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LCQ11: Review of Native-speaking English Teacher Scheme
     Following is a question by the Hon Michael Tien and a written reply by the Secretary for Education, Mr Eddie Ng Hak-kim, in the Legislative Council today (May 17):
     Some teachers' associations have relayed to me that the remuneration package for English teachers appointed under the Native-speaking English Teacher (NET) Scheme should be reviewed. For instance, the medical allowance provided for NETs (i.e. a single appointee and a married appointee may be reimbursed up to $1,400 and $5,400 per year respectively for taking out medical insurance) has not been adjusted since it was set in 1997, and such amounts are insufficient to cover related expenses nowadays. On the other hand, at the meeting of the Panel on Education of this Council held on December 14, 2015, officials from the Education Bureau (EDB) indicated that the EDB was studying the feasibility of providing an additional NET for public-sector primary schools with a greater number of classes and would design a pilot plan based on the study findings. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the latest progress of the study conducted by the EDB on providing an additional NET for public-sector primary schools with a greater number of classes;

(2) of the respective percentages of retention and attrition of NETs in public-sector primary and secondary schools in each of the past three school years;

(3) whether it has studied the relationship between the remuneration package for NETs and their decisions to stay on or leave the service; if so, of the details; if not, whether it will conduct such a study; and

(4) whether it has plans to review the remuneration package for NETs, including raising their medical allowance?

     The Government introduced the Native-speaking English Teacher (NET) Scheme, comprising the Enhanced NET Scheme in Secondary Schools and the NET Scheme in Primary Schools, to public sector secondary schools and primary schools in the 1998/99 and 2002/03 school years respectively. Through this Scheme, it is expected that NETs can bring into the English language classrooms of local schools their professional experience, different teaching styles and ideas, and cultural literacy that can help enrich students' literacy experiences and the English learning environment. Playing a complementary role as resource teachers, NETs collaborate with our local English teachers to enhance the strategies for curriculum development, language instruction and assessment.
     It needs emphasising that the NET Scheme is one of the measures in support of English language education in Hong Kong. Under the steer of the Standing Committee on Language Education and Research, a range of initiatives, through the use of the Language Fund, is put in place to improve the English learning environment and to strengthen support for English learning and teaching in local primary and secondary schools, including school-based support services, the Professional Development Incentive Grant Scheme for Language Teachers, and a range of activities to enhance students' exposure to and interest in English. Under the Grant Scheme on Promoting Effective English Language Learning in Primary Schools, which was announced in March 2017, primary schools are invited to apply for a grant of not more than $0.35 million for use within one to two school years to support the development of their school-based English enhancement measures. One of the possible ways for the use of the grant is to employ additional teachers or teaching assistants to help provide students with more opportunities to use English in authentic contexts, assist or work in collaboration with existing English language teachers in implementing school-based curriculum initiatives, and/or create space for existing English language teachers to develop school-based English Language curriculum and learning and teaching resources.
     Our reply to the questions raised by the Hon Michael Tien is as follows:
(1) Regarding the proposal to provide an additional NET for public-sector primary schools with a greater number of classes, the Education Bureau (EDB) conducted, by way of sampling, a case study of six public-sector primary schools which employed Native English-speaking English Language Teaching Assistants (NETAs) in the 2015/16 school year. Through interviews and observation, the study collected data and information on such aspects as the source of funding, the recruitment, employment package, qualifications and deployment of NETAs, and the views of stakeholders, including school principals, English panel chairs and English teachers, NETAs, as well as students and parents of some of the case study schools. The EDB is carefully considering the findings of the case study in connection with those of the second large-scale evaluation of the NET Scheme in Primary Schools (Primary NET Scheme), which has been completed. As planned, the reports on both studies will be disseminated in August 2017.

