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LCQ17: Special education
     Following is a question by Dr the Hon Tik Chi-yuen and a written reply by the Secretary for Education, Dr Choi Yuk-lin, in the Legislative Council today (November 23):
     The statistics of the Education Bureau show that the total number of students receiving special education increased progressively each year from 2013, reaching 8 471 students in 2021. There are views that with the increasing number of students receiving special education, the Government should ensure that there are sufficient teacher manpower and proper measures to cater for such students' special education needs and protect their rights and interests. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the current staffing establishment for special schools; the number of drop-out teachers and the wastage rate in such schools in each of the past three school years;
(2) whether new measures are in place to retain special school teachers; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(3) of the training provided by the Government for persons aspiring to become special school teachers, and whether incentives will be provided to attract new blood to join the profession, so as to make up for the drop-out teachers; and
(4) of the new measures put in place by the Government to strengthen the protection for the rights and interests of special school students (including preventing them from being abused); whether the Government stepped up the relevant monitoring and inspections in the past three school years; if so, of the details (including the number of inspections conducted and the number of non-compliance cases uncovered)?
     The Education Bureau (EDB) attaches great importance to special education, and has been reviewing the development of special education and injecting resources to enhance the education quality of aided special schools (special schools) and their care for students. The EDB also closely monitors the manpower arrangements of special schools for taking appropriate measures timely to ensure the quality of education and smooth operation of schools.
     The reply to Dr the Hon Tik Chi-yuen's question is as follows:
(1) In the 2022/23 school year, there are 62 special schools in Hong Kong, among which 24 provide boarding service to cater for students with long-term residential needs and hence facilitate their schooling during school days. The staff of the school section include teaching staff, specialist staff and auxiliary staff. Regarding teaching staff, at primary and junior secondary levels, the staffing ratio of special schools is currently 1.8 teachers per class. At senior secondary level, the staffing ratio for schools for children with intellectual disability is 2 teachers per class whereas that for schools offering the ordinary curriculum is 2.1 per class. In addition, to cater for the diverse needs of students, the EDB also provides respective categories of special schools with additional regular teachers, such as resource teachers for children with autism spectrum disorder to support their learning, as well as mobility instructors and teachers providing low-vision training to support students with visual impairment.
     Specialist staff comprise occupational therapists, physiotherapists, speech therapists, occupational therapy assistants, nurses, educational psychologists, school social workers and brailling staff. Auxiliary staff comprise teacher assistants, laboratory technicians, school executive officers, workshop attendants, artisans, drivers, clerical staff and janitor staff. Additional manpower will be provided for special schools with a boarding section, which include wardens, assistant wardens, houseparents-in-charge, houseparents, programme workers and nurses, as well as auxiliary staff such as cooks and watchmen. Special schools are also allowed to opt to freeze the vacant posts of some specialist and auxiliary staff in exchange for cash grant so that they will have greater flexibility in recruitment or hiring related services.
     From the 2019/20 to 2021/22 school years, the numbers of special school teachers leaving their posts are 130, 110 and 190 respectively, while the corresponding wastage rates are 7.1 per cent, 5.4 per cent and 9.4 per cent respectively. According to our observation, although the wastage rate of teachers in the 2021/22 school year is higher than that of previous years, special schools have newly employed qualified teachers (including newly joined teachers and those re-joining the teaching profession) to fill the vacancies. Currently, the operation of special schools is smooth in general.
(2) and (3) The EDB has implemented a number of new measures in recent years to support the development of public sector schools in Hong Kong and provide teachers with a stable teaching environment and a better career prospect. Specials schools are thus benefitted as well. These measures include (i) full implementation of all-graduate teaching force policy in the 2019/20 school year; (ii) establishment of the Professional Ladder for Teachers and improvement of the manpower of vice-principals in public sector primary and secondary schools, as well as the manpower of senior teachers and ranking arrangements of principals in public sector secondary schools in the 2020/21 school year; and (iii) improvement of manpower at the middle management level, rationalisation of the pay structures for school heads and deputy heads in primary schools starting from the 2022/23 school year, thus enhancing teachers' promotion prospects. Meanwhile, with a view to attracting more suitable candidates to take up leadership duties in special schools, the EDB has improved the promotion arrangement for deputy heads at the rank of Senior Primary School Master/Mistress in the primary section of special schools starting from the 2022/23 school year. These deputy heads will be eligible for consideration for promotion to principals in special schools as long as they meet the required years of service and training requirements.
     Through diversified professional development programmes, the EDB also strives to strengthen the professional competencies of in-service teachers and principals, and broaden their horizons. To address the training needs of special school teachers, the EDB provides the "Training Course for Special School Teachers", which includes 240-hour theory-based lectures and a six-month practicum. In addition, having regard to the education and social development, the EDB continuously organises various professional development activities for special school teachers, including seminars, workshops and experience sharing sessions, so as to strengthen teachers' professional capacity.
     The Government has been prudent in the planning for manpower requirement of the teaching force. To meet the changing needs of our society, a blueprint of human resources for the teaching profession will be drawn up in a triennial planning cycle. Regarding teacher education programmes on special education under the 2022-25 triennial planning cycle, the University Grants Committee-funded institutions provide about 38 part-time Postgraduate Diploma in Education programme places and 130 mixed-mode Bachelor of Education programme places annually for individuals who aspire to be special education teachers.
(4) The Government attaches great importance to the well-being and safety of children, and has all along reminded schools (including special schools) of the need of early identification and provision of support to students in need through various channels including circulars, guidelines and training. Schools are required to formulate school-based mechanisms for handling suspected cases of child maltreatment. If schools discover that a student may have been maltreated, they have to handle the case immediately according to the EDB circular on "Handling Suspected Cases of Child Maltreatment and Domestic Violence" and with reference to the "Protecting Children from Maltreatment - Procedural Guide for Multi-disciplinary Co-operation (Revised 2020)" drawn up by the Social Welfare Department (SWD) in collaboration with related professionals, with a view to protecting the student's safety and best interest. Moreover, according to the School Administration Guide, for serious accidents that happen in schools leading to severe bodily injuries to or requiring immediate hospital treatment for students, schools should activate the crisis management mechanism immediately, inform the parents and the EDB of the accidents and submit a written report giving all the details.
     Besides, the EDB has been actively strengthening staff training on children protection. In recent years, the EDB has been working closely with the SWD and the Hong Kong Police Force to organise seminars annually, so as to equip teachers in primary and secondary schools (including special schools) with the knowledge and skills in handling child maltreatment cases. We have also launched in the 2021/22 school year an online self-learning course on "Early Identification and Handling of Suspected Child Maltreatment Cases" to provide teachers with more training opportunities.
     Through different channels such as daily contact with schools, school visits and inspections, the EDB continues to support and monitor the quality of school education and implementation of various children protection measures in schools. In the past three school years (i.e. 2019/20 to 2021/22 school years), we conducted a total of 138 inspections of special schools and no irregularities were found during the inspections.
Ends/Wednesday, November 23, 2022
Issued at HKT 15:05
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