Small-class teaching

Teachers reject government offer on cutting class sizes

Teachers' union rejects government offer to gradually cut average class size to 31 but with exceptions, and holds out for immediate cut to 30

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 November, 2012, 4:40am

A government offer to cut class sizes from the current average of 34 pupils to 31 was yesterday rejected by teachers, who say they are fighting for the stability of the education system.

The Professional Teachers' Union is sticking to its demand that classes should be reduced to an average of 30 students to save schools from a looming temporary fall in the student population, and turn it instead into a benefit for students. And they want to see the change in class size brought in immediately.

The union revealed that the Education Bureau had made the counterproposal in the latest of long-running talks with school principals. Their offer would see classes cut to 31 students over the next three years.

It had also proposed that adjustments on class numbers should be "flexible", depending on the needs of different schools.

The government has called on schools to cut the number of classes instead of the number of pupils in each class.

However, the union claims this could leave schools facing a teacher shortage in 2017, when officials expect the student population to rebound.

Officials have also acknowledged that it is difficult to gauge how many children born in Hong Kong to mainland parents will return to the city to attend secondary schools.

PTU vice-president Wong Hak-lim said the government's counter-offer had been made in an effort to appease growing public concern only.

He added that classes of 31 students would still be too big to reap the benefits of small-class education.

The union is planning to hold a protest against the government's plans on Sunday outside the Legislative Council.

It has expressed concerns that a drop in the student population of 11,000 by 2016 will cause instability at public schools, as they may face funding cuts due to a lack of students. The government funds schools according to pupil numbers.

Educators estimate up to 1,000 teachers could be made redundant in the next few years if class sizes are not reduced.

Officials say that is an overestimate.

Still, they recently extended a voluntary retirement scheme for teachers for a further five years, providing financial incentives for up to 700 staff to retire.

Earlier this month about 200 school principals demonstrated against the government plans. The PTU has also collected 5,000 signatures from people supporting their bid for small classes.