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LCQ15: Voluntary Optimisation of Class Structure Scheme

     Following is a question by the Hon Ronny Tong Ka-wah and a written reply by the Secretary for Education, Mr Michael Suen, in the Legislative Council today (June 29):


     Given that the decline in secondary student population has caused under-enrolment in some secondary schools and thus they face the crisis of school closure, the Education Bureau has implemented the Voluntary Optimisation of Class Structure Scheme ("VOCSS").  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether the Government has set target numbers under VOCSS for the reduction of secondary school places in the territory as well as in each secondary school in each of the next five years; if it has, of the details; of the criteria and justifications adopted by the Government in setting such target numbers, and whether they include the merits of the schools' operation and their locations;

(b) whether the authorities have implemented VOCSS mainly from the cost effectiveness perspective or for the purpose of safeguarding teachers' livelihood; also, of the education philosophy based on which VOCSS has been implemented; and

(c) given that the former Education and Manpower Bureau ("EMB") indicated in a paper submitted to the Bills Committee on Education (Amendment) Bill 2002 in June 2004 that "[a]ll Government schools have established their own School Management Committee ("SMC") to manage the school and formulate the school development plans", yet, recently some traditional Government schools (such as the King's College and the Queen's College) were said to have voluntarily participated in VOCSS to reduce the student enrolment number at secondary one level, but the schools indicated that the authorities had not put the plan to vote in their SMCs, whether the authorities have assessed if this approach is contradictory to the statement by the former EMB in the past; if so, whether they will start afresh discussion with SMCs of the Government schools concerned on whether or not the schools will participate in VOCSS?



(a) All along, the Education Bureau (EDB) has monitored the impact of the population changes on the demand and supply of school places.  When there is an increase in the student population, the number of classes to be offered will be increased; when there is a decrease in the student population, the number of classes to be offered will be reduced, given that the demand and supply of school places are calculated on a territory-wide basis.  In recent years, the declining student population has led to a continuous decrease in the number of students progressing to secondary one (S1), creating a very unstable environment among secondary schools.  According to the latest projection of the Hong Kong population released by the Census and Statistics Department, it is projected that there will be a decrease of more than 20% in the annual intake of S1 students, from 69 000 in the 2010/11 school year, to 53 900 in the 2016/17 school year.

     Owing to the serious situation caused by the decline in student population, the EDB launched the Voluntary Optimisation of Class Structure Scheme (the Scheme) in 2010 to enable schools operating five classes of S1 to reduce one class in order to alleviate the impact on the school sector caused by the drastic decline in student population in the coming few years.  Thus, the larger the number of schools joining the Scheme, the greater the stabilising effect on the school sector will be.  After the introduction of the enhanced measures of the Scheme in November last year, we received a total of 202 applications for the Scheme from secondary schools, which accounts for about 90% of the schools eligible for joining the Scheme.  Except for one school which was found not eligible for joining the Scheme and another withdrew its application, the remaining 200 schools have all been approved to join the Scheme in the 2011/12 school year.  According to the current projection, a slight rebound of student enrolment may appear only after the 2016/17 school year, but further assessment is required to ascertain the situation nearer the time.

(b) We carried out extensive consultation with the school sector before the introduction of the Scheme.  The school sector and key stakeholders generally agreed that class reduction is an effective means to reduce the impact of declining student population and at the same time allow schools to create more teaching space for enhancing the quality of teaching.  The measures also help schools to solve the problems of surplus teachers and subject mismatch arising from the reduction of classes.  As such, the larger the number of schools joining the Scheme, the greater the stabilising effect on the school sector will be, and a healthy education ecology can thus be maintained.  The implementation of the Scheme will not only help to maintain a good mix of different types of schools to cater for students with diverse needs, but also enable teachers to focus on teaching and help to ensure a smooth implementation of the New Senior Secondary academic structure in secondary schools.

(c) Under school-based management, all government schools have set up their own school management committee (SMC) to manage the school.  The SMC members are required to perform their duties in accordance with the SMC constitutions.  The SMC constitutions of government schools clearly state that the SMCs should play a proactive role in implementing policies advocated by EDB, carry out duties according to the directions given by the Permanent Secretary for Education, and ensure the vision and mission as set by the school sponsoring body (SSB) be carried out.  The discussion on the Scheme by SMC members has been conducted, premising on the above understanding of the duties of SMCs.

     The Scheme is a policy advocated by the Government.  The EDB, being the policy bureau responsible for implementing the Scheme as well as the SSB of government schools, has the obligation to set an example to other SSBs and schools by requesting the government schools concerned to participate in the Scheme. Actually, the government schools, in joining the Scheme, are fulfilling their responsibility for implementing education policies advocated by the EDB as well as complying with the requirements of the SMC constitutions. The Scheme has received enthusiastic support and overwhelming response from the school sector.  Admittedly, the participation of government schools has played a key role in this regard.

     As a matter of fact, EDB has carefully considered the stakeholders' views and the situation in each individual school before deciding that the government schools concerned should participate in the Scheme.

Ends/Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Issued at HKT 12:59


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