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LCQ7: Support for non-Chinese speaking students with special educational needs

     Following is a question by the Dr Hon Fernando Cheung and a written reply by the Secretary for Education, Mr Eddie Ng Hak-kim, in the Legislative Council today (January 28):


     Quite a number of people have relayed to me that currently, non-Chinese speaking (NCS) students with special educational needs (SEN have to wait for a long time for the services provided for them by the Government, and the existing support provided by ordinary schools for students of this type is also rather inadequate. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) of the current number of NCS students with SEN, together with a breakdown by the type of disabilities they have and whether English is their first language;

(2) given that the aforesaid people have pointed out that currently, tools for assessing and identifying the SEN of NCS students are lacking, resulting in some educators mistakenly perceive the SEN of such students as language and cultural variations, of the measures that the Government has put in place to improve the related assessment and identification work;

(3) of the details of the training on the SEN of NCS students currently provided by the authorities to educational psychologists and teachers;

(4) of the number of complaints received by the authorities in the past five years about the inadequate support given to NCS students with SEN, together with a breakdown by the nature of the cases (including issues concerning assessment and identification, as well as teaching and learning);

(5) of the details of the services currently provided by the authorities to NCS students with SEN, including the relevant pre-school services, and the respective services provided to students attending ordinary schools which offer integrated education, special schools and international schools, together with the demand and supply situations of such services as well as the relevant waiting time; and

(6) of the details of the support services currently provided by the authorities to parents of NCS students with SEN?



(1) According to the records of the Education Bureau (EDB), as at September 2014, there are 349 non-Chinese speaking (NCS) students (Note 1) with special educational needs (SEN) studying in public sector ordinary schools. Of them, 108 have English as their spoken language at home. A breakdown of NCS students by type of SEN is set out at the Annex.

(2) Currently, NCS students are covered by the "Early Identification and Intervention Programme for Primary One Students with Learning Difficulties" implemented in all public sector primary schools. Under the programme, the EDB provides schools with the necessary tools and training. Teachers can make use of the "Observation Checklist for Teachers" to identify as early as possible primary one students with learning difficulties and arrange for early intervention. To assist teachers in using the checklist to identify NCS students in need of attention, we have provided them with a guideline which sets out the points to note and factors to consider for identifying NCS students with SEN. To enable NCS parents to have a better understanding of and greater involvement in the programme, an information leaflet on the programme has been published in seven ethnic minority languages since 2011 for distribution to parents through schools and for public access at EDB's website.  

     Learning difficulties encountered by NCS students at lower primary level may be language- and culture-related. Hence, with reference to the Response to Intervention model that has been proven effective overseas, we advise schools to provide appropriate intervention for students first and continually review their learning progress after intervention to identify NCS students with learning difficulties. Students found to have persistent or serious learning difficulties will be promptly referred to educational psychologists for assessment.

     In assessing the SEN of the NCS students, speech therapists and educational psychologists will approach the teachers and parents of the NCS students to know more about the students' mastery of the mother tongue, upbringing, and learning performance and difficulties. Appropriate arrangements will be made in the light of students' cultural background and experiences as well as their language needs.

(3) The EDB provides educational psychologists with continuing professional development activities. Overseas experts and local frontline educational psychologists have been invited to share the principles and strategies for assessing and supporting ethnic minority students. The EDB also holds regular co-ordination meetings with educational psychologists under the "Early Identification and Intervention Programme for Primary One Students with Learning Difficulties" during which educational psychologists are advised from time to time of the points to note for the identification and assessment of NCS students suspected of having SEN. They are also advised to adopt consistent procedures and criteria to ensure timely provision of appropriate assessment and support services to NCS students.

     To enhance teachers' professional capacity in catering for students with SEN, including NCS students with SEN, the EDB has been providing structured training courses pitched at basic, advance and thematic levels (BAT Course) for serving teachers since the 2007/08 school year. Among other topics, there is one on how to cater for the educational needs of NCS students and the related services for them.

(4) Under the current arrangements, schools are required to formulate a school-based mechanism and procedures for handling complaints. The EDB does not collate information about complaints handled at the school-based level. Upon receipt of complaints lodged by members of the public about schools, including complaints related to care for students with SEN in ordinary schools, the EDB will record and file the case for handling the complaints in accordance with the established procedures. According to our records, there were 25 such complaints in the past five years. As the EDB does not keep particular record on the complainants' ethnicity or spoken language used at home, we are unable to provide the statistics required.

(5) The Social Welfare Department provides various community support services to persons with disabilities (including NCS persons) through the service network at district level. A case management approach has been adopted for some of these services where the case managers will formulate individual care plans with regard to the characteristics of individual service users (including NCS students with SEN) for the provision of appropriate services. There is no waiting list for the above community support services.

     Regarding rehabilitation services for pre-school children, the lessons or training sessions are mainly conducted in Chinese (mostly in Cantonese). At present, two early education and training centres provide a total of 85 places for early intervention and training for native English-speaking children. As at end-December 2014, of the 176 children who had chosen these two centres, 128 were waiting for these two centres only. Low-income families, while waiting for the subvented services for their children, may apply for subsidy to obtain outside services for their children so that they can receive pre-school rehabilitation services as soon as possible. For those non-native Chinese or English-speaking children, pre-school rehabilitation service units will supplement with body language and environment-oriented teaching so as to assist children in receiving training based on their learning abilities.

