EOC Releases Findings of Study on Challenges, Effective Policies and Best Practices of Ordinary Schools in Educating Students with Special Educational Needs in Hong Kong
The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) released today (29 June 2023) the findings of the Study on Challenges, Effective Policies and Best Practices of Ordinary Schools in Educating Students with Special Educational Needs in Hong Kong (the Study). The Study aims to examine the effectiveness of the current integrated education (IE) in primary and secondary schools in depth and provide relevant policy suggestions for the future development of IE.
Dr Rizwan ULLAH, Convenor of the Policy, Research and Training Committee of the EOC explained at the press conference, “Education is an equal right of every child, with or without disabilities. It prepares and enables an individual to navigate life and contribute to society. For more than 25 years, Hong Kong has been implementing IE in primary and secondary schools. With the introduction of various measures by the Government in recent years, such as the creation of the special educational needs coordinator (SENCO) post and the restructuring of the learning support grant, it is important to examine the effectiveness of these measures and the implementation of IE, with a view to identifying and suggesting policy directions for future development.”
Commissioned to the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching of the Education University of Hong Kong, the Study adopted a mixed-method approach to collect data and opinions from different stakeholders through questionnaires, focus group interviews and individual interviews, as well as case studies to identify good exemplars of IE in primary and secondary schools.
Knowledge of the Disability Discrimination Ordinance (DDO), Code of Practice on Education and current classification of special educational needs (SEN)
According to the questionnaire survey conducted among school principals, SENCOs and teachers, the first two groups had higher understanding of the DDO and the Code of Practice on Education under the DDO, at 91.5% and 92.9% respectively. In contrast, only about 60% (58.6%) of the teachers surveyed believed that they understood the Ordinance and the Code of Practice.
In terms of understanding the current classification of students’ SEN, over 80% of principals, SENCOs and teachers were aware of the eight general categories. However, only about 76% of teachers knew that mental illness (MI) is the latest ninth category of SEN, as compared to 96.5% of SENCOs. In addition, 35% of SENCOs and 21.8% of primary school teachers thought academic underachievement is one of the SEN types.
Both SENCOs and teachers pointed out that they felt quite stressed when facing students with Autism Spectrum Disorder or Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. While taking care of students with MI, the stress experienced by SENCOs was significantly higher than that of teachers.
Challenges of implementing IE and effectiveness of support measures
The majority of the school principals (81.6%), teachers (85.3%) and SENCOs (85.8%) surveyed agreed that the most difficult aspect of implementing IE was the tight teaching schedule/heavy teaching workload. Besides, over 70% of principals (70.2%) and SENCOs (70.9%) expressed that the administrative work brought about by IE was heavy, while 68.8% of the teachers surveyed considered the lack of manpower as the second difficulty in implementing IE.
At present, students face different unified public assessments at different stages of learning, including the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education Examination (HKDSE). This not only puts heavy pressure on schools, but also affects the learning outcomes of students with SEN, as the curriculum is too challenging for them to catch up with the learning progress. Indeed, some interviewees from focus groups and individual interviews considered that requiring students with SEN to study mainstream curriculum and meet mainstream assessments reflected the inequality in the education system of Hong Kong. They believed that although there are different assessment accommodation measures available for students with SEN to apply for, these measures have limited effectiveness.
On the whole, principals, SENCOs and teachers held positive opinions about the overall IE policy support measures. They agreed that the measures could generally achieve their supporting effect and assist schools in implementing IE. Stakeholders in both primary and secondary schools (including principals, SENCOs, teachers and various professional support personnel) all expressed that the continuous increase in the allocation of resources by the Government in recent years helped the schools promote IE. However, according to the principals, human resources remained scarce, and it was difficult to find suitable personnel to assist schools in implementing IE, especially professional support personnel specialised in taking care of particular types of students with SEN.
The resources of professional support personnel, such as educational psychologists (EPs) and speech therapists, also remained insufficient. Some EPs indicated in the interviews that due to their insufficient school visits, it would not be possible for students with SEN to receive continuous assessment, hence making it difficult for SENCOs to adjust their relevant support according to the changing needs of students with SEN. Social workers also stated that given that EPs’ visits could not be scheduled as routine, teachers and social workers in schools sometimes had to play the role of EPs in supporting students with SEN.
