The Education & Manpower Bureau has proposed to implement small class teaching in schools with a high concentration of disadvantaged students in the next school year.
In a Legislative Council paper tabled today, the bureau said the proposal will help such children, in line with the Government's pledge to alleviate inter-generational poverty.
It cited overseas research indicating small class teaching has more significant effects on students with weak family support and in their early years of school.
Although the bureau has no conclusion yet on the cost-effectiveness of small class teaching in the local context, it said the scheme is a worthwhile investment.
The bureau proposed to implement the scheme in selected schools with 40% of their Primary 1 to Primary 3 students receiving Comprehensive Social Security Assistance or full grants under the Student Financial Assistance Scheme.
Schools will be provided with additional resources in the form of a cash grant of $290,000 per annum for each additional class to enable them to split students into small classes of up to 25 pupils for Chinese, English and maths lessons.
Participation will be by invitation, and names will not be disclosed. The scheme will be implemented in eligible schools progressively, starting from P1 in the first year and extending to P2 in 2006-07 and P3 in 2007-08.
The progressive implementation from P1 to P3 takes into account the need for teachers to be given time and support to adapt their teaching strategies and lesson design for a small class setting.
Making reference to student profiles in the 2004-05 school year, the bureau estimates 75 primary schools with P1 classes will meet the 40% threshold.
On the number of small classes an eligible school can operate, the bureau said it is subject to the school's annual student enrolment, and is capped by the number of vacant teaching rooms.
There may be changes in a school's student profile over time, but a 10% margin of variation between cohorts will not affect the school's eligibility for the scheme.
The bureau said curriculum adaptation and changes in teachers' pedagogical practices are crucial to the actualisation of the benefits of small class teaching.
Accepted schools will be invited to professional development workshops and required to include their initiative, together with a mechanism for evaluation of effectiveness, in their annual school plans and school reports.
Externally, the effectiveness of the scheme will be evaluated, based upon the framework developed for the present study, and it will be reviewed in light of experience and the evaluation data, taking into account also the study findings.
The bureau launched a three-year longitudinal pilot study on small class teaching at P1 and P2 levels in 37 primary schools, starting with the respective P1 cohorts in the 2004-05 and 2005-06 school years.
The purpose is to assess the benefits of small class teaching in the local context in terms of both academic and affective outcomes, and to identify the teaching strategies and support necessary for maximising the benefits.
The bureau said the 37 pilot schools in general have responded positively to the support measures, with teachers generally committed to experimenting with different strategies to enhance teaching and learning.
The final report will be available at the end of 2008 and there will be yearly interim reports between 2005 and 2007. Findings will provide useful reference for considering the long-term way forward for small class teaching.