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LCQ22: Allocation of school premises
     Following is a question by the Hon Ip Kin-yuen and a written reply by the Acting Secretary for Education, Mr Kevin Yeung, in the Legislative Council today (May 24):


     According to the prevailing principle of school construction, newly built school premises are mainly allocated for implementation of whole-day primary schooling and for reprovisioning of school premises which require redevelopment or reprovisioning due to sub-standard facilities. I have received complaints from quite a number of principals that the policy on allocation of school premises lacks transparency and is unfair to schools with teaching facilities that are below the current standards. For example, only those vacant school premises which are old and have a small gross floor area are open to these schools for application for allocation. Regarding the allocation of school premises, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) of the respective numbers of newly built and vacant school premises made available by the authorities for application for allocation each year since the completion of the School Improvement Programme in 2006, and set out in a table the following information about each of these school premises: (i) whether it was a newly built or vacant one, (ii) its detailed address, (iii) its designated use (if any), (iv) the number of applications for allocation received, (v) the name of the school to which the premises was allocated and whether the school was a newly-operated one, and (vi) (in respect of newly built school premises) the amount of funding approved by the Finance Committee of this Council for construction of the premises;

(2) of the number of newly built school premises which has not been allocated in compliance with the aforesaid principle of school construction since 2004 and set out, in respect of each of these school premises, the following information about the school which was allocated with the premises: (i) its name, (ii) whether it was a newly-operated school and (iii) the justifications for it to be allocated the premises;

(3) the teaching facilities in "matchbox-style school premises" are obviously not meeting the current standards, whether the authorities had considered, during the latest School Allocation Exercises (SAE) conducted in March this year, giving priority to allocating newly built school premises to these schools and other schools with teaching facilities that are below the current standards; if so, of the details; if not, whether they have studied if the SAE has deviated from the prevailing principle of school construction;

(4) as the authorities have indicated that (reprovisioning) applications from schools with a site area of less than 3 000 square metres and premises over 30 years of age which could not be benefited or have only been benefited marginally from the School Improvement Programme (the application threshold) warranted serious consideration, but a vacant school premises made available by the authorities for application for allocation in March this year had a site area of 2 400 square metres only and was about 49 years of age, whether the authorities have assessed when a school, which marginally meets the application threshold and is allocated a school premises the standards of which are even lower than that threshold, can have its teaching quality enhanced by the allocation; if they have assessed and the outcome is in the affirmative, whether the authorities have considered the conversion and improvement works needed to be carried out, so as to bring the teaching facilities in these school premises up to the current standards;

(5) whether the authorities will review the policy on allocation of school premises with a view to giving priority to allocating newly built school premises to schools with teaching facilities that are below standards, thereby bringing the teaching facilities of these schools up to the current standards, so that both teachers and students of aided schools can enjoy basic and reasonable teaching facilities; if so, of the details and timetable; if not, how the authorities will assist some 700 schools in the territory which are currently below standards (in particular those for which a full-scaled in-situ redevelopment of school premises is impossible due to site constraints, and those lacking basic teaching and safety facilities such as libraries, music rooms, medical inspection rooms and fire services equipment) in improving their teaching facilities; and

(6) whether the authorities will consider enhancing the transparency of the SAE, such as by introducing a points system to enable schools applying for allocation of schools premises to grasp the specific vetting and approval criteria and the reasons for their applications being unsuccessful; if so, of the specific contents and timetable; if not, the reasons for that?



     Under the established mechanism, the Government will reserve sites for public sector school development when preparing town plans and planning large-scale residential developments having regard to the planned population intake and on the basis of the needs for community services in accordance with the guidelines set out in the Hong Kong Planning Standards and Guidelines. The Education Bureau (EDB) will also gainfully use vacant school premises (VSP). Having considered factors including the size, location and physical conditions of the VSP, as well as the educational needs and relevant policy initiatives, the EDB will assess whether to re-allocate the concerned premises for school use. The EDB will make reference to the school-age population projections, which are compiled based on the population projections updated regularly by the Census and Statistics Department, and take into account the actual number of existing students at various levels and the estimated number of cross-boundary students as well as the latest demographic changes, including the number of newly-arrived children from the Mainland, in estimating the future demand for school places and relevant resources. The EDB will consider the latest projections, other factors that may affect the demand for school places in certain districts, different options to increase the supply of school places in particular districts, the prevailing educational initiatives, etc before deciding whether it is necessary to allocate a school premises to set up new school or reprovision existing school(s).

     In respect of the six questions asked by the Hon Ip Kin-yuen, our reply is as follows:

     According to the established school allocation mechanism, once a new school premises or VSP is confirmed to be required for allocation for reprovisioning and physical extension of existing school(s) or setting up of a new school, the EDB will normally invite applications from all eligible applicant bodies in the territory through the School Allocation Exercise (SAE) on a fair and competitive basis and make relevant announcement on its website. Schools may take into account their school-based considerations and consider if they would like to submit an application. Proposals of the concerned applications are assessed by the School Allocation Committee (SAC) comprising official and non-official members, with its recommendations submitted to the Permanent Secretary for Education for consideration. Education quality is the most important factor considered by the SAC when making recommendations on school allocation. Other factors, including the school plan submitted by the applicant body, operation track record of the school sponsoring body and conditions of the existing premises (if applicable), etc will also be considered. In respect of the school plan, the following aspects will be assessed:

(1) vision and mission;
(2) management and organisation;
(3) learning and teaching;
(4) school ethos and support for students;
(5) students' performance targets; and
(6) self-evaluation indicators.

