A LOCAL PRIMARY SCHOOL and international school have teamed up to improve English and break down cultural barriers in what could be an alternative model to the NET scheme. Hong Kong Academy School, an international primary school in Stubbs Road, is determined that its children grow up with greater awareness of the local culture and environment than many expatriate children experience in Hong Kong. The best way to do this, its founder and chairman, Ben Frankel found, is to collaborate with a local school. The 170-pupil academy has formed a relationship with Wan Chai School, a local aided primary where the principal, Betty Hau Shun-wah, is equally eager to innovate in education. While the two brought pupils together from the schools for the first time during the Chinese Market Day held at Wan Chai School last weekend, the relationship in fact goes much further, to English instruction and curriculum development in the local school. When Wan Chai School failed to be allocated a native English-speaking teacher in the new primary NET scheme this summer, the academy stepped in, initially as part of its community service. Now, its teachers, including principal Teresa Richman, are providing English teaching and staff development nine hours a week. Wan Chai School is using the $150,000 it receives from the Education Department to buy in NET services to help cover the expenses, though Ms Hau says the school is gaining far more from the arrangement, in both time and quality, than if she used a commercial teaching agency. Ms Hau is so pleased with the relationship that she sees this as an alternative to the official NET arrangement, in which one teacher is assigned to teach in two primary schools, and would like it to continue. 'The academy sends us their best teachers, with each teaching at a different level,' she said. Ms Richman and her team have helped the school develop its reading programme, source suitable books and devise new assessment methods. Academy teachers also oversee the two English language teaching assistants (ELTAs) - gap year students from the UK supplied by the Chatteris Foundation - who are working in the local school. During the term the two teams have found the most effective ways of providing the NET instruction. During a 60-minute period, children are split into three groups. While the academy teachers take the largest group, local English teachers and ELTAs lead the smaller, changing at half-time. Local teachers are also on hand to observe Ms Richman and her colleagues, discussing the lessons beforehand and after. 'Our teachers can learn a lot. They see a lot of activities and fun in the classroom,' Ms Hau said. Reading, writing, listening, speaking and phonics are integrated, with each lesson designed to compliment the standard English curriculum followed by the school. The arrangement is already resulting in a rapid improvement in English skills, according to both Ms Richman and Ms Hau. 'In the first month we got no response from the children, even to questions like 'do you like ice-cream?'. Now they are very proud to speak in English,' Ms Richman said. The two schools hope to continue the English teaching relationship and have presented the arrangement to the Education Department as an alternative to the NET scheme. The school has been expected to recruit its own NET teacher, to share with another local primary, next year, which would mean it would no longer have funding for the time academy teachers work with the school. 'Our students are benefiting from this. We want the Education Department to know that we would like this model for next year,' Ms Hau said. 'The most important thing is that our students are enjoying English now. Before they hated it.' The relationship involves so many hours of teaching and preparation from the academy staff, which means it is not strictly viable on a commercial basis. But Mr Frankel said it worked because of his school's mission to be a part of and contribute to the local community, which it sees as important to its children's education. To this end, joint activities for students at both schools are also arranged. Ms Hau, now in her second year as principal, is experimenting with other initiatives. In English, for instance, students are grouped according to ability rather than year bands, an arrangement that could be extended to maths after a two-year trial.