North District is short of about 1,400 Primary One places in Sheung Shui, Fan Ling and Sha Tau Kok because of the increasing number of cross-border students, the Education Bureau said yesterday.
But it did not guarantee admission priority for local families, although it promised to increase public school places by measures such as borrowing them from nearby schools, adding more classes and student places, and building more classrooms.
"North District is one of the 18 administrative districts," Education Bureau permanent secretary Cherry Tse Ling Kit-ching said at a Legislative Council education panel meeting. "In respect of the school place allocation system, we cannot tailor-make a system for the district."
But she said the system had already helped to divert some cross-border students by allocating them to eight different school nets because they did not have fixed addresses in Hong Kong, while North District residents would be allocated to the net in which they belonged.
Education-sector legislator Ip Kin-yuen said the pressure on public school places from Hong Kong-born children living on the mainland would continue.
This was because the number of cross-border kindergarten students in the academic year of 2011/12 was 5,700 - even more than the cross-border primary students, who numbered about 5,300, Ip said.
For that year, 70 per cent of the almost 13,000 cross-border students were allocated to schools in the North District, he said, and nearly a quarter of the district's primary students were from across the border.
"Hong Kong as a whole can take in [the cross-border students], but they are highly concentrated in the North District, so the problem is how to allocate them," Ip said, suggesting that they could be allocated to various districts based on the immigration control points they used.
He blamed the Education Bureau for failing to foresee the problem, as the number of cross-border students had been rapidly increasing by the year.
In the academic year of 2006/07, there were just 800 cross-border kindergarten students - compared with 5,700 five years later, he said.
Ip urged the government to discuss with the Guangdong administration the possibility of letting Hong Kong-born students attend public schools there and opening classes especially for them.
Meanwhile, Lee Fu-sing, vice-chairman of Tai Po district's Headmaster Association, said more than 200 school places in 10 of Tai Po's 18 primary schools have been freed up for preschool children in any of the 80 school nets.
But he said these places might not be sufficient to cope with the high number of applicants.