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LCQ7: Work pressure of teachers

     Following is a question by the Hon Sophie Leung Lau Yau-fun and a written reply by the Secretary for Education, Mr Michael Suen, in the Legislative Council today (June 29):


     Regarding the impact of the changes in various education policies including academic structure reform, integrated education and Language Proficiency Assessment for Teachers, etc. in recent years on the pressure of secondary school teachers, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether it knows the difficulties and pressure faced by secondary school teachers relating to teaching and their emotions; what supportive measures and improvement proposals the authorities have in place; whether they will conduct a comprehensive study to find out the current working hours, workload, difficulties encountered in teaching, as well as sources of pressure of secondary school teachers, and to assess the impact of such conditions on teaching quality and students' development; if not, of the reasons;

(b) given that the Government has implemented integrated education to arrange as far as possible students with special educational needs ("SEN students") (e.g. intellectual disabilities, autism and dyslexia, etc.) to study in ordinary schools, teachers have to take care of students with mixed abilities, while also coping with the emotional and behavioural problems of students which affect order in the classroom, whether the authorities will review if the existing assessment mode which still focuses relatively more on examination results is causing greater difficulties for SEN students in their study, and thus resulting in an obvious gap between their learning abilities and progress and those of ordinary students; whether the authorities will enhance the promotion of multiple intelligence education to allow different students to develop various kinds of potential; what measures the authorities have in place to give further support to teachers in dealing with the gaps in learning abilities and progress among their students so as to improve the teaching quality and effectiveness of learning, as well as to relieve teachers' workload and pressure; and

(c) given that a study has revealed that small class teaching enables teachers to feel more relaxed and enthusiastic in teaching, which will benefit both teaching and learning, but in reply to a question raised by a Member of this Council on December 1 last year, the Secretary for Education indicated that "the time is not ripe" for introducing small class teaching and that "the Voluntary Optimisation of Class Structure Scheme" must be implemented first to "stabilise the situations in schools", of the factors considered in deciding when "the time is ripe"; apart from the number of students enrolled, of the factors considered in concluding that "the time is not ripe"; of the objective criteria based on which the authorities assess if the time is ripe, and whether they will make public these criteria; whether the authorities have at present carried out any preparatory work (including the adjustments in teacher training, classroom ancillary facilities, teaching mode and the assessment system, etc.) so as to complement the gradual reduction in the number of students per class in secondary schools in future; if they have, of the details?



     My reply to the three-part question relating to the Member's concern about the work pressure of teachers is as follows:

(a) The Education Bureau (EDB) has all along attached great importance to alleviating teachers' workload and pressure. In this regard, the EDB set up the Committee on Teachers' Work in 2006 to look into teachers' work and related issues.  The Committee put forth 18 recommendations to the EDB in 2007, all of which have been accepted and implemented progressively. The EDB also conducted a study on the implementation of the New Senior Secondary (NSS) academic structure upon its formal implementation in 2009.  Furthermore, we maintain ongoing communication with the school sector through various channels, including frequent school visits by the District School Development Sections, external school reviews, various small-group discussions, "Teachers' Helpline" telephone counselling services, and meetings with school councils and teachers' unions, etc., in order to understand the situation of teachers as well as schools and the effectiveness of the support measures provided by the EDB.

     We are well aware of the current situation and needs of secondary school teachers, and have implemented a number of support measures to improve their working conditions.  For instance, schools have been given additional grants for implementing various education initiatives and greater flexibility in deploying their resources for employing additional staff or hiring services to provide teachers with appropriate support. We have also streamlined the school accountability mechanism and administrative procedures. Moreover, in implementing the curricula and initiatives, such as the NSS academic structure, integrated education, the Liberal Studies curriculum and small class teaching, we have provided additional teaching staff or resources for schools, and offered training courses and professional support to teachers to help them adjust to the changes and obtain a firm grasp of the related topics.

     Through the Quality Education Fund (QEF), we encourage schools to make use of information technology in handling administrative work to relieve teachers of their administrative workload. The QEF also helps schools implement a whole-school approach to teacher wellness and create a healthy working environment and a caring school culture.  The QEF further introduced this year the priority theme of "Supporting Effective School Management/Teacher Wellness" to promote professionalism and occupational health in the education sector.

