A secretary training institute is doing its bit to prevent the standard of English in Hong Kong from dropping further. The school knows well what the standard is like, having had to deny places on its courses to hundreds of students who failed to show a decent knowledge of English. 'In the past five years we've been taking in fewer and fewer students - because applicants do not meet the school's requirements in English proficiency,' says Sara Beattie, who runs her own business school. Mrs Beattie says the number of applicants who finish secondary school with their HKCEE but lack satisfactory English reading and writing skills is growing steadily. 'We cannot accept them, although we could well have made money by taking in more students.' The school was originally set up by an American woman about 30 years ago and became the Sara Beattie College when Mrs Beattie took over in 1974. The Wan Chai school offers its own one-year diploma in Executive Secretarial Studies. The school's curriculum emphasises practical skills, including shorthand, typewriting, office management, filing and record-keeping, and basic business and communication skills. Over the past two years around 200 young people have graduated with diplomas from the part-time training programme. Mrs Beattie said that next month the night-time school will introduce a series of English tutorial courses for those students who are weak in English. 'We already have expatriate teachers with us,' Mrs Beattie said. 'And earlier we had a franchise from the Trinity College in London to teach English as a second language, so that students could improve their spoken English.' The new supplementary English courses will be offered at no extra cost to the secretary students at Sara Beattie. The programme will focus on reading, writing, and study skills. 'I do hope that in the future, with more overseas Chinese coming back for jobs, the general standard of English in Hong Kong will improve,' Ms Beattie said. Students at Sara Beattie College are expected to have either previous work experience or short-term placements through its internship programmes. About 70 companies are linked to the school's internship programmes. 'Local employers generally consider interns as free labour. It cannot be helped,' Mrs Beattie said. 'But it is a valuable opportunity for our students to enter the real business world. Both our clients and the students are happy with the arrangement.'