Parents of pupils who failed to secure a Form One place at the school of their choice yesterday slammed an agreement among some schools that barred them from seeking a transfer.
But educators have defended the industry-initiated policy, saying it is necessary to maintain school standards and to prevent some from closing down because of a lack of pupils.
Principals of secondary schools in Tuen Mun, Sha Tin and Eastern districts have agreed not to reserve Form One places for pupils seeking a transfer.
The schools would accept transfers only if they still had vacancies by Friday after enrolments - and pupils must be from a different district.
A citywide surplus of 4,400 Form One places is expected in the coming academic year, and the three districts are likely to be the most affected.
Despite the no-transfer policy, pupils and parents still flocked to popular English-language secondary schools in the districts yesterday to try their luck.
Outside Shatin Pui Ying College, which accepted transfer applications yesterday morning, one pupil, Kan Wing-yan, said: "Many schools don't accept any applications, but this one does, so we came to try."
Kan was allocated her second choice of school, in Sha Tin.
One parent, Wendy Li, whose daughter was allocated her second-choice school in Tuen Mun, said: "The policy is totally unfair. It forces Tuen Mun pupils [who can't get into a secondary school in the district] to spend hours travelling to schools in other districts."
Another parent, whose daughter was allocated to her fourth choice of school, in Tuen Mun, said she would go to Tin Shui Wai to try her luck in getting a transfer place for her child.
This year, 48,811 pupils took part in the secondary-school allocation exercise - about 2,800 fewer than last year.
Of them, 91 per cent got into one of their top three choices of secondary school, while 78 per cent were allocated their first choice - the highest proportion in 14 years.
Ip Tin-yau, chairman of the Tuen Mun District Secondary School Heads Association, said the no-transfer policy would be enforced for two years as the number of Form One pupils was expected to drop further.
"We saw a surplus of 900 Form One places in our district this year," he said.
"If we don't take action now, some … Chinese-language schools may face closure. But every school has its value … and a particular group of students to serve."
In 2012, the government asked schools to cut one or two places from every Form One class each year until 2015 to cope with the surplus.
According to the Education Bureau, 47 Form One classes will be cut in the 2014/15 academic year.
But teachers, who have estimated a surplus of about 7,000 Form One places in 2016, are demanding a further reduction in classes, especially in districts where the pupil shortage is most acute.
James Lam Yat-fung, chairman of the Subsidised Secondary Schools Council, said he hoped parents would be considerate and understand the need for schools to implement the no-transfer policy.
"As the effectiveness of the Education Bureau's policy to shrink classes is limited, we, as principals, have to help to provide a stable learning and teaching environment for our pupils and teachers," he said.