The education minister yesterday announced measures to enable secondary schools with low enrolment figures to survive, after legislators earlier rejected plans which would have forced many to close.
Secretary for Education and Manpower Arthur Li Kwok-cheung said schools with fewer than three Form One classes or 71 Form One students could stay open as long as students were provided with an adequate range of elective subjects under the new '3+3+4' system.
Under this system, students will spend three years in junior secondary classes, three years in senior secondary classes - where they will be able to choose a range of elective subjects - and four years in university.
Students entering secondary schools in September will be the first to experience the new senior secondary curriculum in 2009.
Professor Li said small schools running only one or two classes in each year would be able to offer only a few elective subjects, limiting learning opportunities.
There are now 15 schools with fewer than three Form One classes, including several in Sha Tin and Tai Po, areas that have borne the brunt of population decline.
The announcement comes after the Education and Manpower Bureau's proposals for restructuring classes for the new senior secondary system were rejected in June by legislators seeking to save schools with low enrolments.
Under the original proposals, schools with fewer than 71 Form One students would have had to pass an inspection or provide acceptable proposals for ensuring a diverse curriculum. If schools failed the inspection and their proposals were rejected, they would have been excluded from the Secondary School Places Allocation Scheme - dooming them to closure.
Following meetings with educators and parents, the bureau has drawn up proposals under which these schools can now survive by merging or collaborating with other schools, strengthening their own resources, submitting to inspection, going private or becoming Direct Subsidy Scheme schools - which enjoy more flexibility.
Schools refusing to do any of the above would not be excluded from the central allocation system but would be funded differently.
Instead of subsidies being paid for each class, they would be paid per student. No subsidies would be given for upper secondary classes.
A spokesman for the bureau said although the proposals would give schools more ways to stay open, they still faced difficulties.
Since the schools would not be allowed to expand their rolls, and were unlikely to be able to offer classes beyond Form Three, parents 'might not put them as priorities' in applications for secondary places, he said.
Democratic Party legislator Cheung Man-kwong criticised the bureau's plan, as some schools were still threatened with closure.
'This measure merely allows schools to linger on precariously.'
Mr Cheung, also chairman of the Professional Teachers' Union, will meet secondary school principals and hopes to meet Professor Li on the matter.