Reduce class sizes rather than close secondaries, they say Educators have hit back at a threat to remove funding from schools with falling student numbers by demanding class sizes be reduced instead. They called on the government to make the change to minimise the need for school closures. The call followed the announcement by Secretary for Education and Manpower Arthur Li Kwok-cheung on Tuesday that the government was considering removing funding for schools with a single Form One class and persuade those with only two to merge with neighbouring schools. Professor Li said smaller secondary schools would not be able to offer a broad enough range of subjects in upper secondary school when the new senior secondary structure was launched in 2009. Educators told the South China Morning Post it would be a mistake to adopt a rigid mechanism to determine school closures and that they should be judged on quality rather than size. There are nine secondary schools with just one Form One class in the current academic year. These include two government schools which were last month informed by the Education and Manpower Bureau they would not be allocated Form One students in September. Ten schools have two Form One classes. Tso Kai-lok, vice-chairman of Education Convergence, said the EMB should be flexible. 'Every school is different,' he said. 'There are many schools in poorer areas that accept mostly Band Three students but do very well. Even if they have just one class [in Form One], they still do a very good job of teaching.' Dominic Chu Fu-yau, chairman of the Subsidised Secondary Schools Council, said size should not be used as a benchmark. 'If the sponsoring body or the school management committee are able to provide extra funds that enable the school to offer a breadth of curriculum and activities that is the equivalent to a school with three or more classes, there is no reason for the government to stop its funding,' Mr Chu said. William Yip Kam-yuen, chairman of the Hong Kong Association of Heads of Secondary Schools, said seriously under-enrolled schools might have difficulties providing the new curriculum, but the EMB 'should consider the specific needs of each school'. 'If class sizes were reduced to 35 or even as far as 30, then that would reduce the problem,' Mr Yip said. 'The speed of closure would be a lot slower.' The average class size between Form One and Form Three is currently 38. Stephen Hui Chin-yim, a committee member of the Subsidised Secondary Schools Council, said the association advocated reducing the average class size to 35. 'This is not an arbitrary figure, it is the number that was suggested by the Education Commission in its fifth report [in 1992],' Mr Hui said. 'When that was published there was no oversupply of places.' Mr Tso of Education Convergence agreed, saying classes should be cut to 35 next year, then 30 the year after that. 'We have been saying this for a long time,' he said, adding that smaller classes would also make it easier to implement reforms. Caleb Chung Chi-hing, principal of Hong Kong Sam Yuk Secondary School in Wan Chai, one of the nine affected schools, said he disagreed that one class was not large enough. 'Parents know in advance what subjects we are going to offer in Form One before they apply to the school. They should be able to choose the type of school they want,' he said. Students would be able to change to a different school for senior secondary after Form Three if they wanted to attend a larger school, he added. An EMB spokesman said a final decision had yet to be made on whether under-enrolled secondary schools would have their funding cut and there would be no changes to the system earlier than September 2007. However, he said the bureau had decided schools should have a total of 24 to 30 classes - or four in each form - for the optimal implementation of the '3+3+4' structure. He did not rule out reducing class sizes. 'We hope to have a firm decision by the end of the year so parents can make a clear decision when they come to choose schools for the 2007-8 academic year,' he said.