The 2014 Operation Guide on the Whole School Approach to Integrated Education endorses the definition of inclusive school provided by the Office for Standards in Education in Evaluating Educational Inclusion: Guidance for Inspectors and Schools:
‘An educationally inclusive school is one in which the learning and teaching achievement, attitudes and well being of every young person matters. Effective schools are educationally inclusive schools. This shows, not only in their performance, but also in their ethos and their willingness to offer new opportunities to pupils who may have experienced previous difficulties.’
The 2008 self-assessment guide Catering for Student Differences: Indicators for Inclusion specifies that inclusion does not concern just learners with impairments or those with special education needs; rather, it refers to the learning and participation of all students.
Special education needs
The 2014 Operation Guide on the Whole School Approach to Integrated Education provides an operational definition of students with special education needs, including children and youth with specific learning difficulties, such as dyslexia; learners with behavioural, emotional and social development needs, namely those with autism spectrum disorders or attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder; and students with sensory, communication and physical needs, such as those with intellectual or physical disability or visual, hearing, speech or language impairments.
Since 1997, education of learners with special education needs has followed a dual-track model: Learners with severe or multiple disabilities are enrolled in special education schools, while other learners receive education in regular schools. As of 2020, there were 61 special education institutions, including 2 for learners with visual impairments, 1 for pupils with hearing impairments, 7 for children with physical disabilities and 42 for children with intellectual disabilities, as well as 8 schools for social development and 1 hospital school providing education in 19 hospitals.
For the 2017/18 and 2018/19 school years, a school partnership scheme was introduced to adapt 10 special schools with resource centres and to establish 7 schools for social development and 14 resource schools on the whole school approach. Special schools with resource centres provide teaching expertise in supporting pupils with special education needs and are expected to collaborate with regular schools and set up a support network; schools for social development support learners in their integration in regular schools for the first school year; and resource schools on the whole school approach collaborate with partner schools in the district to encourage the adoption of the approach.
All regular schools are requested to adopt the whole school approach towards inclusion of students with special education needs through a three-tier intervention model as follows:
- Tier-1 support targets learners with mild or temporary difficulties by integrating them into regular classrooms.
- Tier-2 support is based on integrative intervention, such as small group learning and pull-out programmes, for learners with persistent learning difficulties.
- Tier-3 support refers to individualized support for learners with severe learning difficulties for whom schools drawn up individual education plans that are regularly reviewed with the parents’ involvement.
Early identification, screening and assessment
Assessment services consist of a psycho-educational assessment, a social adjustment analysis and attainment testing for learners with learning, emotional and/or behavioural difficulties. Children who present speech and language impairments may also be subject to a speech and language assessment. Identification and assessment services for preschool children are provided by the Department of Health and Hospital Authority under the Developmental Surveillance Scheme.
Based on a pilot scheme launched in 2015, consultation services have been integrated into regular rehabilitation since October 2018. Consisting of occupational therapists, physiotherapists, speech therapists and educational psychologists, among other specialists, multidisciplinary service teams are trained to apply appropriate intervention models and identification tools and to provide support to educators and childcare workers to identify children with special needs.
The 1990 Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China permits the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) to formulate policies on the development and administration of the education system, including the language of instruction (Chapter VI, Art. 136). Anti-discrimination provisions were regulated in the anti-discrimination ordinances, including the Sex Discrimination Ordinance, the Disability Discrimination Ordinance, the Family Status Discrimination Ordinance and the Race Discrimination Ordinance. Equal access to education has been further facilitated by an extension of free education from 9 years to 12 years.
At the international level, the Hong Kong SAR is committed to the provisions and principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled Persons, ratified by the People's Republic of China in 2008.
The 1996 Disability Discrimination Ordinance (Cap. 487), as amended in 2013, prohibits denying or limiting the education access provided by any education institutions on the grounds of disability status. Exceptions are admitted if the person is not capable of performing school activities (Art. 24). The enactment of the ordinance has allowed students with disabilities to be admitted in regular schools since 1997/98. In conformity with the ordinance, a Code of Practice on Education was issued by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) in 2001 to assist schools with the development of policies and procedures in accordance with the principle of equal opportunities.
Since 1997, the education system has endorsed the Whole School Approach to Integrated Education, whose Operation Guide was adopted in 2014 to empower regular schools to provide quality education services to learners with special education needs. The approach entails a comprehensive framework based on school policies, practices and culture for the establishment of an inclusive school environment with curriculum accommodation, peer support and teacher collaboration. Particular attention is paid to the promotion of inclusive school values, with an emphasis on the principle of diversity, and teaching capabilities and attitudes.
In the social sector, the Hong Kong Rehabilitation Programme Plan (RPP) sets out the strategic directions and measures to address the needs of persons with disabilities, including in public education (Ch. 14). In line with the 1995 White Paper on Rehabilitation, the RPP intends to foster equal opportunities for persons with disabilities, raising public awareness of their rights and needs. Charged with reviewing the RPP in line with the principles of the CRPD, the Rehabilitation Advisory Committee woks on enhancing cross-sectoral collaboration on the issue of disability.