     The study of the recruitment and deployment of NETAs in the six sampled schools reveals that there were marked variations in terms of the employment terms and effectiveness among the NETAs working in the six case study schools. In schools where the NETAs were more effectively utilised, the main success factors include effective distributive leadership, good communication and collaborative culture, effective planning and deployment. By contrast, in schools where the NETAs were less effectively utilised, the main issue lies in the lack of a mechanism to support the collaboration between NETAs and other English teachers, to take care of the NETAs' professional development and to monitor and provide feedback on the NETAs' performance.

     As to the second evaluation of the Primary NET Scheme, the overall findings show that the Scheme had a positive impact on the learning and teaching of English in primary schools in that it contributed to the improvement in students' general proficiency, literacy skills, oral fluency and accuracy, and that it helped boost students' confidence and motivation. With the support from the Advisory Teachers of the EDB in promoting co-planning and co-teaching, it also enhanced local English teachers' repertoire of pedagogical practices and their use of English in the classroom.

     For the long-term development of the NET Scheme, we will make reference to the findings of the two studies mentioned and carefully consider various factors, which include the support that schools require, the latest developments related to the NET Scheme, the supply of and the demand for qualified NETs, and the long-term financial implications.

(2) The respective rates of retention and attrition of NETs in primary and secondary schools in each of the past three school years are set out below:
  Retention Rate* Attrition Rate#
School Year Primary
2013/14 81% 81% 16% 12%
2014/15 81% 79% 15% 10%
2015/16 89% 84% 9% 8%

* Retention rate refers to the percentage of the number of NETs who have their contracts renewed upon expiry in that particular school year against the total number of NETs completing the contracts in that particular school year.

# Attrition rate refers to the percentage of the number of NETs opting not to renew their contracts and leaving the NET Scheme for reasons other than retirement against the total number of NETs completing the contract in that particular school year.

(3) Under the prevailing practice, an eligible NET with satisfactory performance is entitled to a cash retention incentive payable at 5 per cent of his/her current base salary in the third and fourth years of continuous service, and a cash retention incentive payable at 10 per cent of his/her current base salary from the fifth year of continuous service onwards. In addition, the EDB reviews the special allowance (Note) for NETs annually according to the existing adjustment mechanism. Specifically, when conducting the review, the EDB has to consider factors such as the average rental prices for the type of accommodation involved, the attrition rate of NETs and the affordability to the Government.

     As reflected by the stable attrition rate, which also shows a trend of gradual decline, the remuneration package for NETs is considered very attractive. The adjustment mechanism of special allowance is also effective and well-established. In fact, the special allowance has been adjusted upward for several times, as in the 2008/09, 2011/12, 2014/15 and 2016/17 school years, to the current level of HK$20,989 per month. Hence, the EDB considers that there are no sufficient grounds to justify the proposed study of the relationship between the remuneration package for NETs and their decisions to stay on or leave the service.

(4) Apart from the base salary, an eligible NET is entitled to various fringe benefits including special allowance, passage, baggage allowance, medical allowance, gratuity and cash retention incentive, etc. Details are set out in the Annex.
      As regards medical allowance, the present maximum rate of medical insurance during the contract period is $1,400 per year for a single NET and $5,400 per year for a NET accompanied by spouse and/or children. To our knowledge, there are alternative medical insurance plans available in the market which are under the maximum rate of medical allowance. We have also shared such information in the liaison meetings with the NET association concerned. Just like local residents, NETs are also entitled to public healthcare services. Besides, the special allowance provided by the EDB for NETs is flexible. They can flexibly use the allowance for meeting various needs. The existing remuneration package for the NET Scheme is adequate. Taking a NET receiving pay at the starting salary point in 2016 as an example, the special allowance, medical allowance and gratuity receivable add up to about 90 per cent of his/her base salary.

     The EDB has been engaging NETs in discussion and exchange of views on matters related to the NET Scheme through various means, including regular liaison meetings with the NET association concerned. We will follow the established and effective practice and review the remuneration package for NETs from time to time to attract quality teachers to become NETs.

Note: The special allowance aims to assist NETs in meeting the cost of living, mainly accommodation cost, in Hong Kong.
Ends/Wednesday, May 17, 2017
Issued at HKT 16:00
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