Class sizes in primary schools to be reduced

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 September, 2007, 12:00am

New policy a relief to principals facing the threat of closure

Class sizes in primary schools will be cut to between 30 and 35 students, from 32 to 37, from the 2008-09 school year.

The announcement yesterday by education minister Michael Suen Ming-yeung was welcomed by primary school heads, who said it would save underenrolled schools from closure.

Primary One classes would be cut from 23 to 21 students.

Mr Suen, speaking at a presentation ceremony for teachers, said: 'We hope that with these improvement measures, members of the education sector will appreciate the dedication and commitment of the SAR government to improving the working conditions of our teachers'.

Alex Cheung Chi-hung, chairman of the Aided Primary School Heads' Association, said the move should help schools that had been having difficulty recruiting students.

'This is indeed good news for schools. I estimate that the new government plan will help create 100 Primary One classes and 150 teaching posts,' he said.

'Schools which are facing an underenrolment problem might not be forced to close down, and surplus teachers might be able to keep their jobs. Schools in Sha Tin, Tai Po and North District where the birth rate is low will benefit from the new measure.'

Although the plan only entails a small reduction in the number of pupils in primary schools, Mr Cheung said it was appropriate for the government to adopt a gradual approach to tackling the problem. 'If class sizes are cut down radically other problems such as teacher demand and deployment of resources might be created. So it is good that the government does it one step at a time.

'But I hope this is only the beginning and not the end of the story. Small-class teaching is what we are aiming for and class size should be further cut down to 20 to 30.'

Leung Kee-cheong, principal of Fresh Fish Traders' School, which has twice been on the brink of closing because it struggled to recruit enough students, said the plan showed that the government had expressed its goodwill to the education sector.

'The government is trying to tell us that it understands our concern and worries. But I think it should go one step further, which is to freeze the policy of closing primary schools with an underenrolment problem.'

Mr Leung said he believed more good news might be announced when Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen delivered his policy address next month.

'I suspect that Mr Tsang might announce a freezing of the school closure policy or the introduction of a timetable for adopting small-class teaching.'

But he warned that primary schools faced an even bigger risk of being closed in the next two years.

'Those babies who were born in 2004 will be Primary One pupils for the school years 2009 and 2010. The birth rate was particularly low that year because of the Sars outbreak. Student recruitment will pose a big challenge to primary schools.'

The president of the Professional Teachers' Union, lawmaker Cheung Man-kwong, described the new plan as a small gift from the government after Mr Suen had only recently taken up the post as chief of the Education Bureau.

'A small gift is not what we are after. We want the government to introduce small-class teaching, which should be included in the education reform,' he said.

The union said it would continue to demand that the government reduce class sizes, not only in primary schools but in secondary schools.