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LCQ4: Students with special educational needs
     Following is a question by Dr the Hon Chow Man-kong and a reply by the Secretary for Education, Dr Choi Yuk-lin, in the Legislative Council today (February 8):
     A survey report has pointed out that the support, currently provided by the Government for students with special educational needs (SEN students) who are from the grassroots, is insufficient, and that the families of such students cannot afford the support services provided by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) for SEN students. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the current professional support services provided respectively by the Education Bureau and the Social Welfare Department for SEN students, and set out by service type (e.g. speech therapy, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, child psychiatric service, educational psychology service, clinical psychology service, applied behaviour analysis therapy, and early childhood educators' service) and stage of education (i.e. kindergarten, primary school and secondary school) information such as the names of the service programmes, the names of responsible government departments or organisations, the amounts of subsidies available for students, and the numbers of beneficiaries;
(2) as it is learnt that at present most kindergartens, primary schools and secondary schools have not publicly disclosed the types of SEN students they support and the contents of relevant support services they provide, leaving quite a number of parents of SEN students at a loss when they choose schools for their children to pursue further studies or change schools, whether the authorities will consider expressly stipulating that schools must publicly disclose relevant information in detail; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and
(3) given that families of SEN students from the grassroots cannot afford the various training and therapy services provided by NGOs, and that such organisations seldom provide services free of charge, whether the authorities have considered allocating additional resources and introducing "therapy vouchers", "training vouchers", etc., so that SEN students may receive more outside-school therapies and participate in outside-school trainings; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
     The Government attaches great importance to the growth and development of children with special needs and has been adopting the principles of early identification, early intervention and cross-sector collaboration to provide diverse and comprehensive support services for them through the concerted efforts of various government bureaux and departments. In brief, the Health Bureau (HHB) and the Hospital Authority (HA) are responsible for providing assessment and medical services; the Social Welfare Department (SWD) is responsible for providing pre-school rehabilitation services; while the Education Bureau (EDB) is responsible for providing learning support to help students with special educational needs (SEN) to overcome their own limitations, attain the learning level in accordance with their abilities, and develop their potential.
     Our reply to Dr the Hon Chow Man-kong's question is as follows:
(1) Under the existing policy, children under six years of age who have special needs may obtain support through various types of services provided by the SWD. While the On-site Pre-school Rehabilitation Services (OPRS) provides training for children under the age of six with mild disabilities who are attending kindergartens/kindergarten-cum-child care centres that have joined the OPRS as well as support for teachers, child care workers, parents and carers, the Early Education and Training Centres (EETCs), the Integrated Programme in Kindergarten-cum-Child Care Centres (IP) and the Special Child Care Centres (SCCCs) provide training and care to children diagnosed with different degrees of disabilities to facilitate their growth and development. In 2021-22, the numbers of service users of the OPRS, EETCs, IP and SCCCs were 8 933, 3 980, 1 938 and 2 153 respectively.
     The EDB adopts a dual-track mode in the provision of learning support for primary and secondary students with SEN. Subject to the assessment and recommendations of specialists and the consent of parents, the EDB will refer students with more severe or multiple disabilities to aided special schools for intensive support services. As for other students with SEN, they will attend ordinary schools under the integrated education (IE) approach implemented by the EDB.
     The EDB has been providing additional resources and support for special schools. For example, the class size in special schools is relatively smaller, consisting eight to 15 students per class, and also they will be provided with additional regular teachers and specialist staff (including occupational therapists, physiotherapists, speech therapists and nurses) and extra allowances (such as the Additional Support Grant for Enhancing the Support for Boarders with Medical Complexity) according to the special needs of their students. In the 2021/22 school year, 8 300 students attending aided special schools benefitted from these measures. Some special schools also operate a boarding section to cater for the long-term residential needs of students with more severe or multiple disabilities. In the 2022-23 financial year, the EDB's expenditure on special education amounts to around $3.6 billion, representing an increase of about 44 per cent compared to the 2017-18 financial year.