More recently, in conformity to the New Senior Secondary academic structure, education for learners with disabilities was extended to 12 years as for their peers starting in the 2010/11 school year. Specific guidelines were adopted to support schools in dealing with the extension. Since the 2017/18 school year, the teacher-to-class ratios for public kindergartens and primary and secondary schools, including special education schools, have been raised to foster teachers’ capacity to cater for the diverse needs of students.
The 1996 Sex Discrimination Ordinance (Cap. 480), as amended in 2013, regulates protection against discrimination on the grounds of sex, marital status and pregnancy. Part 4, Article 25 prohibits discrimination in access to education institutions based on sex, except for single-sex institutions.
Currently, there is no comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status. In 2014, the EOC commissioned a multidisciplinary research study on legislation against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI Study). The resulting report has informed the policy agenda, but mostly on awareness publicity and sensitivity training.
Ethnic and linguistic groups
As established in the 1990 Basic Law, English can be used as an official language in addition to Chinese (Art. 9). The 2008 Race Discrimination Ordinance (Cap. 602), as amended in 2018, declares unlawful the refusal and/or omission of acceptance, or the expulsion of a student on the grounds of race or his/her belonging to a racial group (Art. 26).
Admission to school is ensured to all eligible children, including non-Chinese-speaking students (NCS students), and notably those belonging to ethnic minorities. Their integration into public schools is encouraged through tailored education services, such as induction programmes, after-school language learning support and placement assistance.
Primary and secondary special education has been free since 2008/09. The School Textbook Assistance Scheme under the Student Financial Assistance Agency (SFAA) provides financial support to children with special education needs, who may apply for fee reduction for boarding schools. The SFAA grants financial assistance and scholarships to students at all education levels based on economic need. Full subvention is guaranteed for full-time courses offered by the Vocational Training Council for junior secondary school leavers.
The Education Bureau (EDB) holds the responsibility for planning, development and monitoring of education policies and programmes from pre-primary to tertiary level, including special education provision. Further, it provides recommendations on curricula, teaching and learning strategies and approaches. The EDB is also responsible for rolling out the early identification and intervention programme for children entering primary education.
The promotion of equal opportunities for persons with disabilities and other groups traditionally discriminated against is encouraged by the EOC. The EOC has mainly an advocacy role, but it also provides guidelines for the support of students with disabilities or special education needs.
The Women’s Commission is the leading body promoting the interests and rights of women through capacity building and public education. In 2015, for example, it developed a guidebook on gender mainstreaming for public officers.
Launched in 2012, the Universal Accessibility policy intends to enhance the programme for barrier-free-access facilities. A technical committee was set up in 2014 by the Buildings Department with the participation of persons with disabilities to promote consultations on the review of the 2008 Design Manual – Barrier Free Access, which contains both mandatory and recommended design requirements for barrier-free access and facilities.
All schools provide tailored support services, including audiological services for children with hearing impairments, school-based speech therapy services for students with speech and language impairments, and psychology support for students with learning, emotional and/or behavioural difficulties.
With the adoption of the New Senior Secondary academic structure in 2009, the new secondary curriculum includes Other Learning Experiences (OLE) and Applied Learning (ApL) courses that deliver a diversified learning programme.
ICT and learning materials
The EOC and the EDB jointly developed teaching and learning materials and organize training sessions on ensuring a safe school environment. The EDB is also in charge of providing hearing supportive devices for preschool and school children with hearing impairments.
A teacher professional development framework was developed to cater for learner diversity. Within it, structured in-service basic- and advanced-level training courses have been arranged for kindergarten teachers since the 2015/16 school year. Each kindergarten was required to have at least one teacher having completed the basic-level training by the end of 2020/21 school year.
Since the 2007/08 school year, training courses at Basic, Advanced and Thematic levels (BAT courses) for teachers of regular and special schools have been organized to enhance their professional capacity to cater for students with special education needs. Since the 2012/13 school year, an additional training course on education for students with severe or multiple disabilities has been provided for special school teachers. From the 2017/18 school year onwards, training on how to identify and support students with mental health needs has been part of the professional development programme for teachers.
Since 2017/18, 244 regular public schools at primary and secondary level have been supported by a special educational needs coordinator (SENCO) who is in charge of implementing the whole school approach. SENCOs receive professional training on inclusive education. Multiprofessional teams already work in special schools and include speech therapists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and educational psychologists.
The Hong Kong SAR provides regular figures and statistics at different education levels.
With regards to special education, it reports data on the number of special education schools, the number of ordinary schools with special classes and the number of teachers in special schools by education attainment.
A school development instrument called the Indicators for Inclusion was adopted in 2008 with the support of the UK Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education to enhance the capacity of schools to identify and provide for the needs of all students. Within the Quality Assurance Framework of School Education, the Indicators for Inclusion cover the areas of management and organization, learning and teaching, student support and school ethos, and student performance.