Guidelines look to push Hong Kong schools to place contract teachers on equal footing with permanent staff

Education authorities issue guidance to publicly-funded schools on how to improve salaries and benefits of teachers on short-term contracts

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 August, 2016, 11:59pm
UPDATED : Friday, 19 August, 2016, 11:59pm

After a long wait, Hong Kong’s education authorities have finally issued guidance to publicly-funded schools on how they can improve the salaries and benefits of teachers on short-term contracts.

The guidelines, issued on Wednesday, are an answer to long-standing criticism in the education sector that contract teachers – often on annually renewed contracts – face lower salaries than those of permanent teachers with similar qualifications as well as a lack of benefits and instability.

But some in the sector say the guidelines do not solve the problem of schools lacking the resources to open permanent teaching posts for contract teachers.

The guidelines, titled Optimising the Use of Teaching Manpower Resources, state that schools should use the government’s teaching staff subsidy to hire contract teachers instead of hiring teaching assistants, a practice adopted by many schools.

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Contract teachers should also enjoy comparable salaries and benefits, including sick leave, if their workload, teaching hours, subjects and other duties are comparable to those of other teachers of similar rank, experience and qualifications.

When using government grants to hire contract teachers, the circular setting out the guidelines reads, schools should, “as far as possible”, make the contract terms last at least one year.

As the number of pupils entering secondary schools decreases due to the city’s low birth rate, many secondary schools have redundant classes and thus redundant teachers because the Education Bureau maintains a ratio of two teachers to one class.

To prevent mass lay-offs, the bureau in 2010 promised resources for schools to keep their redundant permanent teaching posts until the end of the 2016-17 academic year, so schools started to hire more contract teachers to fill the permanent posts left available, to prevent having to fire permanent teachers the following year.

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Ambrose Chong Siu-man, principal of Lai King Catholic Secondary School in Kwai Chung, said he agreed with the guidelines. He said his school had been treating contract teachers as equals with permanent ones.

But he said the eventual solution would be raising the number of teachers for each class, so schools would have more posts available for contract teachers to turn into permanent ones.

“There should be a comprehensive review of the secondary school system, and the class-teacher ratio should be one of the focuses,” Chong said.

Chong said he had reservations about using teaching staff subsidies to hire contract teachers only. He said many teaching assistants needed frontline experience to upgrade their qualifications, and the new guidelines would deprive them of such chances.