     Meanwhile, the EDB adopts the approaches of Whole School Approach (WSA), home-school co-operation and cross-sector collaboration to promote IE in public sector ordinary schools, under which additional manpower and resources, including Special Educational Needs Coordinators, Special Educational Needs Support Teachers, Learning Support Grant, and Grant for Supporting Non-Chinese Speaking Students with Special Educational Needs, are provided to schools. The above support allows schools to flexibly and strategically pool together other school-based and community resources to provide comprehensive and flexible services in accordance with the SEN of their students. Furthermore, the EDB provides professional support to schools, including the School-based Educational Psychology Service, Enhanced School-based Speech Therapy Service, Resource Support Programme for Visually Impaired Students and Enhanced Support Service for Students with Hearing Impairment, to help students with SEN overcome their limitations and learning difficulties. In the 2021/22 school year, 58 890 students with SEN attending public sector ordinary schools benefitted from these measures. In the 2022-23 financial year, the EDB's expenditure on IE amounts to around $3.7 billion, representing an increase of about 147 per cent compared to the 2017-18 financial year. 
(2) The EDB has all along been encouraging schools to enhance transparency, which can enable parents and stakeholders to understand the strategies and measures of the schools in supporting students with SEN, as well as provide reference for parents when choosing a suitable school for their children. Currently, all kindergartens joining the kindergarten education scheme have to include information on the support provided to students with SEN in the Profile of Kindergartens and Kindergarten-cum-Child Care Centres. All public sector primary and secondary ordinary schools are required to state clearly in their School Profiles the measures taken to cater for learner diversity and the implementation of the WSA to IE in the schools. In addition, the contents of the annual school reports have to cover the IE policies of schools, additional resources received and support services provided for students, and information of such should be uploaded to the school's website. Other than these, the EDB organises talks in collaboration with non-government organisations providing pre-school rehabilitation services every year for parents of kindergarten children. The purpose is to help parents understand the various kinds of support provided for students with SEN in ordinary primary schools, so that they can make necessary preparation for their children when they proceed to Primary One.
     Apart from the above, the EDB has also launched the "SENSE" website (sense.edb.gov.hk/en/index.html) to provide information on special education and IE, including parent resource pamphlets, so that parents and the public can understand the needs of students with SEN and the kinds of support they required. 
(3) Besides the learning support in schools, various departments of the Government also adopts an integrated approach to provide services for students with SEN beyond the school campuses. The related services are as follows:
(i) the Fee-waiving Subsidy Scheme under the After School Care Programme launched by the SWD provides full fee-waiving, half fee-reduction or one-third fee-reduction subsidies for primary children ,including those with SEN, whose parents are unable to give proper care to them during after-school hours because of work or other reasons;
(ii) the training subsidy is provided by SWD for children with special needs aged below six from low income families and on the waiting list of subvented pre-school rehabilitation services, with a view to enabling them to receive self-financing services provided by recognised service providers while waiting for subvented pre-school rehabilitation services;
(iii) the Pilot Scheme on New Service Protocol for Child and Adolescent with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Comorbidity implemented by the HHB provides multi-disciplinary assessment, treatment and support services to children and adolescents with related disorders;
(iv) the cross-disciplinary collaborative service model between the specialities of paediatrics and child and adolescent psychiatry implemented by the HA provides services for patients with relatively mild and stable conditions; and
(v) the Mental Health Initiatives Funding Scheme coordinated by the Advisory Committee on Mental Health also includes support for children and adolescents with SEN to overcome learning difficulties and promote their physical and mental health.
     The Government understands the public concern about the well-being of children with special needs, and has been continuously allocating resources and enhancing measures to provide diverse and comprehensive support services for these children. In this regard, we will obtain the views of different stakeholders, enhance various measures to improve the quality and efficiency of the services provided on an on-going basis, and work with different sectors in the community to provide support to facilitate the healthy development of children with special needs at different stages and help them achieve their potential to the fullest.
     Thank you, President.
Ends/Wednesday, February 8, 2023
Issued at HKT 15:55
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