Schools at risk of closure because of falling enrolments will be given a one-year reprieve. The education minister said this yesterday after more than 30 schools failed to attract the minimum enrolment of 61 students for the 2010-11 academic year. Under current policy, a school that fails to reach the 61-student threshold for the coming academic year will be denied the chance to admit pupils in the next one. But Secretary for Education Michael Suen Ming-yeung said the process would not be initiated this year. Education officials will be sent to schools to count student numbers on September 15. Those that find it difficult to draw enough students will be asked to consider options such as merging with another school. Suen said he would do his best to keep schools as they are this year. '[But] we must do something next year. What we are doing now is fighting for more time to find an ideal solution. Money is not our main concern. Our main concern is that ... schools can't get enough students. What can we do?' According to the Education Bureau, 69,000 Primary Six pupils will progress to Form One next month - 6,000 fewer than last year's figure. The Primary Six population will hit rock bottom in 2016-17, when there will be just 53,000 graduates, after which student numbers are expected to begin to bounce back. Falling student numbers have hit primary schools hard in the past few years, with 72 closing between the 2005-06 and 2009-10 academic years. The Professional Teachers' Union has put forward measures to deal with the problem. It called for the 61-student threshold to be lowered to 42, and for the count to be deferred to give schools more time to admit new arrivals from the mainland. Lo Sui-kwong, president of the Association of Heads of Secondary Schools for Eastern District, said some schools in the area had failed to reach the 61-student threshold. 'I have sent out a bulletin to over 30 schools in our district, urging those who have attained the enrolment threshold to stop admitting students, so that the excess students can be taken by those who are at risk,' he said. Lo welcomed the one-year reprieve. 'It gives us one more year to discuss and thrash out appropriate policies to deal with the crisis.' Teachers' union vice-president, Wong Hak-lim, said the reprieve was a stopgap measure that would not deal with the problem. 'The long-term solution is to introduce small-class teaching in the secondary sector,' he said.