LCQ11: Impact of the decline in the population of school-aged Secondary One students
It has been reported that the past 13 years saw a continuous decline in the population of school-aged Secondary One (S1) students. To meet the challenges arising from this trend, the authorities launched in 2010 the Voluntary Optimisation of Class Structure Scheme (the Scheme) to assist schools in optimising class structure by voluntarily reducing the number of classes with a view to achieving sustainable development. Schools participating in the Scheme are allowed, through "enhanced teaching staff establishment", to retain surplus teachers arising from class reduction for a period of six years (the retention period), so that the schools concerned can plan to adjust their teacher manpower through natural wastage and other means. In addition, the authorities implemented in 2012 relief measures with a view to "maintaining the stability and strengths of schools and teachers", including allowing aided schools to apply for extension of the retention period to the 2017/18 school year. However, quite a number of principals and teachers have relayed to me that the threats of "reduction of classes and closure of schools" linger, and teaching staff even need to carry out promotional activities outside school to recruit students, which is extremely unsatisfactory. Owing to low student intake, some schools (particularly those operating one or two S1 classes) have to reduce the number of the New Senior Secondary (NSS) elective subjects offered to students. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) among the aided and government schools in each District Council (DC) district, of the respective numbers of those which operate one, two… six and seven or more S1 classes in the 2016/17 school year (set out in a table);
(2) of the respective (i) total number of S1 places and (ii) population of school-aged S1 students in each DC district in each of the school years from 2016/17 to 2021/22 (set out in a table);
(3) in the school years from 2012/13 to 2016/17, of the respective numbers of secondary schools which reduced the number of NSS elective subjects offered, as well as the numbers and names of the subjects reduced; among the schools which reduced the number of such subjects, the number of those operating three or less S1 classes; whether the authorities have assessed if such schools have sufficient teacher manpower for offering NSS elective subjects that are no less than the original number of subjects; if they have assessed, of the details; if the assessment outcome is in the negative, of the support measures to be provided by the authorities for such schools to address the problem relating to reduction in the number of elective subjects offered;
(4) of the number of new teachers employed using the teaching post quota by schools participating in the Scheme (i.e. the new teachers employed by such schools since their participation in the Scheme); the numbers of schools which will have to surrender the teaching post quota in the current and the coming three school years in accordance with the revised teaching staff establishment, as well as the numbers of teachers who will have to be displaced; and
(5) given that the population of school-aged S1 students is estimated to rebound gradually from the 2017/18 school year onwards and return to the previous level in the 2020/21 school year, whether the authorities have plans to extend the retention period to the 2020/21 school year, with a view to stabilising teachers' confidence in job prospects so that they will not have to worry about losing their jobs; if they have such plans, of the details; if not, what specific measures the authorities will take to resolve problem of uncertain job prospects among teachers?
To address the temporary decline in the number of Secondary One (S1) students, the Education Bureau (EDB) has deployed substantial resources since the 2006/07 school year to implement a number of relief measures. Such measures include relaxing the criteria for approving S1 classes, reducing the number of students allocated to each S1 class and introducing the Voluntary Optimisation of Class Structure Scheme (the Scheme). Since the 2013/14 school year, we have further implemented a basket of targeted relief measures with a view to maintaining the stability and strengths of the schools and teaching force (targeted relief measures). These targeted relief measures include adopting a district-/school-based approach to adjust the number of students allocated to each S1 class; allowing schools operating one or two S1 classes to participate in the next Secondary School Places Allocation with a cap of three S1 classes; relaxing the "not less than three S1 classes" requirement by accepting schools to operate two classes for each level without the need to apply for any school development option and to operate two S1 classes with a minimum intake of 26 S1 students; allowing schools operating one S1 class to continue operation by applying for a school development option; and extending the retention period of surplus teachers arising from reduction of S1 classes in the school years of 2013/14 to 2015/16 from one year to three years so as to facilitate the continuous development of schools, stabilise the teaching force and maintain the quality of education. To further stabilise the teaching force and for the benefit of students’ learning, it was announced in the 2016 Policy Address that schools with surplus teachers arising from reduction of S1 classes in the school years of 2013/14 and 2014/15 may apply to extend the retention period for these surplus teachers up to the 2017/18 school year when necessary. The host of relief measures has been implemented for stabilising the education sector. We do not have the so-called "school closure" policy.
My reply to Hon Ip Kin-yuen's questions is as follows:
(1) The respective numbers of aided and government secondary schools operating one, two, three, four, five, six, seven or more S1 classes by district in the 2016/17 school year are at Annex 1.
