The education secretary has promised "special arrangements" to ensure that children in the northern New Territories will get a school place in the district where they live despite intense pressure on schools from cross-border pupils.
"We pledge to increase the number of Primary One school places in North District in order to accommodate the wishes of these children to study within the same district," Eddie Ng Hak-kim said yesterday.
But parents and educators questioned how schools could be expanded to absorb 1,400 extra pupils - the estimated shortage of places - before the next school year starts in September.
One principal said it could mean expanding the size of classes to 38, 10 more than the citywide standard.
Schools are under pressure from an influx of children born in Hong Kong to mainland parents as well as offspring of local families living across the border.
Education officials said earlier that giving priority to children of local parents could be considered, but this was condemned by critics as discriminatory.
Yesterday Ng stopped short of such a measure, but said mainland parents would be encouraged to enrol their children in other districts.
Earlier, Ng and other Education Bureau officials had said schools in border areas such as Sheung Shui could expand capacity by renovation and increasing class sizes. "We are OK to push [the class size] to 38," North District Primary School Heads Association chairman Chan Siu-hung said. "But we are not sure if parents will be happy with it."
He also warned that the quality of teaching could be compromised if the authorities did not provide adequate resources.
Ng said the guarantee of a place for northern students was a "special arrangement" made in response to surging demand.
While the overall shortfall has been put at 1,400, a bureau spokesman said that with parents willing to send their children elsewhere to study the actual number of children failing to secure a place in their district of residence could be as small as 300.
The lawmaker for the education sector, Ip Kin-yuen, said he welcomed Ng's pledge but doubted whether school capacity could be increased much in the space of a few months.
North District councillor Lau Kwok-fun said he expected classes in the area to be more crowded. He urged the government to allocate the necessary resources to help schools cope.
North District parent-teacher representative Eacy Chan said the association welcomed the government's move.
Officials earlier said other than expanding classes, more classrooms would be built in selected campuses to increase capacity.
Ng said yesterday that after the allocation results were announced in June, parents living near the border, whose children were allocated to a school outside their district, should register with the bureau.