     The EDB provides school-based support services for kindergartens admitting ethnic minority children and helps teachers develop effective teaching strategies to cater for the needs of individual children. We also enhance teachers' professional capacity in the effective use of support resources and screening tools for early identification of learning and developmental diversity among local and NSC children and making use of the interdepartmental mechanism under "The Comprehensive Child Development Service" for referral of children in need for further assessment.

     As regards primary and secondary school education, it is the Government's prevailing policy to provide sufficient places in public-sector ordinary schools and special schools for all eligible students, including NCS students with SEN, and offer appropriate support services to NCS students with SEN to facilitate their early integration into the local education system and the community. Under the Disability Discrimination Ordinance, all schools have the obligation to admit NCS students with SEN. To support ordinary schools to take care of students with SEN, including NCS students with SEN, the EDB has been providing public-sector schools with additional resources, professional support and teacher training. The EDB encourages schools to adopt the Whole School Approach and the 3-Tier Intervention Model (Note 2) to provide support for their students, including NCS students, in the light of their needs.

     Special schools operate with a smaller class size ranging from eight to 15 students per class in different types of special schools. In general, apart from the ordinary curriculum/adapted ordinary curriculum offered to students according to their ability or the curriculum tailor-made for students with intellectual disability, these schools also develop individual education plans in accordance with the special needs of individual students, including NCS students, to help them handle their learning, emotional or behavioural problems. Moreover, different types of special schools are provided with different specialist staff and additional teachers to offer diverse support services for the students.

     Starting from the 2014/15 school year, the EDB has enhanced the support for NCS students to learn Chinese and has put in place the "Chinese Language Curriculum Second Language Learning Framework" (Learning Framework) in primary and secondary schools in the 2014/15 school year with a view to facilitating NCS students to bridge over to mainstream Chinese Language classes. In brief, all schools (public sector and Direct Subsidy Scheme schools offering the local curriculum) admitting 10 or more NCS students have implemented their school plans, and made use of the enhanced additional funding provided since the 2014/15 school year to adjust the learning targets and adopt appropriate teaching strategies, drawing reference to the learning progress at different learning stages as described under the Learning Framework, to help their NCS students overcome the difficulties in learning Chinese as a second language. Schools admitting a handful of NCS students (i.e. fewer than 10) will continue to support their NCS students through their immersed Chinese language environment. These schools may also apply for additional funding on a need basis to provide after-school support to help their NCS students consolidate the Chinese learning in class. Besides, the Applied Learning Chinese Course (for NCS students) has been implemented at the senior secondary level in phases from the 2014/15 school year to provide NCS students with an additional channel to acquire an alternative recognised qualification, which would enhance their further studies opportunities and employability.
     We will continue to facilitate schools to implement the Learning Framework by refining the related teaching and learning resources. We will also enhance Chinese Language teachers' professional capability in teaching NCS students through diversified modes of professional development programmes and school-based professional support services.

     As regards international schools, apart from a special school operated by the English Schools Foundation (ESF), some of the international schools, including the mainstream schools operated by ESF, also provide support services to their students with SEN according to their individual needs. Based on information provided by schools, the respective numbers of primary and secondary students with SEN in international schools in the 2014/15 school year are about 465 and 419 (including 69 studying in the ESF special school). We have commissioned a consultancy study to look into the demand for international school places from overseas families living in Hong Kong for their children with SEN. The study is expected to complete in the second half of 2015. We will also continue to facilitate the provision of SEN support services in international schools through the School Allocation Exercise by giving favourable consideration under the marking scheme to applications with a plan to provide such support services.

(6) The EDB has published the NCS Parent Information Package: Your Guide to Education in Hong Kong to provide NCS parents with basic information about the education services of Hong Kong. We have also translated various information leaflets in major ethnic minority languages with interpretation service provided at relevant briefing sessions for NCS parents. Besides, the EDB has set up a dedicated website ( and a hotline (3540 7447) for NCS parents. Interpretation service has been offered through telephone conferencing by the Centre for Harmony and Enhancement of Ethnic Minority Residents funded by the Home Affairs Department since July 2010.

     Communication and co-operation between parents and schools are essential for supporting students with SEN, including NCS students with SEN. We have requested schools to establish a regular communication mechanism with parents in order to strengthen communication and co-operation in support of intervention programmes of the school. To enhance parents' understanding of their roles, the EDB has compiled the Parent Guide on Whole School Approach to Integrated Education, providing parents with information on the procedures for identifying and assessing different types of SEN and on various support strategies. The guide has been uploaded onto the EDB's website.

     On the other hand, Parents/Relatives Resource Centres provide a focal point for family members/carers of the persons concerned (including NCS students with SEN) to share their experiences and seek mutual support with the assistance of the centre staff. In 2015-16, the Government will increase the social work manpower of the existing subvented Parents/Relatives Resource Centres to provide more systematic training and experience sharing.

     The Government has also enhanced the short-term day care and residential care services for persons with disabilities, in particular those aged 6 to 14, so that their family members/carers may take a planned short break or attend to their personal business.

Note 1: For the planning of education support measures, students whose spoken language at home is not Chinese are broadly categorised as NCS students.

Note 2: Tier-1 support refers to the use of basic resources and quality teaching in regular classrooms to help students with mild or transient learning difficulties. Tier-2 support refers to "add on" intervention, such as pull-out or after-school remedial programmes and hired professional services, for students with persistent learning difficulties. Tier-3 support refers to intensive individualised support for students with severe learning difficulties.

Ends/Wednesday, January 28, 2015
Issued at HKT 15:55


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