Hong Kong's newest batch of preschool children yesterday took their first steps into the world of formal education flanked by lines of police officers. Whether the thin blue line laid out either side of them as they walked hand-in-hand with their parents was absolutely necessary is a debate for another day, but the scene paints a stark picture of how in 2015 Hong Kong division and rancour - or at least the perception of it - threatens to dominate the narrative of something even as innocent - if competitive - as where a child goes to school. This delights me even more than winning a Mark Six prize! … Now it is quite fair SHEUNG SHUI MOTHER As it turned out, tolerance and common sense won the day as most Hong Kong parents living in the North district appeared relieved when the annual school-place allocation results came out yesterday - in the second year of a policy that restricts cross-border pupils from competing with locals in the city's border area. And the reason for the heavy police presence? A protest by fewer than 20 so-called nativists unhappy about mainland parents sending their children to schools in the city. The tiny protest was just the latest in a string of similarly small demonstrations of anti-mainland sentiment, which receive media and police attention in inverse proportion to their size. The scenes played out as parents living on the mainland went to HHCKLA Buddhist Wisdom Primary School in Sheung Shui to pick up place-allocation results yesterday. Metal barricades separated parents and pupils from two activist groups, Hong Kong Localism Power and Civic Passion, who used loudspeakers and called on parents to take their children back to the mainland. Their choice of persuasion was a banner displaying Chinese characters that read "Go back to the mainland, locust children!" Jon Ho, a spokesman for Localism Power, a loose-knit group set up in March with fewer than 20 active members, said: "We are here to express our discontent to mainland parents. "They first came on tourist visas to give birth and then occupy Hong Kong's school places. We want Hong Kong children to be able to go to schools nearby." Ho said his group was only targeting parents but not children, but he did not mention that the government had already banned mainland mothers from giving birth in Hong Kong hospitals after an earlier public outcry. Almost 60,000 children will enter primary schools this year, 2,600 of them Hong Kong residents living on the mainland. According to the Education Bureau, 68 per cent of children who participated in the central allocation system got a school that was in their parents' top three choices, a slight increase from 66.4 per cent last year. Together with those who had applied directly to and secured places from their preferred schools, the "overall satisfaction rate" stood at 82.1 per cent in both this and last year. No separate "satisfaction rates" for local and cross-border children are available. Chan Siu-hung, chairman of the North District Headmasters Association near the border, said a shortage of places for locals in the area had eased since last year as the government capped the number of places in the district for cross-border children. "In fact, local parents have stopped complaining," he said. But the measure upset some mainland parents whose children were offered school places further south. A Putonghua-speaking father complained as he stepped out from the Sheung Shui school: "This is unreasonable! We live in Lo Wu and the school is in Yuen Long. That's too far away!" Local Sheung Shui mother Mrs Cheung, in contrast, could not hide her excitement when she learned that her son would go to the school of her choice in the neighbourhood. "This delights me even more than winning a Mark Six prize! I was very worried and couldn't sleep last night … Now it is quite fair to us locals," she said. Mainland parents' reactions to the protest were divided. Shenzhen businessman Mr Guo, whose Hong Kong-born son will go to a school in Tai Po that he had listed as his top choice, was calm. "There is conflict wherever there is competition. I can understand why they are protesting." But Mrs Zhang, also from Shenzhen, was angry about the demonstration. "We came here legally. If we mainlanders don't send our children here, who would go to Hong Kong schools?," she asked. "When our children work here in the future, they will pay tax to the Hong Kong government. Who are to benefit from the welfare? Hongkongers or us?"