Only one in seven English-language teachers will be exempt from planned benchmark tests, according to conditions laid down yesterday. After meeting 11 educational bodies, an advisory committee on teachers' education and qualifications granted exemptions to English-language teachers who majored in English at university and took professional training courses in English teaching. The government-appointed committee is responsible for developing the language benchmark. New English teachers would also benefit from the exemption if they fulfilled both requirements, said committee chairman Professor Felice Lieh Mak. An Education and Manpower spokesman said there would be no cut-off date for new teachers possessing such qualifications. According to a study by the Hong Kong Subsidised Primary Schools Council, only 80 English-language teachers in primary schools have a degree in English. Education Convergence chairman Choi Kwok-kwong estimated that there were only about 2,000 English-language teachers who possessed degrees in English and professional training qualifications. All 14,400 English-language teachers are required to meet the minimum standard by 2005, either by sitting the test or attending accredited training courses. Some teachers of Putonghua, who are holders of recognised qualifications, will be exempt from the test. The committee will set up a group to study which university degrees and teacher-training courses are eligible for exemption. Several educational bodies criticised the committee's decision. Education Convergence vice-chairman Tso Kai-lok said the committee had laid down too many conditions, leaving the working group little scope. The vice-president of the Federation of Education Workers, Wong Kwan-yu, said: 'It is unreasonable that teachers who majored in English are not exempt from some papers like writing and reading skills.' The committee decided to set up two working groups to work out the details of the training courses for English and Putonghua teachers. The working groups will comprise committee members and teachers. Professor Lieh Mak said there would be 'difficulties' guaranteeing enough places on training courses since most English-language teachers might opt to attend. According to a survey by Education Convergence, only 6.4 per cent of teachers are willing to take the benchmark test.