projections would be affected by changes in housing development plans and thus may be different from the actual figures in individual districts.

     Given the volatility of the long-term school-age population projections and the substantial public expenditure involved in school building, we will, in addition to making reference to the school-age population projections, consider other factors, such as the actual enrolment situation, etc. in the formulation of the School Building Programme.  We will also review and revise the Programme, in the light of the prevailing policies and circumstances, so as to avoid as far as possible any mismatch in the demand and supply of public sector school places.

     Public sector secondary school places are planned on a territory-wide basis.  According to the latest demand and supply projections, we expect that there will be sufficient public sector secondary school places to meet the projected demand in the coming few years.  As such, secondary school building projects will primarily be implemented to facilitate the redevelopment or reprovisioning of existing schools whose facilities fall short of the prevailing standards to improve their learning environment.  As for the primary school sector, we will closely monitor the demand and supply of public sector primary school places in various districts.  If there are indications of possible shortage in individual districts in the few years ahead, we will first consider providing additional classrooms within the existing school premises, recycling suitable school premises for school use, etc., to increase the supply of school places.  We will only implement school building projects to increase the supply when these measures are unable to meet the expected demand.  

     In the light of the above and given that the number of secondary one/ primary one classes to be operated by individual schools under the Secondary School Places Allocation (SSPA) System and Primary One Admission (POA) System depends on parental choice, number of applicants, class structure of schools and number of classrooms (in the case of primary schools), we are unable to project the number of primary or secondary schools to be closed and their respective districts in the next ten years.

(b) Under the existing POA System and the SSPA System, parents may choose schools without restriction of school nets both at the Discretionary Place (DP) Admission stage and under Part A for Unrestricted School Choices at the Central Allocation (CA) stage.  Only under Restricted School Choices in Part B at the CA stage that the allocation of school places is based on school nets.

     The POA System basically adopts the principle of vicinity in allocating school places. Considering the young age of Primary one students, the allocation of places according to school nets at the CA stage seeks to ensure that students are allocated to schools near their homes.  There is a standing procedure for the review of school nets.  Taking into account the latest development including changes in population, number of schools, supply and demand of school places and transport situation in individual school nets, school nets are reviewed annually with adjustments made as necessary.

     Under the existing SSPA System, the territory is divided into 18 school nets in line with the district administration boundaries.  Following the principle of vicinity, Primary six  students are allocated to secondary schools in their own districts as far as possible.  To provide parents with more school choices, apart from the secondary schools located in their respective districts, each school net will include a number of schools in other districts as well.  A Working Group on Review of School Nets, comprising representatives of major school councils, parent representatives, representatives of Committee on Home-School Co-operation and lay members, has been set up by the Bureau.  The Working Group will review the existing demarcation of the school nets and deliberate on the long-term arrangements, taking into account factors such as changes in the student population, demand and supply of school places, distribution of schools and transportation network in each district.  The Working Group will put forward comprehensive recommendations and conduct full consultation at an appropriate time.

(c)  One of the proposals for relieving the impact of student population decline on the sustainable development of secondary schools is to allow schools operating effective featured programmes to continue their development.  Currently, the idea is that, if schools have proven track record and capability in providing effective featured programmes/ services to cater for the different education and development needs of targeted group of students, we will consider allowing them to continue their operation with class-based subvention mode.  Factors that will be taken into consideration include teachersˇ¦ capability and deployment, actual number of students enrolled and their progression pathways as well as the curriculum arrangement and accreditation of the programmes concerned.  We will also monitor the arrangement under the programmes and offer professional advice to ensure the quality of the services provided.  Since the subvention mode will remain unchanged under the current proposal, no additional government resources will be required.

Ends/Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Issued at HKT 16:07


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