Parents are calling for an end to "succession" admissions to primary schools after the number of children able to attend the school of their choice in the first phase of allocations hit a 15-year low yesterday.
Educators echo the view, saying the Primary One allocation system for government and aided schools should be reviewed to ensure fairness.
The priority enrolment allows for an "order of succession" that guarantees admission to those with siblings studying or parents working at the same school.
At La Salle Primary School in Kowloon, anxious parents arrived early to check the allocations of the 90 places available at the elite Catholic school.
A woman whose son did not get a place said: "I've expected the disappointment. More children are [joining the allocation exercise] this year and the competition is keener. It is unfair to have the [succession] system but what can I do? My son is the eldest child in the family."
At the discretionary admissions stage, at least 30 per cent of places are set aside for eligible children. Other applicants vie under a points system, which dishes out 20 per cent of slots. The criteria include having siblings who are studying in the secondary section at the same address or had graduated from the primary school.
In the second phase, children who fail to secure a seat anywhere apply for up to 33 schools in a centralised exercise that subjects them to random, computer-generated allocations.
A spokesman for the Education Bureau said "succession" admissions were conducted for the convenience of parents taking their children to school. The system balanced the wishes of parents, schools and school sponsoring bodies.
"Is it necessary to have this system?" parent Jessica Yung asked outside Yaumati Catholic Primary School. "It forces parents to opt for direct subsidy scheme schools as it seems impossible for children to get into good government or aided schools if they don't have siblings in there."
She said she had applied to more than 10 direct subsidy scheme schools for her son.
The school said it received 267 applications in the discretionary phase and accepted 96, of whom 66 met the succession admissions criteria.
Principal Chu Lap-keung said they had to follow the rules, but felt the bureau should give schools more autonomy.
"The system has been in place for so many years and there's a need to review it now," Chu said.
The bureau said 49,914 children applied for discretionary places this year, of whom 43.3 per cent were accepted, down from 45.5 per cent per cent last year.
Successful applicants should register with their schools tomorrow or on Thursday.