Formal Investigation Report on Secondary School Places Allocation (SSPA) System
Secondary School Places Allocation System
The Secondary School Places Allocation System ("SSPA") is used by the Education Department to allocate places for Primary 6 students into Secondary Schools. The System has been in operation since 1978 with no major changes.
The System is made up of the following elements:
|(a)||Internal Assessment by the individual schools;|
|(b)||Academic Aptitude Test set by the Education Department;|
|(d)||Banding separately by sex;|
|(e)||Computer-generated random number;|
|(f)||Choice of School based on banding and computer-generated random number; and|
|(g)||Allocation in accordance with fixed numbers of boys and girls in each co-educational school.|
In July of 1998, the Education Department made public for the first time the banding of individual students. Comparison of the banding led to public concerns about the System with respect to the issue of sex discrimination.
The Equal Opportunities Commission ("the Commission") launched a Formal Investigation into the SSPA System on 21 September 1998. The Legal and Complaints Committee was delegated the responsibility for monitoring of the investigation, an Investigation Team was formed, and an Expert Panel was appointed.
The Investigation Team went to three sources for information. For better understanding of the System, the Education Department was approached for documents and answers to specific questions. Focus groups were convened of teachers and principals to seek the opinions of educators in the field. A survey of parents was conducted to learn of the parents' understanding of the System.
After analysing the information collected, the Investigation Team presented its findings to the Commission and the Director of Education was invited to a special Commission meeting on 14 April 1999 to present the Education Department's views. The Commission informed the Education Department that it found the following elements within the SSPA unlawful as they discriminate on the basis of sex and result in individual boys and girls receiving less favourable treatment purely on the basis of sex:
Giving single sex schools a school curve and giving co-educational schools a gender curve to derive the SSPA scaled score may disadvantage an individual boy or girl within the co-educational school.
2. Processing boys and girls separately for banding purposes:
Processing boys and girls separately into different bands constitutes sex bias since individual boys and girls receive less favourable treatment as a result of the fact that the band cutting scores in the different school districts are different for boys and girls within each band. The Investigation Team found that more girls suffer detriment than do boys, but that individual boys in certain bands received less favourable treatment than girls in those same bands.
3. Allocation in accordance with fixed numbers of boys and girls in each co-educational school:
This results in a boy or girl being refused his or her choice of school on the basis of sex and not for academic reasons; the reason being that the school has no place for the boy or girl as all remaining places are designated for children of another sex.
Upon consideration of all the information and materials supplied, and in view of the Investigation Team's analysis of the SSPA and the elements within that system, at the Commission meeting on 16 June 1999 the Members found that the SSPA discriminated on the ground of sex in that:
|(i)||boys and girls in the same school are treated separately in the scaling process, where gender curves are used to produce the final scores used in the placement process;|
|(ii)||boys and girls are put into two separate rank orders in the banding process, resulting in different band cutting scores for each sex; and|
|(iii)||co-educational schools are required to admit a fixed proportion of boys and girls.|
In light of the Commission's findings, the Members, in its majority, recommended that the Government, the Education Commission and the Director of Education should review the SSPA to fulfill their own responsibilities under the law and remove the discriminatory elements to ensure that boys and girls are placed into secondary schools in a manner that does not discriminate against either sex. The Members also recommended that the Education Commission, or any working group formed under its auspices, should also, when reviewing the academic system and the SSPA, consider whether there are more suitable methods of scaling IA scores than the current one and whether the SSPA may be replaced by an allocation system that is not discriminatory.
Introduction and Background
The Secondary School Places Allocation System ("SSPA") administered by the Education Department is the method whereby primary school students are allocated secondary school places. This system has been in operation since 1978 with no major changes. Most primary school students in Hong Kong have, since then, been assessed and allocated school places in secondary schools in accordance with this system.
2. Briefly, the SSPA comprises the following elements:
|(a)||Internal Assessment by the individual schools;|
|(b)||Academic Aptitude Test set by the Education Department;|
|(d)||Banding separately by sex;|
|(e)||Computer-generated random number;|
|(f)||Choice of school based on banding and computer-generated random number; and|
|(g)||Allocation in accordance with fixed numbers of boys and girls in each co-educational school.|
3. In July of 1998, the Education Department made public for the first time the banding of individual students. Comparison of bandings of the individual students led to public concerns about the possibility of sex discrimination in the implementation of the SSPA and in the system itself. Public concerns and demands relating to the SSPA were articulated in the press.
4. The Equal Opportunities Commission ("the Commission") received a number of enquiries relating to the SSPA. There appeared to be two main concerns voiced in the enquiries:
|(a)||that a student may have done well in the internal assessment of his/her school, yet was given a lower banding than a student or students of the opposite sex in the same school who had not done as well as s/he had, and on the basis of this lower banding was allocated a place in a secondary school not favoured by the parents;|
|(b)||that the choice of schools for children of a particular sex may be restricted as a result of attempts to balance the distribution of the sexes in individual schools.|
5. The transition from primary school to secondary school is an important stage in the education and development of a child. Its effect on the later development of the child is far-reaching. The system under which children are assessed at this stage and allocated places in secondary schools is therefore important. Public concerns were legitimate and needed to be properly addressed. If sex discrimination occurs at this relatively early stage, its effect may be magnified over time. In support of its goal to eliminate sex discrimination and promote equal opportunity between men and women generally, it was incumbent upon the Commission to carefully examine these concerns.
6. Section 70 of the Sex Discrimination Ordinance, Cap. 480 ("the Ordinance") empowers the Commission to conduct a Formal Investigation for any purpose connected with the carrying out of any of the Commission's functions under section 64(1) of the Ordinance. These include the elimination of sex discrimination and the promotion of equal opportunities between men and women.
7. The Commission decided to conduct a Formal Investigation into the Secondary School Places Allocation System on 22 July 1998. It delegated the monitoring of the Formal Investigation to the Legal and Complaints Committee of the Commission. On 4 August 1998, the Commission announced its intention to conduct a Formal Investigation at a news conference (Appendix A). The Legal and Complaints Committee met on 21 August 1998 to review the proposed terms of reference before recommending them to the Members of the Commission for approval on 27 August 1998. The terms of reference of the Formal Investigation, setting out the scope and the parameters in which the Commission conducted it, were approved by the Commission on 4 September 1998. It stated that the Commission would conduct a Formal Investigation:-
"into the Secondary School Places Allocation System, the manner in which primary six students are assessed and placed into secondary schools, and the rationale for such system, including:
|(a)||how the internal assessment system in schools was developed and how it operates in practice;|
|(b)||how the external academic aptitude test (AAT) was developed and how it operates in practice;|
|(c)||the practice of banding students; and|
|(d)||how places are allocated under the Secondary School Places Allocation System as a result of the assessment and banding,|
with specific reference to the law and practice of equal opportunity to ensure the maximum educational benefit for boy and girl students, and with a view to making appropriate recommendations for the promotion of equality of opportunity between boys and girls generally in relation to such assessment and placement methods.”
