ESF set to lose vote on shorter school day

THE English Schools Foundation (ESF) proposal to adopt continental hours and a shorter school day for primary schools looks likely to fail before this week's Joint Council of Parent Teacher Associations.

The proposal has sparked debate over whether school hours affect the quality of education, and criticism of the ESF's approach to the proposal. Some parents have questioned why the ESF did not issue all parents a standardised questionnaire.

Some parents also have questioned why shorter hours have been proposed after the ESF spent funds installing air-conditioning in schools and suggested summer hours could be extended.

Summer hours have been from 8.45 am to 12.30 pm for 63 of the 185 annual school days; winter hours have been from 8.45 am to 3 pm for the rest of the year. However, the ESF has proposed a shorter school day from 8.30 am to 2 pm. Teachers' hours would notnecessarily be cut.

Quarry Bay Primary School and Kowloon Junior School parents and teachers rejected the proposal at separate meetings last week.

Peak School, Kennedy Road, Bradbury, and Beacon Hill have also rejected the proposals, with Peak and Kennedy Road preferring winter hours all year.

Sha Tin Junior School, Clearwater Bay and Quarry Bay schools are expected to issue questionnaires to gain a response.

Opinion has been split over whether a shorter day would deprive students of education and the chance socialise at school, or whether it would give children more time to relax and play outside school.

Teachers claim shorter hours would also give them more time for training and preparing lessons.

One parent, who asked not to be named, said parents he knew felt they had not been given enough information on school hours in Hongkong and overseas on which to make an informed decision. This was essential when the change could affect the quality of education and fees.

The Joint Council of Parent Teacher Associations' spokesman, Mr Paul Holmes, said few written responses had been received.

The council is expected to consider submissions from parent teacher associations during its meeting tomorrow.

Another parent said the ESF executive should plan long-term with 1997 in mind before upgrading facilities and appointing new staff for long periods.

''They are building new schools when they could actually be looking at a decline in demand which could happen quite suddenly.'' The ESF chairman, Mr Ken Woodhouse, declined to answer calls from the South China Morning Post.

However, the ESF secretary's position advertised recently is a two-year appointment. The post carries a salary of $84,050 to $89,100 per month.