Exemptions from English benchmark tests have been granted to 120 foreign-qualified teachers who had been told they would have to sit the controversial exams.
The Professional Teachers Union (PTU) said the change of heart demonstrated that the Education Department had initially been too strict when it came to granting exemptions.
Teachers with a degree in English or an English-related discipline who have had education training are automatically exempt from the language proficiency test, launched this March. The Education Department issued a list of recognised local qualifications, but overseas graduates need to apply for exemption individually.
Appeals against the decision that they would have to sit the test were launched by 134 teachers with foreign qualifications, with 120 succeeding. A total of 2,080 teachers have applied for exemptions, which have been granted to 1,560 applicants.
Speaking for the 75,000-strong PTU, Chik Pun-shing said: 'The Education Department has been too rigid in granting the exemptions and has overlooked some degree-equivalent qualifications.'
Twelve graduates of the Institute of Linguists, a British-based organisation founded in 1919 that awards diplomas in Chinese and English, were among those who won exemption on appeal. Institute representatives helped argue their graduates' case.
The institute's regional co-ordinator Florence Lam Kam-fong said: '[Our diplomas are] based on a stringent test comprising seven papers. Some teachers even broke down in tears when they learned that they couldn't be exempted. But we do appreciate the Government's willingness to change its mind after listening to our views.'
Other qualifications whose holders were granted exemption after appeal include a degree in education from London University and Britain's College of Teachers. Graduates with other qualifications are still appealing.
The Education Department declined to comment on why it had backed down from its original decisions, saying applications were vetted on a case-by-case basis.
The PTU led a series of demonstrations last year to demand the scrapping of the benchmark test, which it described as an insult to teachers' professional standards. The Education and Manpower Bureau agreed initially to exempt about 25 per cent of the SAR's 14,000 serving English-language teachers.
Only about 340 teachers sat the test in March, with results expected to come out next week. The rest have until 2005 to sit the test, undergo a recognised training course or obtain exemption.
The test will be offered every March.