8. The statutory notice of the holding of the Formal Investigation was published in the Government Gazette on 18 September 1998, and public notices were published in one English language newspaper and two Chinese language newspapers on each of 17 and 18 September 1998. The Formal Investigation commenced on 21 September 1998.
9. An Investigation Team was set up by the Commission to carry out the actual investigation. The Investigation Team had the responsibility for:
|(a)||preparing proposals, plans and timetables for the conduct of the Formal Investigation;|
|(b)||obtaining all necessary materials and information;|
|(c)||preparing regular progress reports for the Commission; and|
|(d)||undertaking all tasks incidental to the carrying out of the Formal Investigation.|
10. The Investigation Team comprised the Chairperson of the Commission*, the Director of the Gender Division, officers of the Gender Division and lawyers from the Legal Services Division.
11. A panel of experts ("Expert Panel") was appointed to assist the Investigation Team. Their role was to give advice on specialised areas of education, such as the differences in development between boys and girls, gender differences in aptitude testing and cognitive development, the merits of student placements based on merit and sex, and conditions for good co-education. They advised on the kinds of questions to ask the Education Department and also gave their expert opinions on the answers from the Department. This Expert Panel consisted of the following persons:
- Dr. Ruth Hayhoe, President, Hong Kong Institute of Education;
- Professor K. M. Cheng, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, University of Hong Kong;
- Professor David Chan, Department of Educational Psychology, Chinese University of Hong Kong; and
- Dr. Nancy Cole, President, Education Testing Service, Princeton, New Jersey, U.S.A.
12. Prior to the commencement of the Formal Investigation, there had already been communication between the Education Department and the Commission regarding the SSPA. The Education Department had indicated that it would co-operate with and facilitate the Commission in its investigation. On 3 August 1998, staff of the Education Department visited the Commission and made a presentation on the SSPA to the Investigation Team.
* Fanny Mui-ching Cheung, PhD, OBE, JP was responsible for the Formal Investigation until her term as Chairperson expired on 31 July 1999. Ms Anna Wu Hung-yuk, JP became Chairperson on 1 August 1999.
The Secondary School Places Allocation System
Following the presentation by staff of the Education Department, the Investigation Team prepared a summary of what it understood the SSPA to entail and sent it to the Education Department for verification of its accuracy. The Education Department returned a corrected version, together with additional charts and graphs. The vetted version of the summary of the SSPA appears below.
2. As has been mentioned in the introductory chapter, the SSPA is the system whereby students of primary schools are allocated secondary school places. The SSPA applies to all participating primary schools; that is, all primary schools that are given subsidised secondary places for their students. Hong Kong is divided into 18 school nets of participating schools. Primary school students in one school net are normally allocated places in the same school net.
3. Every participating primary school has its own Internal Assessments ("IA") for its students. These assessments take place at the end of the Primary 5 school year, in mid-year and at the end of Primary 6. All subjects taught in the school are assessed, except Biblical Knowledge and Putonghua in some schools and Physical Education in all schools.
4. A Primary 6 student's chances of being allocated a place in a school of his/her preference largely depends on his/her position in the order of merit of his/her own school. Thus, if the raw scores of different subjects for each student were simply added to a total, and the order of merit were based on that total, subjects that had a wider distribution of scores would dominate (Table 1 and Table 2 in Appendix B illustrate the situation). In order that the order of merit of a school can be fairly constructed, the raw scores of the IA scores of each student go through a process of standardisation.
5. The standardised scores of different subjects are then aggregated to a total IA score by taking account of the subject weightings. After the process of standardisation and aggregation, the order of merit is different from that derived from the raw IA scores.
6. All Primary 6 students participating in the SSPA take an Academic Aptitude Test ("AAT") organised and administered by the Education Department. This test consists of a verbal reasoning paper and a numerical reasoning paper. A combined score is produced by the AAT for each student ("AAT score").
7. To make the aggregate IA scores of students from different schools comparable, a scaling process using a scaling curve is constructed for students of each gender of each co-educational school. The AAT scores obtained by students of each gender of the school is arranged in descending order on y-series and the aggregate IA scores of the corresponding students is arranged in descending order on x-series (Fig. 1 of Appendix C).
8. With statistical techniques to smooth the curve and strengthen reflections on trends, the scaling curve for students of each gender of the school is constructed and expressed graphically as in Appendix D. The scaled IA scores in the last term of Primary 5 and the first and last terms of Primary 6 for each student are then averaged to form an SSPA scaled score. The allocation bands will then be determined by these SSPA scaled scores of all students of each gender.
9. All the students in each of the 18 school nets are ranked according to their SSPA scaled score. However, boys and girls are ranked separately in this process. Thus, in each school net, there are two separate rank orders of students, one for boys and one for girls. The students in each rank order are divided into 5 bands. Each band consists of 20% of the number of students in that rank order. The top 20% of the students in the rank order are placed in Band 1, the next 20% are placed in Band 2 and so on.
10. Each student in a rank order is given a computer-generated random number. School places in each net are divided into places for boys and girls according to fixed numbers. The parents of each student will, by this stage, have chosen 30 schools in order of preference. Band 1 students of one sex will then be allocated school places set aside for that sex according to their first choice. According to the written materials from the Education Department, if a given school is chosen as the first choice by more Band 1 students of one sex than the number of places in that school available for that sex, then the allocation will be determined on the basis of the computer-generated random numbers. The remaining Band 1 students will be allocated school places according to their second choice. If the school of their second choice does not have sufficient places for these students, they will be allocated according to their third choice and so on until all students are allocated school places.
11. In presentations by the Education Department, the staff explained that the use of the computer-generated random number is to ensure a "mixed ability" within the schools in the bands. Therefore, the student who has the first number is given his/her choice of school according to the list provided by the parents. The student with the next number is then processed. If there are no places available in the school of first choice, then the student is placed according to his/her second preference, and so on.
12. Band 2 students will be allocated school places in a similar manner after all the Band 1 students have been allocated school places. Then a similar process will take place in respect of Band 3 students and so on until all students in the school net are allocated school places.
Conduct of the Investigation
The Investigation Team went to three sources for information about the SSPA: the Education Department, the teachers and principals who work with the System, and the parents of the students who have gone through the System.
Information from the Education Department
2. Understanding of the allocation system was important for the Investigation Team. Other than the presentation session conducted by the Education Department on 3 August 1998, prior to the commencement of the Formal Investigation, the Education Department conducted another presentation for the local members of the Expert Panel on 5 October 1998. This preliminary understanding of the SSPA, gained through the assistance of the Education Department, was invaluable.
