Sector urged to demand a date from chief executive The education community should reject the chief executive's policy address if it does not include a commitment to reducing class sizes, a leading principal told an education forum this week. 'If the policy address does not say when small-class teaching can be implemented, I think we should not accept [the chief executive's] homework,' said Tsoi Kai-chun, chairman of the Subsidised Primary Schools' Council. Speaking at a forum on small-class teaching at Hong Kong Institute of Education on Thursday, he urged the government to begin reducing class sizes from next September. Mr Tsoi said the chief executive should turn 'adversity into an opportunity' in dealing with the declining student population. 'A third of primary schools are already being forced to teach small classes due to falling enrolments,' Mr Tsoi said. 'We are ready for this change. We are just waiting for this one thing: for the chief executive to give the go-ahead.' There have been reports Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen is likely to unveil plans to extend free education to senior secondary from 2009, coinciding with the implementation of the '3+3+4' reforms. But although speakers said it would send a positive message, some criticised the move as a political one that would have a minimal effect on the quality of education. 'This is unrelated to the quality of education,' said Choi Kwok-kwong, chairman of Education Convergence. 'It is not an educational question, it is a political one.' The small-class issue was also political. 'Once there is a loud enough call from society, it will happen,' Mr Choi said. Principal Assistant Secretary for Education Ip Ling-bik appeared to indicate the government could be willing to alter its 'wait-and-see' approach to the issue. She said although the pilot study into small-class teaching in 37 primary schools would not be released until late next year, early results appeared to show benefits. 'Teachers recognise they need to change from their traditional role,' Ms Ip said. 'When they do . . . there is a better relationship between teachers and students.' School leadership was an important factor in how well teachers adapted to the change. 'Some of the principals in the pilot scheme are able to do something to enable the school to make big changes.' Ip Kin-yuen, principal of HKICC Lee Shau Kee School of Creativity and a former lecturer at HKIEd, said it was not necessary to wait until teachers had been prepared for that change before reducing class sizes. 'I hope we can give our teachers an opportunity to learn this at the same time as they are teaching smaller classes,' he said. However, Alex Cheung Chi-hung, chairman of the Aided Primary School Heads' Council, questioned whether it would be practical to reduce class sizes across the school system starting next September. 'Schools are already crying out for help due to difficulties finding qualified English teachers.' Lai Kwok-chan, head of the HKIEd's Centre for Development and Research in Small Class Teaching, the forum organiser, said it was impossible to predict Wednesday's speech. 'We don't know what will be in the policy address as the education sector has heard nothing from the government,' Dr Lai said. 'We hope to hear some good news.'