Outgoing official says education on right track Hong Kong's leap in international rankings of student attainment is the result of sweeping reforms of primary education, the outgoing deputy secretary for education said this week. And the launch of the new senior secondary curriculum next year will lead to a 'bigger jump' in students' academic performance at secondary school, said Chris Wardlaw, as he prepared to step down on Wednesday after 61/2 years to return to his native Australia. Mr Wardlaw, 58, the chief architect of the senior secondary reforms, said the new system had won broad support among educators and legislators, plus substantial funding from the government. Preparations were 'on track' for its launch across all Form Four classes next September. 'For a major reform we have basically met all the milestones we set out in 2005,' he said. 'The broad agreement on the direction is broadly unchallenged and that, I think, is incredible.' The tertiary sector and legislators were both 'very, very supportive' of the new three-year senior secondary system which will replace HKCEEs and A-levels with the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education taken at the end of Form Six. Teachers and principals had been 'very responsive' to the changes. 'Schools are ready for the launch of the new senior secondary curriculum next year,' Mr Wardlaw said. 'Teachers are rising to the need for professional upgrading. In terms of professional development, we have had about 1,500 teacher programmes preparing for '3+3+4', mainly at the subject level. 'We have got another year before they start the senior secondary one, and we would say that things are on track. At subject level, we can show the movement over three years of teachers being more comfortable. There is still room for more comfort but I've got no doubt that teachers will be ready. 'We set out to train and have everything in place by September this year and we have pretty well done that.' But Mr Wardlaw said the impact of the senior secondary reforms would not be felt for at least 10 years, with the four-year degrees due to start in 2012 and the first graduates emerging in 2016. 'We will only have a full understanding of the impact in about 2020,' he said. 'I don't think the basic education reforms can be fully realised without the senior academic reforms. But when they come on stream, they will give us a bigger jump. One assessment rather than two high-stakes assessments is a huge benefit to learning. The current system takes away so much learning because students are preparing for the HKCEE and the A-level.' Form Four students in Hong Kong gained the second-highest score in science among 57 countries and regions in the 2006 Programme for International Student Assessment - up from third place in the 2003 study. They came third in maths, down from first place in 2003, and in reading they were joint third, compared to 10th in the earlier study, according to the study released last year. In the 2006 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study - also published last year - 10-year-old students in Hong Kong came second out of 45 places, up from 14th in 2001. 'The Pirls data is staggering because we improved not just relatively but absolutely,' Mr Wardlaw said. 'And we did the same in Pisa: in both science and reading, we improved absolutely and relatively.' He noted though that 'one of the weaknesses that Hong Kong has got is the 'between school difference''. 'We need to close the gap sufficiently so parents can have confidence regardless of the school they are at, that they are going to get a quality education. And I am confident that in the next round of Pisa we will have started to close that gap.' Mr Wardlaw said the government's plan under the reforms was to increase the number of students who stayed on at school for senior secondary from about one-third of the age group to around 95 per cent. Catherine Chan Ka-ki, principal assistant secretary (curriculum development), will take over as deputy education secretary on Thursday.