Warning on new school closures

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 April, 2008, 12:00am

Secondaries may face axe if enrolments fall: Suen

Secondary schools might not be spared from the axe if they fail to maintain enrolments in the face of falling student numbers, the education chief told legislators this week.

'It is a fact that the student population is dropping,' Michael Suen Ming-yeung told the Finance Committee on Wednesday. 'If the population decreases but the number of schools stays the same, then we will have too many schools.'

Mr Suen was responding to a stark warning from education sector legislator, Democrat Cheung Man-kwong, who predicted that Form One enrolments would fall by a quarter over the next six years.

'There are currently about 80,000 students entering Form One each year, but that will fall to just 60,000,' Mr Cheung said. 'I do not want to see a repetition of the pain suffered by the primary sector.'

More than 130 primary schools have been ordered to cease admissions after failing to attract enough Primary One students since the school consolidation policy was introduced in 2003, 54 of which have already closed for good.

The fight to maintain admissions, particularly in districts where the drop has been sharpest, has led to an increasing marketisation of education, with teachers often pressed to organise promotional activities and distribute leaflets on their days off.

'The introduction of small-class teaching in primary schools [next year] will help stabilise that sector,' Mr Cheung said, adding that it was now time to do something similar for secondary schools.

If secondary schools had to face the same market forces, there was a danger the senior secondary school reforms about to be introduced would be 'distorted', he said.

'Come September, there will be nearly 5,000 fewer students entering Form One. What are you going to do to address that, and what about six years down the road?'

Mr Suen refused to be pushed into introducing small-class teaching at secondary level, however.

'We should not just blindly think that small-class teaching is going to help solve this problem,' he said. 'We have to assess the outcomes of small-class teaching in primaries before we look at secondary schools.'

He stressed the Education Bureau did not have a closures policy for secondary schools, and said the bureau was looking for ways to minimise the impact of demographic change on secondary schools.

One option was to adjust the standard class size, which is now set at 40, but there have been calls from educators to begin gradually reducing it.

'We hope that come next year we will be able to do something to lower this figure,' Mr Suen said.

However, he warned that 'a minority of schools might have to be dealt with in a different manner', without elaborating.

Two government secondaries were the first to be affected by the demographic change in 2006. They were ordered to cease lower school admissions and switch mode to become senior secondary schools next year. Four more schools ceased Form One admission last year.