Fight for school places begins

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 September, 2011, 12:00am


It's a week that stresses out tens of thousands of Hong Kong parents every year, testing their patience and their plans for years in advance: the launch, which began yesterday, of the city's discretionary round of admissions to primary schools.

Yet again, hopeful parents arrived long before the schools were open, to tender their applications - even though the discretionary round lasts until Friday.

Outside La Salle Primary School in Kowloon City, one couple arrived at 6.30am despite the school not opening for another 21/2 hours. The mother said she was determined to send her son to the school because, 'I started training him since he was born.' That training includes Putonghua lessons every week from a tutor.

Behind the couple was an engineer who wants to send his son to the school because 'French lessons are available'.

'I have been arranging activities for him to learn more, like piano and horse-riding,' the man said. 'He can represent the school during external competitions.'

The fierce competition for desirable school places is being intensified by the growing number of schoolchildren. The Education Bureau estimates an increase from 49,700 primary school starters last year to 50,400 this year. And there will be some 57,000 pupils - this week's applicants - starting primary studies next year.

There are two rounds in the system of allocating school places. In the first, or discretionary, round, 50 per cent of a school's places are set aside. Around 30 per cent of the first-round places must be given to children with siblings studying at, or parents working in, the school. The remaining places in the first round are allotted using a points system that rewards those with other ties to the school.

Children gain 20 marks if they live in the school's neighbourhood - points so valuable that more than one pair of parents has moved home to gain them.

One of them was in the La Salle queue yesterday. He used to live in Tsing Yi but several years ago moved to Kowloon Tong for his youngster's benefit.

Nearby Maryknoll Convent School had 20 parents waiting early yesterday morning. The school said the application forms it received on the first day alone exceeded the 75 available places.

But while some parents seek prestige, others opt for less stressful schooling for their young ones. Low on the prestige scale is a small institution in Tai Kok Tsui, the Fresh Fish Traders' School.

One parent said he opted for the school for his youngest daughter. 'I would rather choose somewhere more relaxing. Why should I send my child to some place with a lot of pressure?'

The successful admissions will be announced on November 21. Those who fail to gain a place will go directly into a centralised allocation system, which will deal with the remaining 50 per cent of primary school seats.