When English teacher Desiree Ng Kit-chee is teaching the past continuous tense, she likes to give every child in her class a call at home the night before the lesson. 'I ask them all one question: 'What are you doing now?' and they will say 'I am watching TV' or 'I am doing my homework',' she said. In class the next day, the children sit up and take notice when she asks them 'What were you doing when I rang you last night,' and, if anyone says 'I am doing' or 'I did' instead of 'I was doing', she has a vivid scenario to help explain the difference. Preparing for this particular lesson involves 35 phone calls, something many hard-working primary teachers would be too tired or busy to fit in. But Miss Ng teaches at a primary school pioneering semi-specialist English, maths and Chinese teaching, and 80 per cent of her timetable is devoted to teaching English. 'Because I am a specialist in one subject, I have extra time for doing this kind of work,' said Miss Ng, who has just won a Chief Executive's Award for Teaching Excellence. 'And having more time to prepare enables me to design lessons that are imaginative, engaging and interactive. 'I also use the extra time to be a reflective practitioner and monitor students' progress carefully. I use this information to develop lessons that suit pupils' learning styles and characteristics and provide them with challenging tasks.' Aldrich Bay Government Primary School in Shau Kei Wan is pressing ahead with initial steps towards the specialised approach to the three key subjects the government wants all Hong Kong primary schools to bring in by 2008. The Education and Manpower Bureau is increasing staffing levels in primary schools from 1.4 teachers per class to 1.5 teachers per class to enable principals to carry out the plan. This will provide about three additional teachers for a typical primary school of 30 classes serving 1,000 children over three years from 2005-6 to 2007-8. When all the new teachers are in place, it will cost the EMB an extra $300 million per year. Chris Wardlaw, Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower, said schools would be given flexibility in how they use the additional teachers to increase specialist teaching and improve the quality of education in the three subjects. 'We want schools to have a plan of attack on how they might reorganise so that, in the first instance, the additional teacher is used to reinforce the English language programme in the school and the next teacher would be for Chinese or maths. 'But the ecology of every school is different - the way they organise their staff, the skill-set of their staff and their general timetabling arrangements. So we need to work through the school management and consult on the way forward,' she said. 'We would hope that teachers would be involved in discussions with school leaders on how best to employ the additional resources.' Groups that will be consulted include the Subsidised Primary Schools Council, Union of Government Primary School Headmasters and Headmistresses, Hong Kong Primary Education Research Association and Hong Kong Special Schools Council. Steve Lee Yuk-fai, principal education officer at the EMB, said he was confident there would be enough primary teachers to supply the 1,000 extra staff needed to support the plan. More than 1,500 new primary and secondary teachers were expected to graduate each year over the next three years and there were also a number of existing trained teachers available on the job market. Aldrich Bay freed up 10 of its 48 teachers last September to focus mainly on English, maths or Chinese - spending just 20 per cent of their time on a second subject - instead of covering three or more subjects each, the norm for Hong Kong primary teachers. Most of the first 10 semi-specialists are English teachers and it plans to step up the level of specialisation using the EMB's additional teachers in line with the three-year programme. English teacher Kitty Yung Kit-ping said: 'In my previous school, I was teaching English, Chinese, maths and general studies. I didn't know much about Chinese and maths, so it was really difficult for me to do the planning. 'But I am very happy with my teaching this year because I am specialising in teaching English, mainly. I have been working with a NET very closely and we focus on creativity in English teaching and curriculum development.' Chinese teacher Lo Lai-ling, who now spends 65 per cent of the school week on Chinese, said it gave her more opportunities to develop children's reading ability using books of their own choice. 'Once a week, I ask the children to read aloud from their chosen book. This helps to improve their reading skills and to memorise the written characters,' she said. Headmistress Ng Tsang Yuen-lee said she decided to step up the level of specialisation at the school because several subjects, including visual arts and computing, were taught by staff without appropriate qualifications or experience. She spent a whole year thinking about how to match teachers with suitable duties and ensure the workload was spread fairly. The teachers selected to become specialists were the ones who were most highly-qualified and experienced in the subject. She was able to bring in the change without recruiting any extra staff or losing existing teachers. And the school had not ruled out cross-curricular themes that it offered across subjects, including environmental education, civics, IT, and a project called 'Our school'. 'Each week we have collaborative lesson planning for Chinese, English and maths teachers to help them co-ordinate their teaching,' she said. 'We also have a panel meeting that includes all subject panel heads, where they discuss cross-curricular themes. 'We can already see a change in children's attitude to learning. And we have confidence that we will see improvement in academic results. Professional development of teachers will also be enhanced through this policy.' However, Mrs Ng said that she did not favour moving to 100 per cent specialisation in the three subjects because it could be a waste of some special talents and abilities.