3. Based on this preliminary understanding and on advice from the Expert Panel, the Investigation Team was able to formulate a set of questions relating to different aspects of the SSPA. The finalised list of "Questions for the Education Department" was sent to the Education Department on 20 October 1998 (Appendix E). The questions were in two parts. Part I asked the Department to confirm the accuracy of the Investigation Team's understanding of the SSPA by 3 November 1998. The first section of Part II asked the Department to provide informational materials on the SSPA by 3 November 1998. The second section of Part II asked for answers to 30 specific questions about the workings of and rationale for the different elements within the SSPA by 17 November 1998. The Education Department responded on time to Part I and to the first section in Part II but said that it needed more time to provide the answers to the second section and so was not able to provide those until 31 December 1998 (Appendix F).
4. The list of informational materials was received on 3 November 1998 (Appendix G). The materials were very helpful in understanding the historical development of the SSPA. According to the materials, a Working Party had been convened in 1974 to advise on the "Replacement of the Secondary School Entrance Examination". The Report, issued in 1975, advised that an alternative allocation system be introduced to replace the then Secondary School Examination System ("SSEE"), which was used to allocate a limited number of secondary school places to primary school leavers. Since the Government had decided to provide a subsidised secondary school place for every primary school leaver, it was felt that the SSEE was no longer necessary and could be abolished. Instead a new system should be devised to regulate the flow of students from primary to secondary schools. The Report advised that the alternative system should meet the following requirements:
- Secondary schools to take students from primary schools in the same area.
- Secondary schools to select their students under the general supervision of the Education Department.
- Secondary schools to be encouraged to avoid "elitist" admission policies.
- Secondary schools to be encouraged to accept students of mixed abilities.
- Secondary schools to seek advice on students' abilities from primary heads.
- Secondary schools to be discouraged from setting their own entrance examinations.
- Secondary schools, with linked primary schools, to be allowed to give preference to students from the latter.
5. The Working Party also considered some form of public examination as a basis for allocation. It looked at both the possibility of retaining the SSEE and at the possibility of using the attainment and ability tests produced by the Research, Testing and Guidance Centre of the Education Department. The tests could be used as a means to compare standards between primary schools, with a view to arranging Primary 6 students from different schools into a consolidated order of merit on which allocation could be based. However, the Working Party decided against this mainly because of the danger that these tests might be taken as simply another form of the SSEE, thus causing the pressure of examinations to spread downwards to the Primary 3/4 level.
6. In August 1976, a circular was sent by the Education Department announcing the system of allocation that would replace the SSEE. It spelt out the establishment of school nets, establishment of District Councils, internal assessments, an Academic Aptitude Test to scale and monitor internal assessments, and allocation of students based on parental choice. It emphasised that primary schools that chose not to participate would not be given subsidised secondary school places for their students. It also explained that the Education Department was preparing the Academic Aptitude Test. It explained that there would be no syllabus for the test and no way of preparing students for it. It announced that there would be five bands for allocation of places. No mention was made of the fact that the students would be separately processed by sex.
7. In fact, it will be seen from the analysis contained in the following chapter of this report that the separate processing of boy and girl students also uses a gender curve to scale the AAT scores and internal assessment scores of each student in each school. The Education Department has stated that the reason it started using gender curves in the 1980's was because of a series of research studies on the performance of boys and girls in the AAT and internal assessments, which had been carried out during the late 1970's.
8. According to this series of research studies, boys consistently did better than girls in the AAT while girls consistently did better than boys in the IA. An educational expert of the University of Hong Kong was consulted about this discrepancy, but he could not account for this difference. Instead of resolving why boys consistently did better than girls in the AAT, and considering whether the AAT itself was desirable, the Education Department was concerned that using a school curve to scale the AAT scores and IA scores in co-educational schools might result in girls getting the higher AAT scores of the boys. The Department, therefore, introduced gender curves (instead of school curves) for co-educational schools because it was worried that, if girls got the higher AAT scores and thus higher SSPA scaled scores, more girls than boys would get into the better schools.
9. From the informational materials supplied by the Education Department, it can be seen that discussions concerning the appropriateness of the AAT appeared consistently from 1981 to 1997. A Working Group, convened by the Education Department to review the SSPA in 1981, recommended that the AAT in verbal and numerical reasoning be replaced by curriculum-oriented tests ("COT") in Chinese, English, and Mathematics. On receipt of the report of this Working Group, the Education Department held a consultation exercise, and reported in 1985 that opinions on the COT were varied, although the majority favoured its introduction. The Education Department stated that, having considered the pros and cons, it had decided that retaining the AAT in its current form was in the interest of all concerned.
10. The Board of Education Sub-committee on Review of Secondary Education was set up in 1995 to review the implementation of the 9-year compulsory education in Hong Kong. After a two-year comprehensive review on the existing policy, the Sub-committee published the "Report on the Review of 9-Year Compulsory Education" in 1997. The Report recommended the replacement of the AAT with an Academic Ability Assessment ("AAA"), which would consist of two components - language ability assessment and mathematical ability assessment - and that the aptitude part should test students' higher-order thinking skills such as application, analysis, synthesis, inferencing and problem solving, as distinct from simple reasoning skills as currently assessed.
11. In September 1996, there was also published a joint research project by the Faculties of Education of the University of Hong Kong and the Chinese University of Hong Kong titled "Research on Aims, Objectives, Targets, Enforcement of 9-year Compulsory Education and the Assessment and Allocation System." In the chapter by John Sachs, titled "Structure of the AAT", Sachs reported on the analyses done on the AAT to examine its reliability, structure and validity. Results of Sach's analysis show a high correlation between the Numerical Reasoning (NR) Test and the Verbal Reasoning (VR) Test, and both tests are highly correlated with subject score in Mathematics.
12. In none of the papers by any working party or group, between the years 1975 and 1997, was separate processing by sex specifically mentioned. At a special meeting held with the SSPA Advisory Committee (a committee set up by the Education Department to advise the Education Department on the implementation of the SSPA), many Members of the SSPA Advisory Committee told the Investigation Team that they were not aware of the separate processing and scaling by gender until it was mentioned in the newspapers in the summer of 1998.
13. Part III of the "Questions for the Education Department" requested computer simulations to see if the allocation would affect boys and girls differently if they were not separately processed by sex and if the student were given his/her own AAT score. The results of the simulations could be used for comparative purposes to see which method would provide the best equal opportunity to the individual student. They could also be used to compare with the current system of separate processing by sex and to see if the latter results in less favourable treatment for the individual on the ground of sex. The Commission had requested that the computer simulations be completed by 15 December 1998. The Education Department replied that it would not be possible to do the computer simulations as they would be too time consuming and too costly. A compromise was reached in which the Education Department agreed to provide a simple computer simulation. Information was provided, based on the 1998 student data, showing what the gender distribution would have been like in the different bands if the students were not processed separately by sex (Appendix H).
Opinions of Teachers and Principals through Focus Groups
14. The Investigation Team also approached the teachers and principals who work with the System. In addition to the special meeting with members of the SSPA Advisory Committee, three focus groups were convened. Participants of the four meetings were mainly secondary school teachers, principals, and members of educational associations. A list of persons who participated in the focus groups is in Appendix I.
