Two prestigious government secondary schools are considering switching to a direct subsidy scheme in the hope of gaining more autonomy. The moves are seen as a reflection of the uncertainty facing elite schools in the education reform process. The Belilios Public School in Tin Hau and the Kwun Tong Government School have been canvassing teachers on the move since last week. Neither of the English-medium schools has yet filed an application for the switch with the department. It is understood that some teachers have indicated that they are worried they might lose the status and fringe benefits they enjoy as civil servants. In its consultation paper unveiled last Monday, the Education Commission proposed that the segregation of primary school students into bands based on ability be abolished. The number of bands in secondary schools will initially be cut from five to three to ensure students with a wider mix of abilities are admitted. Some elite schools fear the proposal will make it difficult to maintain standards. The department launched the direct subsidy scheme in the early 1990s. Secondary schools operating under the scheme enjoy greater flexibility and autonomy than public sector schools. The extent of the government subsidy received by each of the 18 secondary schools operating under the scheme depends on the number of students admitted. Belilios Public School principal Agnes Wong Li Shuen-pui said she was sceptical of the reform proposals. 'The commission's proposal will definitely produce negative effects, forcing teachers to take care of the less capable students at the expense of smart ones,' she said. 'To be honest, I am baffled by the idea of these reforms.' Her anxiety was shared by Kwun Tong Government School principal Deborah Lam Sui-hing. 'Whether the result of reform will be as good as [Commission chairman] Antony Leung [Kam-chung] imagines remains to be seen,' she said. Professor Cheng Kai-ming, a core member of the Education Commission, recently suggested that the Government assist some elite schools to join the direct subsidy scheme so that their traditions could be preserved. Mrs Wong complained the hands of government schools were tied by strict regulations. 'An English-medium government school can only hire one native English speaker to teach the subject. We will get more flexibility after switching to the direct subsidy scheme,' she said. Mrs Wong said the department was 'quite positive' on this issue. 'In a conference attended by government school principals, an assistant director of education told me to consult the teachers on whether they are interested in the proposal. If they are, the department will look into the matter seriously,' she said. But a department spokesman said they had not worked out any timetable for government schools to switch to the scheme. 'It is not good timing to discuss it when the Government is pushing ahead with education reform,' she said. Hong Kong Subsidised Secondary Schools Council chairman Stephen Hui Chin-yim said the schools' teachers should be able to cope with a broader mix of students. 'Professional teachers should be able to handle students with a mix of abilities. If elite schools rely on picking students to maintain their quality then they are not genuine elite schools,' he said.