No "excess" teachers will be laid off because of dropping pupil enrolments at secondary schools in the next few years, officials vowed yesterday.
The announcement came after Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and Education Secretary Eddie Ng Hak-kim met an alliance of school principals.
Authorities have been under pressure as Form One admissions are expected to drop by 11,000 pupils in the next few years, before rebounding in 2017. School principals have called on the government to cut class sizes to avoid laying off teachers.
"My goal is that not a single teacher holding a permanent post will be laid off as a result of the drop of the S1 (secondary Form One) student population," Ng said. But he made no assurances on the small-class issue.
Educators estimate up to 1,000 teachers could be made redundant in the next few years if class sizes are not reduced.
Officials recently extended a voluntary retirement scheme for experienced teachers for a further five years, providing financial incentives for up to 700 staff to retire. They expect fewer teachers to be made redundant than the school sector's own estimates.
Under a plan announced yesterday, schools with too many teachers will not have to lay off permanent staff unless the situation continues for three consecutive years. The original policy requires action in the second academic year after excess manpower is recorded.
Excess manpower is calculated using a class-to-teacher ratio of 1:1.7, which means schools can hire 17 teachers for every 10 classes of 34 pupils.
Ng said "excess" teachers would be kept busy sharing the workload of other teachers, training and studying.
When asked by reporters why Lam attended the meeting with educators, Ng said he invited her because principals wanted direct engagement with top officials.
Ng, one of the least popular ministers in the government, is rumoured to have tendered his resignation recently. He said yesterday he had not lost self-confidence. "I cannot control what is being speculated."
Lam said Ng would be the government's key man on education issues. "He has tried very hard to listen to the views of different stakeholders," she said.
Lam told the meeting with principals that she had ordered the Education Bureau to keep an open mind in considering a reduction of class sizes, principals' representative Yuen Pong-yiu said.
Earlier this month, more than 200 principals protested outside the Legislative Council calling for capping classes at 30 pupils instead of the current 34.
Legislator Yip Kin-yuen, who represents the education sector, said the school system was not up to international standards, citing OECD data that the average class size in member countries is 23.5 pupils.
Meanwhile, 70 per cent of parents said in a recent poll they wanted class sizes to range between 25 and 30 pupils, on condition it created no extra financial burden for taxpayers. The Hong Kong Institute of Family Education interviewed 550 parents in the survey.