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Following is a question by the Hon Abraham Shek and a written reply by the Secretary for Education, Mr Eddie Ng Hak-kim, in the Legislative Council (July 3):
Regarding education for students with special educational needs (SSEN), will the Government inform this Council:
(a) given that a study commissioned by the Equal Opportunities Commission and released in November 2012 has found that “[n]early 40% of the interviewed teaching staff (particularly teachers) lack knowledge about inclusive education”, and that the Government provides schools participating in the Intensive Remedial Teaching Programme and Integrated Education Programme with additional resources such as additional teachers and teaching assistants,
(i) what professional qualifications or training in relation to education for SSEN that such additional teachers and teaching assistants currently possess in general;
(ii) whether the Government will require that all such additional teachers must have attended the Basic, Advanced and Thematic Courses (BAT Courses) on integrated education for serving teachers, and consider establishing a mechanism to enable experienced teaching staff for SSEN to transfer to other schools at the end of their employment contracts to prevent brain drain; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(b) given that a study conducted by the University of Hong Kong had found that the percentage of children in Hong Kong with specific learning difficulties in reading and writing (SpLD) was between 9.7% and 12.6% in 2007, while government figures show that only 2.3% (i.e. 17 440 among 762 200) of the primary and secondary students in the 2012-2013 school year had SpLD, whether the Government can explain the discrepancy between the figures;
(c) whether the Government will take measures to ensure that SSEN will be identified as early as possible (e.g. enhancing training for primary school teachers in using the Hong Kong Specific Learning Difficulties Behaviour Checklist (for Primary School Pupils) provided by the Government); if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and
(d) whether the contents of the aforesaid BAT Courses dovetail with the 3-Tier Intervention Model (“3-Tier Model”) currently adopted by the Government to support SSEN in mainstream schools; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; whether the Government has adopted the “treat and test” approach under the “Response to Intervention” concept of the 3-Tier Model, so that students need not wait for assessment before being provided with needed support, especially in view of the shortage of educational psychologists ; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
My reply to the above question is as follows:
(a) (i) and (ii) To help ordinary schools cater for students with special educational needs (SEN), the Education Bureau (EDB) has been providing schools with additional resources on top of the regular subvention for all ordinary schools. Among others, additional teachers/teaching assistants are provided for schools under the Intensive Remedial Teaching Programme (IRTP)/Integrated Education (IE) Programme.
Schools should observe the relevant Codes of Aid for recruiting qualified teachers in filling the additional teaching posts under the IRTP/IE Programme (Note 1). A professional qualification or training in relation to education for students with SEN is not a pre-requisite for teacher appointment in schools. As a general practice, schools will take into consideration a candidate’s qualifications, teaching experience as well as his/her personality and aptitude, etc. for appointment.
The EDB encourages schools to adopt a Whole School Approach (WSA) to integrated education (IE) and attaches great importance to enhancing the professional capacity of teachers in catering for students with SEN. As students with SEN will be taught by a number of subject teachers instead of the additional teachers provided under the IE initiative throughout their six years of schooling in the primary/secondary schools, the EDB has been providing serving teachers with structured training courses pitched at basic, advanced and thematic levels (BAT Courses). All schools are required to formulate school-based teacher professional development plan and arrange their teachers to attend the BAT Courses in a systematic manner, having regard to the training targets set by the EDB. It is expected that a critical mass of teachers will complete the BAT courses in each school to guide and collaborate with their colleagues to adopt the WSA and appropriate teaching strategies to support their students with SEN. To better prepare and equip teachers with the knowledge and skills in catering for students with SEN, local teacher education institutions have included a module on special education or catering for student diversity in all pre-service teacher training courses. In addition to courses for teachers, the EDB has also incorporated topics on catering for student diversity and spearheading IE implementation in the Preparation for Principalship Course for Aspiring Principals and induction programme for newly-appointed principals to strengthen principals in leading the WSA to IE. Besides, training workshops are also arranged regularly for teaching assistants to equip them with the knowledge and skills to work in collaboration with teachers and other school personnel in supporting the students with SEN. Employment of teachers is a school-based matter and teachers are free to change schools upon completion of their employment contracts. With the continuous provision of BAT Courses participation in which is a requirement applicable to all schools, the number of teachers having received special education training will increase as a whole in the public sector schools. At the end of the 2011/12 school year, about 40% and 16% of the teachers of public sector ordinary primary and secondary schools respectively have received special education training. As such, we do not consider it necessary to set up a mechanism for arranging experienced teachers to transfer between schools so as to “prevent brain drain”.
