But education official says there are competing interests and cuts must be made Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun has agreed to meet Sha Tin primary school principals early next month to discuss their demands for small-class teaching. But the permanent secretary for education and manpower warned that their wishes would have to be weighed against competing demands for scarce resources as Hong Kong faces up to education cuts. Mrs Law made the pledge yesterday at the start of a three-day leadership conference for Hong Kong principals with education guru Michael Fullan at Baptist University. Sha Tin principals are asking to pool student admissions among primary schools to allow small-class teaching and avoid closure of less-popular schools. The district is facing sharply declining enrolment, with student numbers in Primary One falling by 1,900 to 3,300 this year. The Education and Manpower Bureau (EMB) requires schools that cannot recruit at least 23 pupils to their Primary One classes to close them and shut entirely three years later. But the Sha Tin Primary School Heads' Association has asked the education bureau to allow schools in the district to lower the minimum class size to 16 pupils each and transfer additional students to other schools. Bureau guidelines put the optimum size at 32 pupils per class. 'We are willing to discuss it with primary school heads in the Sha Tin district at the beginning of October, but we still need more information on the student admissions in the district,' Mrs Law said. 'Hong Kong has been faced with a budget deficit and there is a cut in education funding. We have to determine whether the education sector can bear the brunt of the education funding cuts or should the underenrolled schools share a larger part of the cuts. 'There are other education reforms that still need to be rolled out next year. It is a matter of how we determine priority of resource allocation.' The conference - jointly staged by the EMB, the English Schools Foundation and Bond International College - was attended yesterday by 800 principals and deputy principals from local and ESF schools, who took part in workshops on Professor Fullan's ideas. Sunil Nanda, chairman of the Kennedy School council and a member of ESF's management committee, said it was another example of the foundation's commitment to education in Hong Kong. 'I call upon the government to remain steadfast in its commitment to education and to its partnership with the ESF so that we may all continue to make a valuable contribution to Hong Kong,' he said. Professor Fullan said leadership skills needed to be developed at all levels of the education system to bring about sustained change and better standards.