More Form One classes are expected to be cut this year because of a drop in the number of pupils entering secondary schools, education officials said yesterday.
But the officials added that the measures already taken to eliminate 3,500 places would help the schools cope with this year's estimated surplus of 4,500 places.
Education undersecretary Kevin Yeung Yun-hung said during a Legislative Council education panel meeting yesterday that a policy implemented to shrink class sizes turned out to be more effective than expected last year.
Although up to 50 classes were expected to be closed because of the surplus of Form One places, only 12 were cut eventually, he said.
"The results last year turned out to be far better than some estimates," said Yeung. "So this is why we are confident [in dealing with the problem this year]."
But a joint committee of secondary school councils and principals said the situation could get more serious over the years, estimating a surplus of more than 7,000 Form One places by the 2016-17 academic year.
Yeung did not say whether he agreed with the joint committee's projection, but said the extent of the surplus depended on various factors, including parents' choices of secondary schools for their children.
In 2012, the government asked schools to shrink each of its Form One classes by one or two places every year until 2015. Almost 90 per cent of the approximately 400 public and subsidised secondary schools citywide agreed to comply.
The Education Bureau said last year that even if classes were cut, teachers could remain on the payroll for up to three years. It said schools could run two Form One classes with at least 26 pupils in each, while those schools with only enough pupils for one Form One class could still survive by working out a sustainable development plan with the bureau.
Yeung said the measures were meant to sustain the secondary schools and their teachers.
But Democratic Party lawmaker Helena Wong Pik-wan said although the government had no policy of shutting schools, some with just one or two Form One classes could still eventually be forced to close down.
Education sector legislator Ip Kin-yuen said that even if schools could keep their teachers after cutting their classes, the staff members would be left demoralised, hence affecting the schools' competitiveness.
Yeung said the government could not promise that no school would be shut in the following years because school operators might have their own plans.