(b) and (c) The 2007 study conducted by the University of Hong Kong as mentioned in part (b) of the question was basically an analysis of the data on 690 Primary One (P1) to P4 pupils in the age range of 6 years and 10 years 6 months who had participated in the norming of the “Hong Kong Test of Specific Learning Difficulties in Reading and Writing (SpLD) for Primary School Students” drawn randomly from primary schools in the 1999/2000 school year. The percentage derived in the study was affected by the characteristics of pupils recruited, the definition of SpLD and cut-offs for diagnosis of SpLD adopted in the study. It is not suitable to take the percentage quoted in one single study with a sample of only the lower form primary school pupils as the prevalence rate on SpLD for all school-age students in Hong Kong, not to mention that the percentage of students with SpLD will drop with effective and early intervention (Note 2). As for the 17 440 students reported to have SpLD in the 2012/13 school year, they include primary and secondary students recommended for Tier-2 or Tier-3 support after formal assessment by psychologists. Since the coverage of students is different, making direct comparison of this figure with the one quoted in the study conducted in 2007 is not appropriate.
Early identification and early intervention are two major strategies in the implementation of integrated education. In this connection, the EDB has put in place a structured Early Identification and Intervention of Learning Difficulties Programme for Primary One Pupils (EII Programme) to early identify pupils suspected with learning difficulties. Under the EII programme, teachers of P1 complete the Observation Checklist for Teachers for pupils with learning difficulties. In the last three years, around 25% of the P1 pupils are identified in the EII Programme and early support has been provided to them. Pupils showing persistent learning difficulties despite intervention are referred to the educational psychologists (EPs) for assessment and subsequent intervention. Amidst the 25% of pupils identified under EII Programme and having received early support, about 7-8% required diagnostic assessment, indicating that the majority of the pupils have made progress with the early intervention.
(d) The BAT Courses are designed to tie in with the 3-Tier Intervention Model and to enhance teachers’ professional capacity in catering for the students with SEN. In gist, the Basic Course aims at helping teachers better grasp the appropriate strategies and skills to provide Tier-1 (Note 3) and to some extent, Tier-2 (Note 4) support for students with SEN. The Advanced Course aims at further strengthening teachers’ professional capacity in providing Tier-2 support while the Thematic Courses aim at providing in-depth training for teachers to help them acquire the knowledge and skills in catering for students who require Tier-3 (Note 5) support.
The “treat and test” approach has been adopted under the “Response to Intervention” concept of the 3-Tier Intervention Model. As mentioned above, with the introduction of the EII Programme for P1 pupils, we have been advising schools to promptly start the intervention after the early identification by teachers. As a continuous process, EDB support officers/EPs advise the Student Support Teams of schools on the formulation of the initial support plans for the pupils identified to have learning difficulties. Additional resources including the provision of Learning Support Grant, additional teachers in the IRTP, Enhanced Speech Therapy Grant and school-based support by the Resource Schools on WSA, etc. are provided for schools to arrange intervention for pupils with marked learning difficulties after the identification at P1. The progress and response of the pupils to the intervention are monitored by school with the support of EDB support officers/EPs, and assessment by specialists will be arranged for those children not making the expected progress.
Note 1: For appointment to non-graduate teaching posts in aided primary and secondary schools, candidates should possess Certificate in Primary/Secondary Education from the Hong Kong Institute of Education/Teacher’s Certificate from a College of Education in Hong Kong after a 3-year full-time training course or a 2-year full time training course (acquired in or after 1982) or an equivalent qualification. As for graduate teaching posts in primary schools, a recognised local first degree plus teacher training in primary education or equivalent is required.
Note 2: Early identification and intervention to prevent reading difficulties: A longitudinal study (Linda Siegel, 2009)
Note 3: Tier-1 support generally refers to quality teaching to all pupils, including those with diverse needs, in the whole class.
Note 4: Tier-2 support is normally provided in the form of small group supplemental teaching for those students with greater learning difficulties.
Note 5: Tier-3 support refers to intensive individualised support.