15. The participants of the focus groups discussed a number of topics, including developmental differences between boys and girls, the use of the AAT to scale the IA scores of students, the processing of boys and girls in separate orders of academic merit, the process of banding, and the allocation of fixed numbers of boys and girls in each co-educational school to maintain a 1:1 ratio.
16. Drawing on their own experiences in the field of education and their observations over the years, some of the participants expressed the view that boys developed later than girls. Others simply felt that boys did not try as hard as the girls did unless they were under pressure. Many participants felt that parents were more lenient with boys than with girls, and that if the boys exerted themselves and worked harder, they would do as well as the girls. Some observed that girls did better in IA but not as well in AAT because they did not take risks - and that they only answered the questions they were sure of - whereas boys took risks and answered all the questions even if they did not know the right answers.
17. On the subject of scaling, some of the participants were of the view that there would be no gender difference if all boys and girls in Hong Kong were scaled together in one school net and in one order of academic merit. Other participants considered that scaling boys and girls in one order of academic merit would not be fair to the boys, as girls might get the higher AAT scores obtained by the boys.
18. In discussing the subject of having two different orders of academic merit, one for the boys and one for the girls, it became apparent that none of the participants were previously aware that there was separate processing of boys and girls under the SSPA. Although most of the participants believed that this might lead to girls being placed in lower bands in certain cases, they took the view that it was the right thing to do in order to ensure a balanced sex ratio in the classes and to ensure that boys would have the opportunity to get into the better schools. These participants believed that, if separate processing were done away with, the better schools would have mostly girls.
19. Many of the participants also pointed out that the banding system was misleading, as the academic achievement of the schools across the different school districts was not the same. The "quality" of what was considered to be a "Band 1 school" in one district could be comparable to that of what was considered to be a "Band 3 school" in another district. Most of the participant principals felt that the banding of the students should not be disclosed, as parents did not understand the differences. They felt that the parents would not agitate for transfers if they could not compare the banding of their children with the banding of their schoolmates.
20. As for allocating in accordance with fixed numbers of boys and girls in each co-educational school, most of the focus group participants supported maintaining the ratio of 1:1 between boys and girls in co-educational schools. They felt that sex balance was important. For the purpose of maintaining sex balance, it was common for schools to accept students of a particular sex even if they had lower academic results. Some participants felt that if sex balance in a secondary school was changed from year to year, problems with school resource allocation could arise. However, other participants said that their schools' actual sex balance now changes from year to year and they have had no difficulty adjusting.
21. One principal pointed out that, in his school, because the girls had transferred out after the allocation process, he currently had 30% girls and 70% boys. While he did not think that this was an ideal situation, he said that the school has had no problems coping with school infrastructure or resources to accommodate the different sex ratio from the one allocated by the Education Department.
22. From the focus group discussions, it was observed that the majority of the participants believed that boys developed later than girls did and that, for this reason, such participants were prepared to accept having a separate order of academic merit for each sex, even if it meant that this might lead to some girls being placed in lower bands in certain cases. It was also observed that most of the participants preferred a balanced sex ratio in the classroom and the maintenance of a 1:1 sex ratio in co-educational schools, even though there might not be problems with school resource allocation if the ratio were not even. Overall, it was observed that the views and beliefs of the participants stemmed from an acceptance of the basic premise that boys developed later than girls. Such acceptance was based on the observations of the participants, and no research was relied on in support of the premise.
23. Interestingly enough, views on the issue of scaling appeared to be more mixed, but there was a consensus amongst participants that the banding system itself was misleading and that the banding of students should, therefore, not be disclosed.
Survey of Parents on the SSPA
24. To seek the opinion of parents, the Commission designed a structured self-administered questionnaire in early September 1998. The survey was administered between 21 September 1998 to 31 October 1998. Questionnaires were distributed, through the principals of each secondary school, to the 74,668 parents of all the Form 1 students who took part in the 1998-99-allocation exercise. A total of 25,527 valid returns were received; the response rate was 34.2% (See Appendix J for Survey Findings).
25. Most of the respondents were mothers (75%) and have had at least secondary or primary school education (88.2%). A small number has had post-secondary education (9%). Only 2.8% of respondents claimed to have had no formal education.
26. Most of the respondents did not have a high level of understanding of the SSPA. Only 27% said that they understood the system "very well" or "quite well". More respondents (22%), whose children did not get their places through SSPA, said they did not have, or had little, understanding of the System. In their comments, the respondents expressed their concern about the lack of transparency of the System. Most did not understand the different elements of the SSPA such as the AAT, banding, choice of schools, computer-generated random numbers, and their interactions. They urged the Education Department to provide more information on the results of the AAT and the computer-generated random numbers before parents proceeded to make selections on the choice of schools for their children. Some respondents proposed abolishing the AAT, the banding of students, and the computer-generated random numbers.
27. Given the level of understanding of the respondents of the SSPA, it stands to reason that they would not be aware of the impact of separate processing by sex on their children's placement. Only those who were affected, (38%), and went outside of the system for places, demonstrated awareness. Most of the respondents felt that the separate processing and placement, based on sex, did not have much impact on the banding of their children nor on their getting one of their first three choices of schools. A small number of respondents (2.1%) felt that girls would benefit if there was no separate placement by sex.
28. About 5% of respondents sent in comments about the SSPA. Most of the comments were about the AAT and the banding system. Some thought that the AAT was not a good way to measure the performance of the students. They thought that the tests did not have much relevance to the subjects the students learned in the schools. Some even suggested that the AAT should be replaced by the SSEE, which had long been abolished.
Analysis of the Secondary School Places Allocation System
The Investigation Team studied the following elements that comprise the SSPA with a view to determining whether there was any discriminatory aspect in respect of each:
|(a)||Internal Assessments by the individual schools;|
|(b)||Academic Aptitude Test set by the Education Department;|
|(d)||Banding separately by sex;|
|(e)||Computer-generated random number;|
|(f)||Choice of school based on banding and computer-generated number; and|
|(g)||Allocation in accordance with fixed numbers of boys and girls in each co-educational school.|
2. Based on the internal test results of each student at the end of the second semester of the Primary 5-year and the first and second semesters of the Primary 6-year, each student is given his/her own IA score. The tests are conducted internally in each school, and are not set by the Education Department. The Department uses a process to standardise the raw IA scores to create an aggregate IA score for each individual student. To make the aggregate IA scores of students from different schools comparable, a scaling process is designed to obtain a scaled IA score for each student.
3. The Education Department states that for all terms and in all years, girls' IA scores are better than boys' IA scores in general. Data from the Education Department showed that, in the 1998 allocation exercise, girls had higher scores than boys in 327 schools for the second semester of the Primary 5 year, whereas boys scored higher than girls did in only 19 schools. Girls also scored higher than boys did in 331 schools for the first semester of the Primary 6 year, whereas boys scored higher than girls did in only 18 schools. For the second semester of the Primary 6 year, girls scored higher than boys did in 337 schools; boys scored higher than girls did in only 13 schools. The results of boys appeared to deteriorate between Primary 5 and Primary 6 with boys scoring higher in 19 schools at the end of Primary 5, in 18 schools at the end of the first semester of Primary 6, and in 13 schools at the end of Primary 6.
