The government will allow schools to cut the number of secondary classes they run and offer cash incentives to keep teachers employed even as the number of pupils falls. Heads at some schools welcomed the proposal, which will affect all government and aided secondary schools from September 2011. Under the scheme, a school will admit four classes of Form One pupils, one fewer than at present. At schools that participate, no teachers will be fired for five years because of the cut in classes - by which time the number of pupils is projected to rise again. As an incentive for joining the scheme, a school will be given extra funding of HK$250,000 a year. Schools can apply to increase the number of classes they operate after pupil numbers bounce back. Under the scheme, teachers without classes can be put to work introducing the new secondary school curriculum that began last year and which schools have said involves a lot of extra administrative work. Education minister Michael Suen Ming-yeung unveiled the voluntary scheme yesterday, after discussing it with school sponsoring bodies, principals and parents in all districts over recent months. The number of Form One pupils at government and aided secondary schools is set to fall by 7,000 in September, with 62,000 pupils transferring from primary schools. The fall in enrolments, which began in 2008, is due to continue until September 2017. Suen said schools must consult parents and teachers before joining the scheme. 'Special arrangements' would be made for those that were ready to join the scheme this September. 'Because schools are implementing the new senior academic structure, we will give an incentive payment of HK$250,000 per year for support measures,' he said. Undersecretary for Education Kenneth Chen Wei-on said the extra funding would more than make up for the reduction in subsidies schools would face when reducing the number of classes. Schools receive subsidies for each pupil enrolled. 'It's for better quality education,' he said. Chen was confident the voluntary scheme would solve the problem of surplus teachers by redeploying them. He expects the teaching posts lost through class cuts to be accounted for by natural wastage within the five years. One in 20 teachers retires or resigns each year. Fears of redundancy because of primary-school closures have been a thorny issue between teachers and the government for years. In January 2006 it culminated in the biggest ever demonstration by teachers. More than 7,500 took to the streets. Yuen Pong-yiu, chairman of the Hong Kong Association of Heads of Secondary Schools, welcomed the extra annual funding of HK$250,000, which would pay for one extra teacher and 'greatly help' schools bring in the new curriculum. Liu Ah-chuen, chairman of the Hong Kong Subsidised Secondary Schools Council, said: 'We welcome this arrangement. I think this policy will have two benefits: one is more teaching space and the other is more teachers and manpower.' More than half the association's 348 members had buildings designed to take between 24 and 27 classes but schools needed at least 30 classrooms to deliver the new senior secondary curriculum effectively, he said. 'The five-year transition period, which we have fought for, can help schools plan better,' he said. 'No matter whether they are Chinese- or English-medium schools, all schools should consider joining the scheme.' Kwok Wing-keung, president of the Association of Heads of Secondary Schools for Tai Po, said all schools in the district would discuss joining the scheme. 'Some schools have floating classes [because of a shortage of classrooms],' he said. 'Voluntarily reducing the number of classes can help lessen the problem of overcrowding at those schools.' But Lee Chung-kuen, founding president of the Federation of Parent-Teacher Associations of Tsuen Wan District, said the government wanted to keep the surplus teachers at the expense of pupils' interests.