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LCQ22: Social worker manpower in special schools

     Following is a question by the Hon Ip Kin-yuen and a written reply by the Secretary for Education, Mr Eddie Ng Hak-kim, in the Legislative Council today (April 13):


     According to the Compendium to Code of Aid for Aided Schools made by the Education Bureau, the social worker to student ratio in special schools is set at 0.5:35. The headmasters of some special schools have relayed to me that they had all along faced the problem of insufficient social workers, and therefore suggested that the ratio should be lowered, so as to enable the schools to have sufficient social worker manpower to cater for the needs of their students. On the other hand, while the Government reduced, in the 2014 Policy Address, the class size in schools for children with visual impairment and schools for social development from 15 to 12 students, it did not correspondingly lower the social worker to student ratio, resulting in those schools having to reduce their social worker manpower. Regarding issues relating to social worker manpower in special schools, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) of the numbers and names of special schools that have (i) less than one, (ii) one to less than two and (iii) two or more social workers within their existing staff establishment (set out in a table);

(2) whether it has assessed if the existing social worker manpower of special schools is adequate to cater for the needs of students; if it has, of the criteria adopted for conducting the assessment and the assessment outcome, including the specific impact of insufficient social worker manpower on student counselling work; if not, the reasons for that; and

(3) whether it has assessed the additional expenditures which will be caused by lowering the social worker to student ratio from 0.5:35 to 0.5:28; if it has, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



     My reply to the question raised by the Hon Ip is as follows:

(1) Currently, there are 60 aided special schools in Hong Kong. Among them, the hospital school is not staffed with school social workers as the specialist service is provided by the hospitals concerned. One special school is undergoing mainstreaming, with special arrangements for its teaching and non-teaching staff. In the 2015/16 school year, the Education Bureau (EDB) has provided the remaining 58 special schools with 116.5 school social workers. Each school is provided with at least one school social worker, with 27 schools having one to two and 31 schools having two or more school social workers. For provision of resources for supporting students with diverse needs, it is our established practice that we do not disclose the names and situation of individual schools so as to avoid misconception and possible labelling on individual schools. The manpower of school social workers by type of special schools is set out at the Annex.

(2) All along, the EDB has been providing special schools with teaching and specialist staff for the provision of education and guidance services to students. Social workers form part of the establishment for specialist staff of special schools. Apart from social workers, special schools are also provided with other guidance resources, including educational psychologists, additional resource teachers catering for the specific special educational needs of students, Career and Life Planning Grant, etc. To cater for the holistic development of students and to handle their work on guidance and discipline, special schools generally adopt a whole-school approach in implementing preventive and developmental programmes, which are planned and administered by teachers and specialist staff while social workers take the lead in handling cases. Individual schools also collaborate with parents to cater for the growth and developmental needs of their students as appropriate. In addition, teachers in the school guidance and discipline teams, when necessary, also provide individualised guidance and discipline services to better cater for the specific needs of students, and refer the students to various professionals for further follow-up according to the actual situation.

     The EDB has been offering professional development programmes to enhance the professional capacity of teaching and non-teaching staff of special schools, including school social workers, so as to cater for the needs of their students. Special schools are also provided with different grants which they may deploy flexibly to employ additional staff or hire professional services to tie in with their specific operational needs. On the whole, special schools are providing appropriate and proper guidance services for their students.

(3) As school social workers have to handle cases and different types of special schools vary considerably in class size (ranging from 8 to 15 students per class), the social worker-to-student ratio of special schools has all along been determined according to the number of students instead of number of classes.

     Currently, special schools may appoint 0.5 school social workers for every 35 students. Where a sponsoring body operates two or more special schools, such staffing provision may be determined according to the combined number of students of all the schools under the same sponsoring body. Moreover, we have been adopting a more flexible calculation method in determining the above-mentioned social worker-to-student ratio by taking the total number of places in all the approved classes of a school instead of the actual student intake.

     Instead of considering the provision of social workers in isolation, we should take into account the specific circumstances and mode of delivery of services in special schools. Specifically, teachers in special schools have to work in collaboration with school social workers and related professionals to provide preventive, remedial and developmental guidance services for all students. Besides, as mentioned in point (2) above, the EDB has been implementing various measures to enhance the special education services, including guidance services, of special schools in recent years. We have no plan to review the establishment of individual categories of specialist staff.

Ends/Wednesday, April 13, 2016
Issued at HKT 15:31


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