(2) The school-age population aged 12 is generally considered appropriate for admission to S1. Projected school-age population aged 12 who are residing in Hong Kong by district for the school years from 2016/17 to 2021/22 are at Annex 2. The projections having taken into account a number of factors and assumptions only serve as reference on the overall trend of changes. The changes in the number over the years cannot be accurately projected. Public sector S1 places are planned on a territory-wide basis and there is no perfect match in the demand and supply of school places in each district for each school year. The EDB will keep in view the overall change in the demand for public sector S1 places and communicate with the sector as appropriate. The numbers of public sector S1 places by district for the 2016/17 school year have yet to be confirmed. The relevant figures for the 2015/16 school year are at Annex 3 for reference.
(3) The senior secondary curriculum under the New Academic Structure is student-centred and aiming to cater for the different interests, abilities and needs of students. The kind and number of elective subjects offered by schools may vary from year to year according to the diverse interests, aspirations and abilities of students. Our information shows that as compared with the 2012/13 school year, there were 180 secondary schools offering fewer elective subjects and 106 secondary schools offering more elective subjects at the senior secondary level in the 2015/16 school year. The figures for the 2016/17 school year are not available yet.
We have been encouraging schools to offer more elective subjects by deploying their resources flexibly to meet the learning needs of their students. With the provision of the Diversity Learning Grant, schools are encouraged to expand the choices of elective subjects offered to students by collaborating with other schools through such means as Network Programmes. In the 2015/16 school year, there were a total of 148 secondary schools offering 155 Network Programmes on Physical Education, Music, Ethics and Religious Studies, etc with the Diversity Learning Grant. To tie in with the implementation of vocational and professional education and training, Applied Learning courses (Note) for senior secondary students are fully-subsidised from the 2016/17 school year with a view to encouraging more schools to offer Applied Learning courses to cater for the learning needs of students. In a nutshell, the number of subjects that schools can offer at the senior secondary level is subject to various factors. It is not appropriate to simply attribute the changes to any single factor.
Moreover, when formulating the targeted relief measures in full consultation with the education sector, we considered that the senior secondary curriculum had matured over the years and decided to allow schools operating two approved classes for each level to offer diversified elective subjects through flexible deployment of resources, different means and strategies to provide students with a broad, balanced and sustainable senior secondary curriculum, including senior secondary Applied Learning courses. For schools operating one S1 class only, they can continue to operate by applying for a school development option, such as injection of additional resources by their school sponsoring bodies and provision of network programmes in collaboration with other schools. We will liaise closely with the schools concerned and provide assistance in reviewing the manpower and teaching staffing at the earliest possible time to make necessary arrangements appropriate to the development of schools. Professional advice on the planning of suitable senior secondary curriculum for the cohort of students concerned will also be provided.
(4) Participating schools under the Scheme are allowed to retain their incumbent teachers on the approved teaching staff establishment in the school year preceding the commencement of S1 class reduction. Within the six years from the commencement of S1 class reduction, schools will be given a maximum quota of six teaching posts for the purpose of alleviating the impact of teacher reduction as a result of class reduction under the Scheme so that they will have sufficient room and time to adjust their manpower resources for orderly transition to the approved establishment to which they are entitled after class reduction. The additional quota of teaching posts will be withdrawn gradually over the subsequent three years, i.e. 2017/18, 2018/19 and 2019/20 school years. Participating schools can resolve the problem of surplus teachers through natural wastage during the nine-year transitional period under the Scheme. For individual schools still having surplus teachers who are eligible for toleration in the tenth year after the commencement of class reduction, we will extend flexibly the toleration period of surplus teachers according to the actual needs of the schools.
On the other hand, in case of departure of teachers who are eligible for toleration during the transitional period, the participating schools may also use the teaching post quota flexibly to employ teachers to fill the vacancies. Since the situation and reasons of teacher wastage of individual schools vary from year to year, we have not collected information on the use of teaching post quota by the schools and their teacher wastage.
(5) Building on the measures implemented in the past years, the EDB further launched in the 2013/14 school year the targeted relief measures. These measures, including relaxing the criteria for approving S1 classes to 25 students per class and allowing schools with S1 classes reduced to one or two to participate in the next Secondary School Places Allocation with a cap of three S1 classes, are still in force and will continue to be effective in the coming few years. Besides, schools with surplus teachers arising from reduction of S1 classes in the 2013/14 and 2014/15 school years may apply for extending the retention period of the surplus teachers to the 2017/18 school year. From the 2011/12 to 2015/16 school years, the number of secondary students reduced by about 30% while that of secondary school teachers just by about 10%. This shows that the targeted relief measures have, to a certain extent, succeeded in stabilising the teaching force. We expect a progressive rebound in the overall S1 student population in the 2017/18 and the subsequent school years, which will help stabilise the approved teaching staff establishment of schools affected by class reduction. Furthermore, there is natural teacher wastage of about 5% per year and teaching vacancies so available can, to a certain extent, alleviate the problem of surplus teachers.
Note: The EDB has approved 35 senior secondary Applied Learning courses for 2017/19 cohort.
Ends/Wednesday, November 2, 2016
Issued at HKT 16:37
Issued at HKT 16:37