4. The Investigation Team considered whether there was anything discriminatory about the internal assessments. It found that the method of internal assessment was the same for boys and for girls. It also found that the IA scores, although weighted and ranked by the Education Department to create the aggregate IA score, were not weighted or ranked according to gender or distinguished by any reference to sex.
5. The relevance of IA scores in the SSPA, however, is that they are later used in the scaling process from which each student's scaled IA score is derived.
6. In and of itself, the Investigation Team found nothing discriminatory in the derivation of the aggregate IA score but it is the scaling of the IA score, using a gender curve in co-educational schools, that creates a problem. The Investigation Team found that students with the same IA scores may receive different scaled IA scores and different SSPA scaled scores.
Academic Aptitude Test by Education Department
7. The AAT is set and administered by the Education Department for all Primary 6 students in participating schools. The test is the same for boys and for girls, and consists of a verbal reasoning paper and a numerical reasoning paper.
8. A different test is set each year and supplied to the participating schools by the Education Department, so that each Primary 6 student may take the AAT. Primary 6 students take the AAT in about December of each year.
9. The AAT scores of each student are not given to the individual students who take the test. Instead, the AAT scores of the students in each school are used to convert the IA scores of students within that school for the purpose of deriving first a scaled IA score and ultimately an SSPA scaled score. Boys and girls are then ranked in separate orders of academic merit, based on their SSPA scaled scores. The Education Department says that the AAT scores are not given to each individual student in order to ensure that the examination does not put pressure on the individual. The AAT scores of the students are used for scaling purposes only. Therefore, even if a student does not take the AAT, s/he continues to have a scaled score based on his/her aggregate IA score along the scales or curves created by the school's AAT scores (see Fig. 1 in Appendix C ).
10. According to the Education Department, the differences between the performance of boys and girls in the AAT have been consistent across the different types of schools for the five-year period 1993-1998. The Education Department observed the following trends:
- Students from single sex schools perform better than students from co-educational schools. Data from the 1998 AAT results show that girls from single sex schools outperform boys in co-educational schools up to the 99th percentile.
- Girls perform better than boys in each type of the schools.
- Boys in co-educational schools perform best at the 99th percentile.
- For students from co-educational schools, boys' performance overtakes girls after the 70th percentile.
- Within the same co-educational school, girls perform generally better than boys below the 70th percentile and boys perform generally better than girls at or above the 70th percentile.
11. When asked if it had checked the AAT for the possibility of gender bias since the Education Department claimed that boys scored higher than girls at or above the 70th percentile in co-educational schools, the Education Department said it had not done so. The Department claimed that a "mechanism has already been built into the monitoring system. Items are reviewed and revised by moderators composed of experienced Education Department research officers, etc., to be bias-free as far as possible." When asked for guidelines or criteria on gender bias for use by such persons, the Department replied that no such guidelines or criteria existed.
12. The Investigation Team considered whether there was anything discriminatory about the AAT itself. It found that there is nothing inherently discriminatory in the computation of the AAT scores, although the tests themselves might well be gender biased. Gender bias results from testing aptitudes in which one sex consistently does better than the other, rather than testing a range of aptitudes that are predictive of potentials and intelligence. Sach's analysis suggests that the AAT may be gender biased in favour of boys, in view of the fact that both the verbal reasoning test and the numerical reasoning test had a high correlation with mathematical skills, and empirical data show that boys' performance on the AAT in co-educational schools overtakes their female classmates after the 70th percentile. The issue of gender bias in the tests, however, was not explored in detail in this investigation.
13. The question also arises as to whether the AAT, which measures a restricted range of aptitudes, is the best predictor of secondary school performance.
14. As with the IA scores of the students, although the Investigation Team found nothing discriminatory about the AAT itself, a problem arises when the AAT scores are later used in the scaling process from which each student's SSPA scaled score is derived.
15. It is the scaling of the students that caused concern for the Investigation Team. It will be seen that, although there is nothing inherently discriminatory about the determination of SSPA scaled scores as such, it is the fact that the scaling is done according to gender, and then used to create separate ranking orders of academic merit for banding for boys and for girls, that creates a problem.
16. The Expert Panel felt that it would be best to give each student his/her own AAT score for scaling purposes, as this would better reflect the assessment of the student's capabilities. This is done in the case of standardised tests in other countries such as using the student's own Scholastic Aptitude Test scores, the internal order of merit within the student's school (rank in class), and the Grade Point Average when considering admission to universities in the United States.
17. Figure 1 in Appendix C shows the way in which the AAT scores of each school are used in combination with the individual student's aggregate IA score to generate a curve from which to derive first the scaled IA score and then the SSPA scaled score for each student within each school. For single sex schools, a school curve is generated and the students are placed along that curve according to their aggregate IA score. For co-educational schools, two curves are generated, one for each sex. The boys and girls are then placed along the gender curves according to their aggregate IA scores.
18. Following this, the boys and girls are placed in different orders of academic merit, according to their sex, within their own schools. As the AAT is also used to align the results of different schools, the students are put into two different orders of academic merit, according to sex, within the school district.
19. The Investigation Team found that the use of gender curves in a co-educational school, for the purpose of converting a student's aggregate IA score into the SSPA scaled score, could result in a boy and girl, who have the same aggregate IA score, being given different SSPA scaled scores. In other words, a boy may get a higher SSPA scaled score than a girl, even though they both have the same aggregate IA score. Conversely, a girl may get a higher SSPA scaled score than a boy because of the different gender curves. In some instances, a student with a lower aggregate IA score could receive a higher SSPA scaled score because of the gender curve. The differences in the SSPA scaled scores, as shown in Appendix D, using gender curves, would not have arisen but for the sex of each student. The Investigation Team thus found the scaling component of the SSPA, using gender curves in co-educational schools, to be discriminatory.
Banding Separately by Sex
20. After students are assigned an SSPA scaled score, they are divided into five different bands within each of the 18 school nets. Boys and girls are ranked in separate orders of academic merit within each band. In other words, boys and girls are treated as if they were in two separate queues.
21. Each band consists of 20% of the number of students in that rank order. The top 20% of students in the rank order are placed in Band 1, the next 20% are placed in Band 2, and so on.
22. Since the boys and girls are processed separately, there are different band cutting scores for the different sexes. The band cutting scores for 1998 are as shown in Appendix K.
23. The 1998 student data reveals the following:
- That girls needed higher SSPA scaled scores to get into Band 1 in 11 out of 18 school nets and boys needed higher scores than girls to get into Band 1 in 7 school nets.
