Many mainland parents were upset and confused yesterday after they discovered their Hong Kong-born children would be going to primary schools in areas they had never heard of - the result of a government policy aimed at easing the pressure of cross-border pupils on the city's North District.
The number of children who failed to win places in their top three schools of choice through the government's allocation system hit 33.6 per cent this year, the highest in 13 years.
Children who live in parts of Shenzhen closest to the northernmost part of Hong Kong's border were allocated to schools in Tuen Mun, Tin Shui Wai, Tung Chung and Wong Tai Sin, requiring a commute of at least an hour.
Lin Yihua's son was allocated to CCC Hoh Fuk Tong Primary School in Tuen Mun. The family lives near the Lo Wu border crossing, nearly 30 kilometres away by road, and all the schools they chose were in North District. With four border crossings, the area is the mainland's gateway to Hong Kong.
"I've never been to the school," said Lin. "I don't know where the school is. Where is Tuen Mun?"
Although she said she would register at the school just to secure a place for her son, she planned to check with at least 10 schools in the North District to see if there were any openings.
Lin blamed the government's decision to round up 122 schools in eight catchment areas in order to provide some 3,000 places for cross-border children. These children can now be allocated to schools in any of these areas. North District only provides 10 per cent of the places.
The policy is meant to ease pressure on the district, which had a shortage of 1,400 places last year because of the number of cross-border children allocated to its schools.
A member of a parents' group campaigning for the rights of cross-border children, who identified herself as Mrs Li, was furious that her daughter was allocated to a school in Tuen Mun.
She said there were more than 1,000 parents in the group who were against the new allocation system and that they might sue the Education Bureau.
Chan Siu-hung, chairman of the North District Primary School Heads Association, expects to see a 20 per cent rise in the number of children seeking spare places in the district's schools this year. He said each Primary One class would reserve two or three places. Last year, more than 300 parents applied for 15 spare places at the Wai Chow Public School in Sheung Shui.
To avoid the heated competition in North District, Hongkonger Mrs Kwan moved her family to Kowloon Tong last year.
Her daughter was allocated to Kowloon Tong's Maryknoll Convent School.
Cross-border school bus operator Wong Ching-hung said her buses ran from the border to remote areas, with prices ranging from HK$1,000 to HK$2,000 a month.