     Apart from organising stress management courses for principals and teachers from time to time, the EDB also promotes teacher wellness through various activities and programmes.  To help teachers cope with work stress or personal emotional problems, we set up the Teachers' Helpline in 2006 to provide telephone counselling service for teachers.  Up to now, the number of cases received by the Helpline has dropped significantly.

     To help schools enhance the efficiency of administrative work, we are considering providing additional resources for public sector schools to recruit administrative personnel with relevant expertise and experience.  We will launch a pilot scheme in some public sector schools in the 2011/12 school year with a view to identifying a practicable mode for implementing this measure. In the light of the results of the pilot scheme, we will consider how best to extend this measure to other public sector schools.

(b) Assessment is an integral part of the curriculum, learning and teaching, and feedback cycle.  In its report entitled Learning to Learn: The Way Forward in Curriculum Development published in 2001, the Curriculum Development Council recommended that there should be a change in school assessment practices with assessment for learning as the objective.  When taking forward the academic structure and curriculum reforms, the EDB has always encouraged teachers to identify the learning problems of students in the learning and teaching process, particularly those with special educational needs (SEN), with a view to giving quality feedback to students for improvement.

     Through professional training, teachers are equipped with the ability to properly deploy different modes of assessment according to students' needs to give feedback on their learning.  We have uploaded a set of guidelines, Special Arrangements for School Examination of Students with Special Educational Needs, onto the EDB's website for teachers' reference so that they can adapt their assessment methods as appropriate.  Moreover, the EDB has been working closely with the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority to enhance the adapted arrangements for different assessments so that teachers can cater for students' learning diversity more effectively, which in turn will relieve teachers' pressure.

     For schools admitting students with SEN, the EDB provides additional resources, professional support and training for teachers, where appropriate, to enhance the quality of teaching and effectiveness of learning. In addition, the EDB regularly organises professional development programmes, thematic seminars and workshops for teachers to enhance their capacity to identify, handle and prevent the emotional and behavioural problems of students at an early stage, and to strengthen collaboration among teachers in implementing the Whole School Approach to integrated education.

     The EDB is extending the provision of School-based Educational Psychology Service by phases so that more schools can benefit from this comprehensive school-based support service.  Through on-site support and training, educational psychologists help teachers adapt their curriculum, teaching and assessment for students in need and advise teachers on effective classroom management and guidance strategies.  The number of public sector primary and secondary schools covered by this service is expected to increase to over 500 in the 2011/12 school year.

(c) Small class teaching is a method of teaching.  International studies have suggested that it is more effective when students are small and its effectiveness tends to wane according to students' age. Therefore, other educationally advanced regions have generally adopted diversified strategies at secondary level to better meet the needs of students and enhance their learning effectiveness.

     All along, we have been providing secondary schools with additional resources and teaching staff, having regard to the different needs of students.  Schools can deploy flexibly the resources and teaching staff in the Whole School Approach to supporting students, in particular those academically low achievers, and arrange teaching in groups where necessary.  The teacher-to-student ratio of public sector secondary schools has gradually improved from 1:18.5 in the 2000/01 school year to the estimated 1:14.9 in the 2011/12 school year.  Following the implementation of the NSS academic structure, schools have adopted teaching in groups at senior secondary levels, with each group consisting about 20 students on average, according to a survey conducted in late 2010.

     In view of the decline in secondary student population, we formulated a series of measures in 2008 to reduce the number of students allocated to each Secondary One (S1) class from 38 in the 2008/09 school year to 34 in the current school year, while further relaxing the criteria for approving classes.  Starting from the 2008/09 school year, the threshold for calculating the number of approved S1 classes has been adjusted from 35 students to 30 students per class in two years, i.e. schools can operate three classes with a minimum of 61 students and the average class size may be as low as about 21 students.  To further alleviate the impact of the sharp decline in secondary student population on the school sector, we have launched the Optimisation of Class Structure Scheme to stabilise the overall situation, including the teaching force.  Participating schools are provided with more manpower and additional subsidies to improve the quality of teaching and implement the NSS academic structure.

     Implementing small class teaching in secondary schools will entail long-term structural changes which will have a profound effect on the adjustment of teaching mode and the allocation of secondary education funding.  When the situation in schools stabilises and more accurate data on student population are available, we will be happy to continue to explore with the school sector appropriate measures to enhance the quality of teaching and learning in secondary schools.

Ends/Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Issued at HKT 12:39


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