- That, excluding Band 5, girls needed higher scores to get into 60 out of all the bands within the 18 school nets and boys needed higher scores to get into 12 of the bands.
- That 2,155 more boys than girls got their first choice of school; that 2,469 more boys than girls got their first three choices of schools .
24. The Education Department asserted that separate processing of boys and girls is necessary as boys develop intellectually later than girls do. If boys were not given an opportunity to enter the better schools, their opportunity in later life would be affected. However, the Education Department was unable to offer any specific research to support the assertion that boys develop intellectually later than girls. As regards the opportunity in later life of the girls whose places in the better schools were given to boys through this process, the Education Department did not comment.
25. The Expert Panel took the view that the concept that boys develop later than girls is out of date. According to the Equity Resource Centre in the United States, research shows that girls develop speech and cognitive skills more quickly than boys in the early childhood years; but in general differences in achievements are due primarily to the educational settings, the messages that students receive about their capabilities and gender-role stereotypes, and their internalised sense of self. Current research, such as that undertaken by the Educational Testing Service in Princeton, New Jersey, indicates that boys and girls develop intellectually in different areas, rather than at different rates. No support could be found in recent literature to support precocious maturation among girls in their cognitive development. 1
26. The Education Department provided the results of the Hong Kong Attainment Tests ("HKAT"), as an example that boys develop later. The HKAT are employed by the Department as measuring instruments to monitor the performance of students in the subjects of Chinese, English and Mathematics at Primary 1 ("P1") to Secondary 3 ("S3") levels. The tests are administered annually. The performances of boys and girls are also analysed in the monitoring exercise. According to the Education Department, the general findings in this area in the past 5 years are:
- girls performed better than boys in Chinese and English at P1-S3 levels;
- boys performed better than girls in Mathematics at P3 (92/93-96-97), P4 (94/95), P5 (92/93), P6 (96-97), S2 (94/95) and S3 (92/93);
- girls performed better than boys in Mathematics at P1 (93/94).
27. The Investigation Team analysed the HKAT results provided by the Education Department to see if these could support the argument of the later development of boys. The analysis followed the same cohort of students progressing from Primary 5 to Secondary 3 in English and Mathematics. No analysis could be done on Chinese, as the data provided by the Education Department on that subject was not sufficient. If, indeed, boys developed later than girls did intellectually, the gap between the scores for the subjects where girls did better than boys should narrow through the years. The Investigation Team found this was not the case. Conversely, there was also no narrowing of the gap over the years in respect of the subjects where boys did better than girls (Appendix L). Thus, the Investigation Team found that the HKAT results did not provide support for the Education Department's contention that boys developed later than girls.
28. From Appendix J, it can be seen that the majority of girls in the 1998 SSPA allocation exercise needed a higher score to get into a band than boys did. Thus, in Central and Western Districts, for example, a girl with an SSPA scaled score of 124 got into Band 2, whereas a boy with an SSPA scaled score of 121.31 still fell into Band 1. However, in the Eastern District, a boy with an SSPA scaled score of 116.1 would get into Band 2, whereas a girl with an SSPA scaled score of 116.1 would get into Band 1.
29. The Investigation Team, therefore, found that the banding of students into separate orders of academic merit, based on sex, adversely affected boys in certain cases (for example, in Eastern District) and girls in other cases (for example, Western District). On the whole, though, more girls were adversely affected than boys. The Investigation Team found the separate banding by sex to be clearly discriminatory.
Computer-Generated Random Number
30. Within each band in each of the separate orders of academic merit, boys and girls are assigned by the Education Department a random number generated by a computer. That is, each student within the band is given a computer generated random number. The Education Department explains that this is used to ensure "mixed ability" within the schools in the bands. The student who has the first number is given his/her choice of school according the list provided by the parents. The student with the next number is then processed. If there are no places available in the school of first choice, then the student is placed according to his/her second preference choice of schools. If the school of his/her second preference does not have sufficient places, he/she will be allocated places according to his/her third preference and so on until all students are allocated school places. As school places in each school net are divided into male and female places in proportion to the male and female students, Band 1 students of each sex will be allocated school places set aside for that sex according to their first preference choice of schools. The use of computer-generated numbers may result in one student with a higher scaled score being ranked lower within the band than a student with a lower scaled score.
31. Band 2 students will be allocated places in a similar manner after all Band 1 students have been allocated school places. A similar process then takes place in respect of Band 3 students, and so on, until all students in the school net are allocated secondary school places.
32. In considering this element of the SSPA, the Investigation Team found that the assignment of computer-generated numbers was not in itself discriminatory, nor did it affect in any way the substantive issues of discrimination arising from scaling based on gender and the creation of separate banding queues for boys and girls.
Choice of School
33. During the Primary 6-year, parents of Primary 6 students select 30 schools in order of their preference for their children within their school net.
34. The gender of the student is not used as a criterion in the choice of school. Thus, the parental choice of school in and of itself is not a discriminatory element of the SSPA. However, the separate processing of boys and girls into different bands resulted in more boys than girls getting one of their first three preferences. Data from the Education Department shows that, over the last five years, consistently more boys than girls got one of their first three choices of schools: 1,877 more boys in 1994; 923 more boys in 1995; 2,535 more boys in 1996; 2,412 more boys in 1997; and 2,469 more boys in 1998 (Appendix M).
Allocation in Accordance with Fixed Numbers of Boys and Girls in each Co-educational School
35. The Investigation Team found that the principle behind the allocation of places in the SSPA rests on the notion that there ought to be approximately equal numbers of boys and girls in co-educational schools. The Education Department also consults the secondary school principals to see how many boys and girls they would like to have and then tries to adjust the fixed numbers according to the sex profile of the applicant pool within the school district. For example, if the applicant pool for co-educational schools within a school district is 55% boys and 45% girls, the Education Department will try to fix the numbers of boys and girls in each co-educational school at a ratio of 55:45.
36. According to the Education Department, the separate processing of boys and girls in bands is necessary because of the very need to allocate a fixed number of places to boys and girls in co-educational secondary schools. The Education Department takes the view that fixed numbers of boys and girls in co-educational schools allow children to receive a balanced education and to develop their interpersonal skills in their daily contact with peers of the same as well as of the opposite sex.
37. The Education Department advised that "on the basis of school management, schools decide on the optimal boys/girls ratio for Secondary 1 places allocation to meet their individual school needs and in accordance with the Educational Department's Regulations. Most co-educational schools adopt an approximate 50/50 boys/girls ratio." However, no information or research was provided to support the proposition that a balanced ratio of boys and girls was necessary for good co-education, or that the education of boys and girls would be jeopardised if the proportion of the sexes were not equal.
38. The Expert Panel took the view that co-education does not require a prescribed ratio of boys and girls in the schools. This is demonstrated in countries such as Australia, United States, etc., which use the neighbourhood school concept where the ratio of boys and girls differs from year to year depending on the sex ratio of the resident students in the area.
