Quit call to Suen in class cut row

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 March, 2011, 12:00am

When Michael Suen Ming-yeung announced 10 days ago that elite King's College would join secondary schools in reducing its Form One intake, the education minister can have had little idea of the firestorm of protest his statement would set off.

Since then, alumni of the school in Sai Ying Pun have mounted a steadily increasing campaign against the move. They accused the government of railroading the school into joining the scheme, demanded Suen resign and yesterday threatened to take the government to court.

The row ignited when Suen insisted a day after the announcement on February 24 of King's College's participation that it had been voluntary. Former students said an education official who attended a school management committee meeting did not allow a vote on the government's 'decision' that the school would cut a class.

In an open letter to Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen published in several Chinese-language newspapers yesterday, the school's alumni association repeated its call for Suen to step down. It accused Suen of breach of trust and credibility and of distorting the truth by saying the school had volunteered to operate one fewer Form One class in coming years. In fact, the Education Bureau had ordered the school to cut a class, the letter said.

Association member Lam Chiu-ying threatened to seek a judicial review if the bureau continued to snub those opposed to the move and proceeded to cut classes. The official who attended the management committee meeting announced the decision despite strong opposition to it, according to Lam, who is a former director of the Observatory.

'The official suddenly read out a piece of paper saying the Education Bureau had decided King's College will cut the number of classes. Some of us suggested voting on the issue, but the official refused,' Lam said.

Last March, the bureau called on all secondary schools to cut one Form One class, thereby reducing pupil intake, to preserve teaching jobs and avoid school closures over the next five years, when there will be a big dip in children entering secondary school. Few schools took up the offer, but a revised proposal offering more incentives in October was more successful. Just 53,900 pupils are expected to join Form One in 2016, 20 per cent fewer than this year.

Opponents of the city's top schools joining the class reduction scheme say their participation will intensify competition for places in elite schools and force some pupils into inferior schools.

'[Cutting a class] was an order not a voluntary decision of the school,' Lam said. 'It is a serious crisis of trust and credibility of a top-ranking official [Suen] that the community should not tolerate. We should tell all Hong Kong people that [Suen] should no longer stay in his post and he should step down,' he said.

The Education Bureau announced on February 24 that King's College had joined more than 150 secondary schools in agreeing to sign up for the class-reduction scheme, despite strong opposition from parents and alumni. It was the last of 15 government schools in Central and Western district resisting the move.