200 school headmasters protest for smaller class sizes

Demonstration at Legco comes as government plans to cut teacher numbers in coming years

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 November, 2012, 3:27am

More than 200 headmasters protested at Legco for smaller class sizes yesterday, angry government proposals to cut teacher numbers as the student population shrinks in the coming years.

The show of unity saw more than half the city's secondary school heads demonstrate to keep the teacher headcount at present levels, as the issue was discussed at a Legislative Council education panel meeting.

Education experts have been split on how to tackle an expected 11,000 drop in the student population by 2016.

The government wants schools to cut the number of classes, and up to 700 teachers have been offered another round of voluntary retirement.

But this could leave schools with not enough teachers in 2017when the population is projected to rebound.

Government authorities said the measures would ease concerns among the city's 400 secondary schools that they could be affected.

But schools claim the measures would be ineffective and could lead to the closure of up to 100 schools.

This is partly because schools are given funding that is based on the number of classes they teach.

To avoid a teacher "brain-drain", the alliance of secondary school principals has called for an overall reduction in class size between 2013 and 2017, from 34 to 30.

It wants to maintain class numbers and use the population drop as a chance for smaller-class teaching.

Such a measure would stabilise the amount of public grants that schools receive.

However, Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim yesterday criticised the idea.

He said introducing a citywide policy of smaller classes would mean pupils in some areas could be denied places at elite schools.

"We cannot hastily cut the class size across the board. The situation [enrolment drop] is only temporary," he said.

However, principals told the panel meeting yesterday that creating a cut-throat environment, where schools compete for students to avoid slashing teachers and classes, would be bad for education.

Principal Man Ching-fan said: "We always tell students that the school is their second home. But if the environment is so unstable, students will suffer in the end."

Tang Chun-keung, who represents the Yuen Long school head association, said some less-competitive English schools would be forced to take fewer high-calibre pupils.

Because classes can only be taught in English if more than 80 per cent of the students come from the top 40 percentile of primary school graduates, this could force some schools to teach in Chinese.

Principal Lee Suet-ying said the new round of voluntary retirement would create a brain drain, which is "irreversible" when the student population bounces back. "When [teachers] are gone they will not come back," she said.

A representative from a parents' group, Leung Mei-ling, said she supported the small-class proposals suggested by the principals.

"They are the people who really know what students need," Leung said.