39. The Investigation Team studied the computer simulation provided by the Education Department to see whether the proportion of boys and girls in each band would be affected if boys and girls were not separately ranked and if there were no fixed numbers of places to be allocated. The analysis showed that the Education Department's concern – that if separate processing by sex did not take place, the better schools would become all-girl single sex schools – was not true. It was found that, if boys and girls were not processed separately, the estimated percentages, while not being equal, would not change drastically within the different bands. In fact, of the 18 school nets in Hong Kong, only nine would have girls numbering 60 percent in Band 1. However, in none of the school nets would boys constitute over 50 percent of Band 1 (Appendix G).
40. The Education Department also stated that "the removal of designated boys/girls ratio in individual schools for allocation of places would strain the infrastructure of the purpose built co-educational schools, disrupt schools' planning and operation and jeopardise the objective of co-educational schooling." It also quoted Regulations 28 and 43 of the Education Regulations (Cap. 279 of the Hong Kong Laws) as providing useful guidelines in drawing up of school places for male and female students in co-educational schools:
|a.||In accordance with Regulation 28, not more than 20 students may be taught in a school workshop at the same time by any one teacher without the approval of the Director.|
|b.||In accordance with Regulation 43(5), every co-educational school shall be provided with separate latrines and adequately screened approaches for each sex.|
41. Regarding the Education Department's assertion that changes in the proportion would upset present planning and facilities, especially toilet facilities, the Investigation Team found that the current population in the schools did not match those allocated places by the Education Department. Principals in the focus group sessions informed the Investigation Team that, since there were more places in schools than students in the 1998-allocation exercise, dissatisfied parents transferred their children to schools of their preference rather than have their children stay in the ones in which they had been allocated places by the Education Department. Principals said they were managing to cope with the problem of infrastructure and planning difficulties.
Cahan S. and Garner, Y. (1995). Cognitive Differences Among Israeli Children, Sex Roles, vol 32, nos. 7/8, 1995.
The Commission's Findings and Recommendations
Section 25 of the Ordinance provides that:
"It is unlawful for the responsible body for an educational establishment to discriminate against a woman -
|(a)||in the terms on which it offers to admit her to the establishment as a student;|
|(b)||by refusing or deliberately omitting to accept an application for her admission to the establishment as a student; or|
|(c)||where she is a student of the establishment -|
2. Section 38 of the Ordinance provides that:
"(1) Subject to subsection (2), without prejudice to the operation of the other provisions of this Part in relation to the Government, it is unlawful for the Government to discriminate against a woman in the performance of its functions or the exercise of its powers."
3. Direct sex discrimination is defined in section 5(1)(a) of the Ordinance. It arises where a person treats a woman, in any circumstances relevant for the purposes of the Ordinance, less favourably on the ground of her sex than that person treats, or would treat, a man. In considering whether the particular treatment of a woman constitutes direct discrimination, it is necessary to ask:
|(a)||whether the treatment was less favourable than the treatment which was (or would be) accorded to a man; and, if so,|
|(b)||whether the less favourable treatment was on the ground of her sex.|
4. Although section 5(1)(a), section 25 and section 38 of the Ordinance refer to discrimination against women, in accordance with section 6 of the Ordinance they apply equally to men.
5. Thus, as a first step, the Investigation Team had to ask whether, under the SSPA, one sex was treated less favourably than the other was treated and, if so, whether the difference in treatment was on the ground of sex. If there were less favourable treatment for some other reasons unrelated to sex, it would not constitute unlawful discrimination under the Ordinance.
6. The Investigation Team believed that there had been less favourable treatment of girls generally, since:
|(a)||the data on the band cutting scores indicated that girls generally needed a higher score to get into a band than boys did;|
|(b)||the band that a student was placed in basically determined the school that the student would be placed in; and|
|(c)||fewer girls than boys got their first choice of school.|
7. It was also believed that, in individual cases, there had been less favourable treatment of boys. Thus, the Investigation Team considered that the SSPA adversely affected both boys and girls in the way they were treated on the ground of their sex.
8. In considering whether there might be any unlawful act committed under section 25 of the Ordinance, the Investigation Team looked to the case of R v Birmingham City Council ex parte EOC  IRLR 173. In that case, the House of Lords held that the provision of more places for boys than girls in selective secondary education was sex discriminatory and unlawful, since it deprived the girls of a choice that was valued by them (or at least by their parents) and therefore constituted a 'detriment' to them.
9. Although in that case the facts were somewhat different from those in the present Formal Investigation, the House of Lords laid down the proposition that it does not matter whether girls (or boys) are getting into "good" schools or not; it is nonetheless a detriment to them if they cannot get into the schools of their choice. Based on this, the Investigation Team was concerned that the use of the SSPA might constitute an unlawful act under section 25(c)(ii) of the Ordinance, where students did not get their choice of school because of the separate ranking orders based on sex and/or because of fixed numbers of places for boys and girls. Naturally, the impact of such treatment only affected students entering co-educational schools. In Hong Kong, approximately 78 percent of all secondary school students attend co-educational schools.
10. The Investigation Team was also concerned that the use of gender curves in co-educational schools for scaling, resulting in a boy and a girl with the same aggregate IA score receiving a different SSPA scaled score, was discriminatory. Also, the banding of students into separate rank orders based on sex might in itself constitute an unlawful act under section 25 and/or section 38 of the Ordinance. For example, it could be considered a "detriment" for girl with an SSPA scaled score of 124 to get into Band 2, whilst a boy with an SSPA score of 121.31 got into Band 1 because of different band cutting scores based on sex. (See Appendix J, Central and Western Districts).
11. Pursuant to Schedule 1 of the Ordinance, "the responsible body" for the purposes of section 25 is the Director of Education in respect of schools entirely maintained and controlled by the Government; and in respect of the non-government schools it is the management committee of each school.
12. The discriminatory aspects of the SSPA also gave rise to the concern that the Government was discriminatory against girls, and boys, in the way it was performing its functions in the field of education. As the SSPA had been formulated by the Education Department and was being administered by it, and all schools receiving subsidies were required to use the SSPA, the Investigation Team considered that the Government might be unlawfully discriminating on the ground of sex under section 38 of the Ordinance.
13. On 1 April 1999, a letter was sent to the Director of Education informing her that the facts gathered in the course of the Formal Investigation suggested that certain aspects of the SSPA were discriminatory, and might be unlawful, in three aspects:
|(ii)||Processing boys and girls separately and putting them into separate banding queues; and|
|(iii)||Imposing fixed proportions of male and female students in co-educational schools.|
14. A special Commission meeting was held on 14 April 1999 following a request by the Director of Education for the opportunity to address Commission Members. The Director of Education, and representatives from her Department, attended the meeting and made a further presentation on the SSPA. They also responded to the Commission's concerns about the discriminatory aspects of scaling, the separate processing of boys and girls into separate banding queues, and the imposition of fixed numbers of places for boys and girls in schools.