     The SAE is an open and transparent mechanism. Relevant information about the SAE, including the composition and terms of reference of the SAC, eligibility requirements for SAE application, assessment criteria, past and latest SAE, etc can be retrieved and downloaded from the EDB's website (www.edb.gov.hk/en/sch-admin/sch-premises-info/allocation-of-sch/index.html).

     The physical condition of the school's existing premises is one of the major considerations in cases of school reprovisioning. Generally speaking, schools with site area less than 3 000 square metres and premises over 30 years old which have not benefited or have only marginally benefited from the School Improvement Programme will warrant serious consideration. Besides, the location of the concerned schools, i.e. whether they are currently operating in the same district as the location of the school premises under application, will also be taken into account. Yet, these are not the prerequisites for submission of applications since each case has to be assessed on its own merits. When assessing the applications, the SAC will consider each case thoroughly before making recommendations on school allocation. If necessary, the SAC will invite the applicant bodies for interview to follow up with questions about their submitted proposals and related information. We believe that by deliberating on the actual situation of individual schools under the existing practice instead of pre-defining a certain type of schools for consideration of reprovisioning, we can better cater for the needs of schools.

     The SAC will consider the aforementioned basket of factors, assess each case thoroughly and, when necessary, invite applicant bodies to interview before selecting the applicant school that is more meritorious in every aspect for recommending the allocation. The SAE competition is keen. Unsuccessful schools, which are the majority among applications received, would inevitably feel disappointed.

     Since 2004, the EDB has carried out a total of 19 SAE for allocation of altogether 27 new school premises built on reserved school sites and 11 VSP for setting up new or time-limited public sector schools, reprovisioning or physical extension of existing public sector and Direct Subsidy Scheme (DSS) school premises, as well as implementing whole-day conversion of primary schools. Besides, the EDB has also allocated four new school premises built on reserved school sites to reprovision existing special schools and seven VSP through direct allocation for physical extension of existing public sector school premises and implementing whole-day conversion of primary schools. Details of the new school premises and VSP allocated for school uses since 2004 as mentioned above are provided in Annexes 1 and 2. The EDB launched the First and Second SAE 2017 this March for allocation of two vacant/to-be-vacated school premises for reprovisioning of existing public sector and DSS primary school use, as well as three planned new school premises for setting up three new aided primary schools.

     Under the First SAE 2017 launched in March 2017, while the site area of the VSP to be allocated is approximately 2 400 square metres, it is still larger than that of some existing primary schools. In fact, some existing primary schools have previously expressed their interests in being reprovisioned to the VSP concerned. Considering the lack of new school sites and other suitable VSP in the relevant district, putting the subject VSP into gainful use will still help improve the learning and teaching environment of the school to be reprovisioned to this VSP. If the VSP concerned is successfully allocated, the EDB will conduct suitable refurbishment works up to the required hygienic and safety standards and will closely liaise with the primary school to be reprovisioned during the process.

     We understand public concerns on school premises built to old standards. At present, there are about 900 public sector schools built in different periods in accordance with the standards at the time of construction, which cover various facilities and have been changing over the years. Over the years, the EDB has all along put in place various measures to enhance the teaching and learning facilities of school premises, including the School Improvement Programme implemented from 1994 to 2006, minor improvement works and the annual major repairs exercise, etc to erect additional or convert classrooms and special rooms, repair and replace facilities, etc. Under school-based management, schools may initiate changes to the intended use of some school facilities to meet students' needs and suit the overall school development. We will continue to adopt effective measures to improve the teaching facilities of schools.

     Moreover, in light of the discussion and consensus reached by the EDB, the Legislative Council Panel on Education (the Panel) and the sector at the tripartite meetings held in 2016, the Chief Executive announced in his Policy Address on January 18, 2017 the initiative to allocate additional resources to improve the facilities of 26 "matchbox-style school premises" with regard to the unique design features of such premises (Note). The EDB is following up the improvement proposals and arrangements with the schools concerned and have briefed Members of the Panel at its meeting of February 13, 2017 on the related arrangements, including five proposed improvement measures in relation to the common problems arising from the unique design features of these school premises, as well as exploration of potential scope for campus expansion and technically feasible means for better utilising the existing space.

     To fully address the issues of insufficient space and facilities of schools in the long run, it requires reprovisioning or expansion of such schools to suitable VSP or new school premises. Yet, there are only limited number of new school sites and VSP, and they are distributed in different districts. We will continue to identify suitable sites and VSP as before to cope with the development of different districts and various educational needs, and expedite the relevant allocation process through the established mechanism. Besides, we will also continue to put in place various school premises improvement measures (including the annual major repairs exercise and emergency repairs mechanism) to enhance their facilities in accordance with needs of schools (including the "matchbox-type style" school premises) and improve their teaching environment.

Note: The so-called "matchbox-style school premises" refer to those cuboidal shaped school premises constructed between mid-1960s and 1980 at public housing estates for primary school use. Of the existing 28 public sector primary schools operating at "matchbox-style school premises", two have been allocated with new school premises for reprovisioning through the SAE.
Ends/Wednesday, May 24, 2017
Issued at HKT 19:30
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