The Education Commission is to make a number of sweeping changes in its ambitious bid to reduce the gap between pupils of differing abilities within five years. Schools will be told to use a Web-based test to identify learning problems and to take government remedial measures to raise standards. And under a revised school allocation system, primary schools will have less freedom to select pupils - the proportion will be cut to 15 per cent from 65 per cent. Pupils are now ranked in bands from one to five and placed in secondary schools accordingly. Banding is expected to be reduced to three ranks from as early as next year, with a further reduction or abolition in 2005-06, subject to public approval. The proportion of pupils that secondary schools have the right to admit will be raised to 30 per cent from 10 per cent by the 2005-06 school year, to give parents the chance to apply for schools of their choice. Primary and secondary schools are to be encouraged to link in a 'through-train' model so that no pupils will be filtered out. 'The discrepancies are now so great that certain secondary pupils can't even remember all 26 letters of the alphabet,' said commission chairman Antony Leung Kam-chung. 'With the core-competence test of Chinese, English and mathematics, individual discrepancies can be reduced.' But a school sponsoring body doubted the ability gap could be so easily reduced. 'There are no incentives to encourage primary schools to raise standards,' said Kenneth Mak Kwai-po, principal education secretary of the Po Leung Kuk. 'You can't be sure if the schools are actively helping pupils unless there's a comprehensive monitoring mechanism. The idea of having no banding is good in principle but very difficult to achieve. After all, some pupils are brighter and some are less bright.' Mr Mak said his group would make use of the 30 per cent discretionary limit to grab the top pupils. 'I can anticipate a big rush for elite secondary schools with the relaxed quota on free admission.' Stephen Hui Chin-yim, chairman of the Subsidised Secondary Schools Council, was more optimistic. 'For principals of secondary schools, the biggest problem is that pupils' scores range from 0 to 100 when they are admitted,' he said. 'But if we can identify pupils' difficulties in Chinese, English and mathematics as early as Primary Three, we won't have a pupil who can't recall the 26 letters of the alphabet in secondary school or a Primary Six pupil having only Primary Two standard.' The scrapping of the 22-year-old Academic Aptitude Test is likely to be the first change of the reforms - released for public consultation yesterday - if public consensus is reached by July 31. The Web-based core competence test in Chinese, English and mathematics for Primary One to Secondary Three pupils is expected by 2005-06. Joseph Wong Wing-ping, Secretary for Education and Manpower, said he could not rule out the possibility of parents moving to districts with more elite primary schools. 'I don't have an answer to whether the parents will move because of this, but I do hope they look at the issue positively,' he said.