15. Essentially, the Director of Education and the representatives from the Education Department emphasised that the SSPA was designed to take into account a number of educational principles, and a number of compromises, which might not be fully compatible with the concept of equal opportunities for individuals. They acknowledged that the system might be discriminatory on such basis.
16. The issue of "special measures" was discussed at this meeting on 14 April 1999. Under section 48 of the Ordinance, if it can be shown that an act is reasonably intended to ensure that persons of one particular sex have equal opportunities with persons of the other sex, such act is not unlawful. The Director of Education was asked whether she was claiming that the SSPA was reasonably intended to ensure that boys had equal opportunities with girls in the field of education, as otherwise girls would get into the better schools and boys would be disadvantaged. The Director of Education said it was not possible to offer tangible evidence to support these actions and that the Education Department was not claiming "special measures" to justify its acts.
17. Before concluding the meeting, the representatives from the Education Department informed the Commission that the Education Commission was embarking on a comprehensive review of the academic structure and that a working group would be formed to look specifically into the SSPA.
The Commission's Findings
18. Sex discrimination in relation to the education field is rarely intentional. It is more often than not the case that persons responsible for educational policies and systems, persons who implement such policies and systems, and educators, genuinely seek the best for all students. Sex discrimination in education may thus occur by default.
19. Good equal opportunities practice is synonymous with good educational practice. Adherence to the old way of doing things is only desirable when the old way of doing things does not result in one sex being treated less favourably than the other, for no reason other than sex.
20. The Commission has been mindful that any findings and recommendations made by it should be kept within the parameters of the terms of reference of the Formal Investigation. The terms of reference limit the Formal Investigation to an enquiry into the SSPA, the manner in which Primary 6 students are assessed and placed into secondary schools, and the rationale for the SSPA, including:
|(a)||how the IA system in schools was developed;|
|(b)||how the AAT was developed and operates in practice;|
|(c)||the practice of banding students; and|
|(d)||how places are allocated under the SSPA as a result of assessment and banding|
with specific reference to the law and practice of equal opportunity to ensure the maximum educational benefits for male and female students. The terms of reference of the Formal Investigation also permit the Commission to make appropriate recommendations for the promotion of equality of opportunity between boys and girls generally in relation to assessment and placement methods.
21. The Commission heard from the Director of Education and representatives from the Education Department about the reasons why Primary 6 students are given SSPA scaled scores (derived from IA scores and AAT scores which have been scaled according to gender), why they are ranked in order of merit in separate queues based on sex, and why the system is designed to ensure that there is even distribution of boys and girls in co-educational schools.
22. The Commission found that many of the notions that the Education Department uses as a basis of rationale for the SSPA could not be supported by tangible evidence. Not only was the Education Department unable to offer any specific research to support the fundamental basis upon which the SSPA is based, that boys develop intellectually later than girls, the HKAT results provided by the Department did not support that argument. Instead, current research in the educational and psychological fields shows that differences previously found in the cognitive development between boys and girls were due more to learning and motivational factors, and could be modified by more gender-sensitive educational measures. Studies also found that differences between boys and girls on a whole are few and are smaller than differences among them as individuals. This is even more reason why the SSPA may need a closer inspection. The system has been in place in Hong Kong for more than twenty years, with no major changes.
23. The Education Department claimed that the SSPA is designed to meet the "greater good". Although there is no definition of what this expression entails, the Education Department tried to point out that it is meant to minimise disadvantages to boys and ensure that boys have "equal opportunities". This interpretation of "equal opportunities", however, is misconceived and is based on assumptions not backed by facts, such as the assumption that boys develop later than girls.
24. The Commission believes that compliance with equal opportunities laws and achieving the common good are not mutually exclusive. It is for the common good to ensure that boys and girls get into the schools they deserve based on their individual merit, not because of their sex, and not at the expense of each other.
25. The Commission also found that, prior to July 1998, when the Education Department made public for the first time the banding of individual students, there was a lack of awareness of the elements that comprised the SSPA. The survey of parents conducted by the Commission (see Appendix I) revealed that most of the parents lacked understanding of the SSPA and that most of them did not know or understand the various elements. Many Members of the SSPA Advisory Committee, which was set up by the Education Department to advise on implementation of the SSPA, were not even aware of the separate processing of boys and girls until it was mentioned in the newspapers in the summer of 1998.
26. When the SSPA was first implemented in the early 1980's, studies showed that girls were consistently performing better than boys. The Education Department compensated for the inadequacy of the system by scaling according to gender and by creating a separate rank order of merit for each sex. This cumbersome way of resolving the problem resulted in a system which is discriminatory.
27. The Commission understands the desire of the Education Department to achieve what it considers is a balance between the competing interests of schools avoiding "elitist" policies, schools being encouraged to accept students of mixed abilities and co-educational schools achieving a sex balance. The Commission is, of course, sympathetic to the difficulties faced by the Education Department and the persons responsible for devising a system of allocation of places in secondary schools for Primary 6 leavers. Nevertheless, this cannot override the requirements of the law that a girl, or a boy, should not be treated less favourably than the other sex on the ground of gender.
28. Anti-discrimination and equal opportunities laws in Hong Kong were introduced more than three years ago; the Ordinance came into full effect on 20 December 1996. It is time for the relevant authorities to ensure that all their policies - and the way they are implemented - achieve equal opportunities for boys and girls in schools and do not unlawfully discriminate against either sex.
29. The Commission has, by a majority, found that:
|(i)||Boys and girls in the same school are treated separately in the scaling process where gender curves, produced on the basis of both the AAT scores and the aggregate IA scores, are used to produce SSPA scaled scores;|
|(ii)||Boys and girls from all schools in each school net are put into two separate rank orders in the banding process, and that this results in different band cutting scores for boys and for girls;|
|(iii)||Co-educational schools are required to admit a fixed proportion of boys and girls;|
and that these elements combine to make the SSPA discriminatory.
The Commission's Recommendations
30. In light of the above findings, and with a view to promoting equality of opportunity between boys and girls generally, the Commission makes the following recommendations:
|(i)||The Government should consider the relevant provisions of the Ordinance, and its duties and responsibilities in relation to such provisions, and develop a secondary school places allocation system that complies with the requirements of the Ordinance;
|(ii)||The Government, the Director of Education and the management committees of non-government schools should ensure that, in their placement of Primary 6 students into co-educational secondary schools, neither a boy nor a girl, by reason of his or her sex, is treated less favourably than the opposite sex;
|(iii)||The Government should ensure, on a continuing basis, that it keeps principals, teachers, parents and other relevant persons informed of the methods by which Primary 6 students are placed into secondary schools and that these persons have a sufficient knowledge of such methods to enable them to understand whether the requirements of the Ordinance have been complied with;
|(iv)||The Education Commission (and any working group formed under its auspices) should, in conducting its review of the academic system to set an education blueprint for the 21st Century, review the SSPA and its various elements in light of the Commission's findings and with a gender perspective:-