Once again comes the now familiar complaint from Hong Kong's expatriate English teachers that their skills are under-utilised and their presence in schools is often used merely to swell the numbers of an already overworked teaching staff. This chorus of criticism is so consistent it can lead to only one conclusion: something is sorely amiss with the Native English-speaking Teacher scheme (NET). This month a new intake of 80 NET staff will arrive ahead of the start of the new school year. What they will find will of course vary from school to school. But there do appear to be some common expectations based on the experiences of many of the current intake. The fundamental problem appears to be that there is an assumption that NET teachers are brought to Hong Kong simply because they are native English-speakers. When considering how best to employ NET teachers as a useful resource, it is vitally important to appreciate that they are not here simply because their first language is English. They are experienced teachers first and native English-speakers second. The fact that their teaching experiences were gained overseas means that, in many cases, they will have different approaches in the classroom, perhaps different theories on the process of language acquisition, and they are certainly going to have some comments to make about Hong Kong's education system. These comments can either be welcomed and assessed through open channels of discussion, or they can be ignored because they threaten the comfortable, accepted way of teaching English in Hong Kong; in many cases it appears that the latter is taking place. Even with the best intentions, it seems inevitable that some local teachers are going to consider NET teachers a threat and resist their influence. After all, the whole purpose of bringing them to Hong Kong as part of the Government's five-year pilot scheme, is to attempt to improve students' inadequate English language skills. However this is dressed up, it does imply a criticism of the standard of English teaching already taking place, and this is bound to lead to some resentment. Clearly, a certain amount of diplomacy is required on the part of the newcomers. But this does not mean they should keep quiet about the shortcomings of the system they encounter. Their contribution needs to be evaluated and, where appropriate, used as a chance to innovate and improve. A recent survey showed that a large majority of students like the NET teachers' classroom input, and feel they have been provided with new and valuable opportunities to speak and listen to the language. Although the survey also revealed some reservations about NET teachers' approach to discipline, this is probably due to their style of teaching, which is less rigid and formulaic than the traditional Hong Kong classroom approach. Despite the students' generally positive response, without a concerted effort by the Government to manage the gradual introduction of fresh, more creative approaches, it is unlikely that a small number of NET teachers can succeed in changing the well-established practices in Hong Kong's schools. By spreading teachers around as many schools as possible, the effect they can have is diluted. What is needed is an appraisal of the scheme before bad change-management practices become entrenched. A forum needs to be created in which educators at all levels can freely exchange views and discuss all aspects of the scheme, ranging from the acceptance of NET teachers in schools to more strategic issues, like teaching methods and goals. One idea, put forward by Pauline Bunce, an executive committee member of the NET Association, would certainly help bring about a more effective deployment of NET staff. This approach calls for schools to apply for NET teachers. By setting out a case to be part of the programme, schools would be forced to evaluate how they would best use the input of the additional teacher. This would require them to consider changes to working practices and the introduction of ways of empowering local teachers of English by including them in the change process. In this way model schools that make the best use of their new resource may be created and become centres of instruction for furthering the scheme elsewhere. There is little doubt that the injection of new ideas into schools can only be beneficial, if these ideas are discussed thoroughly, evaluated and finally supported by the majority of staff. Some approaches may simply be inappropriate to Hong Kong's schools, but that should not discourage free dialogue. What is clear is that if the SAR is to produce students who are innovative, adaptable and creative, a new approach is needed to replace the current exam-centric, rote-learning method of instruction. The stimulus for this must come from the Education Department. While many of its initiatives are already heading in the right direction, it would do well to consider carefully outsiders' criticisms. Many of the more experienced NET teachers have alternative views that should contribute to the process of curriculum development. All this demands a complete rethink of the style of teaching and the aims of education in Hong Kong. It also raises far more fundamental issues than simply the teaching of English. But the contribution and the use of NET teachers is an excellent place to start this urgent appraisal.