Principals believed that professional training could deepen teachers’ understanding of IE and their skills in taking care of students with SEN. However, teachers reported that they felt pressure about the training. The quality and content of the training courses provided by tertiary institutions for in-service teachers were said to vary, with some teachers saying that some of the courses emphasised too much on theory and lack practical ideas.
Good exemplars of IE in primary and secondary schools
Through conducting case studies with schools (including 4 primary schools and 4 secondary schools) with relatively successful implementation of IE, it was found that the good exemplars of IE in primary schools include the adoption of a small-class teaching approach, rescheduling teachers’ timetables to allow them more spare time, inviting parents to join class activities for observation and more interaction, explaining students’ performance with parents to reduce their doubts and vigilance, and cooperating with professional groups to provide comprehensive support.
As for the good exemplars of IE in secondary schools, the success factors include adopting a pull-out approach through co-teaching (1:4 or 1:5; Teacher: Students with SEN), encouraging teachers to participate more in training of IE, conducting research to review and improve teaching and learning effectiveness of students with SEN in tier-1 support and promoting cross-disciplinary cooperation for whole-person development.
Based on the findings of the Study, the research team put forward a series of policy recommendations under three domains: (1) Government Policy Measures Support, (2) Professional Support and Home-School Cooperation, and (3) Teaching and Learning.
The major recommendations include:
- Enhancing the flexibility of current school resource utilisation and establishing permanent positions for professional support personnel;
- Implementing small-class teaching and increasing the teacher-to-class ratio in every ordinary school for supporting integrated education;
- Improving teachers’ understanding and skills on Disability Discrimination Ordinance, Code of Practice on Education, and integrated education and strengthening university-school partnerships and professional development;
- Strengthening parent-school collaboration and public and parent education and providing more support to parents of students with SEN;
- Strengthening mental health support to students;
- Establishing a diversified support model for students with SEN and a support network for students with SEN and non-Chinese speaking students and parents;
- Setting up a new post with the title “Curriculum Development Master/Mistress (Integrated Education)”;
- Promoting diversified or alternative assessment methods beyond paper-and-pen assessment; and
- Strengthening support for SENCOs to reduce their workload.
Dr Ferrick CHU Chung-man, Executive Director (Operation) of the EOC concluded, “The successful implementation of IE relies on the integration of various aspects, including government policies, home-school cooperation and professional development of teachers, in order to achieve the maximum effectiveness of inclusion. It also relies on the acceptance of students with SEN and an inclusive culture both inside and outside classrooms.”
“While social inclusion for students with SEN has significantly improved, there is still room for enhancement. As indicated in the Study, some parents were dissatisfied that their children were disturbed by students with SEN in class, while some held reservations about letting their children study in special schools. Overall, there is still too much emphasis on academic performance among both schools and parents, putting undue pressure on students with SEN and causing their abilities to be overlooked,” said Dr Chu. “At the EOC, we will continue to work together with stakeholders to facilitate their understanding of the principles of equal opportunities in education and the legal requirements of the DDO and Code of Practice on Education.”
Please refer to the following link for the details of the findings and recommendations of the Study: https://www.eoc.org.hk/en/policy-advocacy-and-research/research-reports/2023-3.
Equal Opportunities Commission
29 June 2023
(from left) Mr Derek CHUN Wai-sun, Senior Research Assistant, Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, the Education University of Hong Kong; Prof KO Po-yuk, Director, Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, and Professor (Practice) of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, the Education University of Hong Kong; Dr Rizwan ULLAH, Convenor, Policy, Research and Training Committee, EOC; Dr Ferrick CHU Chung-man, Executive Director (Operations), EOC; Ms Doris TSUI Ue-ting, Acting Head (Policy, Research and Training), EOC presented the findings of the Study on Challenges, Effective Policies and Best Practices of Ordinary Schools in Educating Students with Special Educational Needs in Hong Kong at a press conference today (29 June 2023).