Information Paper
Secondary School Places Allocation System


This paper informs Members of the latest development of the Secondary School Places Allocation (SSPA) System.


2. The SSPA System was introduced in 1978 to replace the Secondary School Entrance Examination (SSEE) in the allocation of secondary school places to primary school-leavers. The main features of the existing SSPA System are at the Annex.

3. Two reviews were conducted on the SSPA System in 1981 and 1985 respectively. The main features of the System have been kept following these two reviews. The allocation mechanism is designed in such a way so that it would help reduce public examination pressure on Primary 6 students and restore a more balanced education in primary schools. In addition, due regard is given to parental choices and, through regionalisation, the need for students to travel long distances to schools is minimized. Moreover, it helps to achieve a degree of mixed ability intake at Secondary 1 level. In 1995, the Board of Education Sub-committee on Review of School Education further studied the different stages of the allocation mechanism and made suggestions for its improvement.

4. In its Report on the Review of 9-year Compulsory Education published in October 1997, the Board of Education Sub-committee on Review of School Education concluded that the SSPA System was functioning smoothly and recommended that the current System be retained. Recommendations in the Review Report include issuing a new set of practice items to schools as soon as possible and considering replacing the Academic Aptitude Test (AAT) with an Academic Attainment Assessment (AAA) which is more related to school curriculum and aims to test students' higher-order thinking skills.

5. There were a large number of Secondary 1 students changing schools after the release of the 1998 allocation results. Reasons are -

  • there was a surplus of about 5 100 Secondary 1 places; the average number of students allocated to each class was 38;

  • students promoting to Secondary 1 knew, for the first time, their allocation bands;

  • the Medium of Instruction (MOI) Policy started to implement from Secondary 1.
All secondary schools had to choose the appropriate medium of teaching in accordance with the language ability of the Secondary 1 students admitted. However, some parents still wished their children to be admitted into schools using English as the MOI.

Practice Items in the Academic Aptitude Test

6. The Education Department distributed a new set of AAT practice items to all participating Primary 6 students last year so as to familiarize them with how the test is conducted. This set of practice items will be updated regularly.

Academic Attainment Assessment

7. In October 1997, the Education Department commissioned the University of Hong Kong to conduct a study on the feasibility of replacing the AAT with the AAA. The study also explored different prototypes of test items for the proposed AAA. Based on the information gathered in the study, the Education Department has formed a Project Board comprising front-line education workers, researchers from tertiary institutions and representatives from school councils to oversee the pre-tests, setting up an item bank and carrying out parallel runs to verify the validity and discriminatory power of the proposed AAA before its full implementation.

School Places Allocation in 1999

8. The Education Department has largely completed the restructuring of public sector secondary schools' class strusture with a view to -

  • minimising floating classes; and

  • turning asymmetrical schools with high "Eligibility Rate"1 into symmetrical class structure2 . After restructuring, the total number of Secondary 1 classes in the 1999/2000 school year will be reduced.

    9. The number of Primary 6 students participating in the allocation in 1997/99 will be around 75 000, an increase of about 2 000 compared with last year. As a result of the class restructuring as well as the Government's decision to stop buying Secondary 1 places from 17 private secondary schools which provide about 2 800 places in the coming school year, it is anticipated that the number of surplus places will be around 1 800. However, the actual surplus will be less as we have to cater for the need of the newly arrived children from the Mainland.

    10 Since the education sector in general is of the view that the release of allocation bands would bring about undesirable labelling effect on students, the Education Department plans not to release the information to individual students in the 1999 Allocation Cycle. Instead, schools will be informed of the overall apportionment of their students' allocation bands. The Education Department is currently seeking legal advice on the issue and will take appropriate action in compliance with the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance.

    Education and Manpower Bureau
    April 1999

    a:\school place english.doc


    Main Features of the SSPA System

    The SSPA System was introduced in 1978 as a mechanism to allocate secondary school places to primary school-leavers. Its main features are as follows -
    1. Internal Assessment

      A Primary 6 student's chance for allocating to a school of his/her preference depends largely on his/her order of merit in his/her own school. This order of merit is based on the school's internal assessments of students at the end of the term of Primary 5 and both in the middle and at the end of the term of Primary 6 in all subjects except Physical Education in all schools, and Biblical Knowledge and Putonghua in some schools.

    2. Academic Aptitude Test (AAT)

      As different schools may have different curricula and standards of assessment, students participating in SSPA are required to sit for the AAT. The results of this test will be used to scale and convert schools' internal assessments so that assessment results of different schools can be compared on a fair basis.

    3. School Nets

      The whole territory is divided into 18 school nets. Each net comprises all the participating primary and secondary schools physically located in the area and secondary schools situated in other areas providing school places for the net.

    4. Allocation Bands and Computer-Generated Random Number

      The allocation bands are based on the order of merit of the internal assessments scaled by the AAT of all students in a school net. This order of merit is divided into five allocation bands of boys and girls, each consisting of 20% of the total Primary 6 boy/girl students in the school net. The order of allocation within the same allocation band is determined by the random number allotted to each student.

    5. Parents' Choices of Schools

      Every year in early May, the Education Department will distribute to each Primary 6 student a Secondary School List showing the secondary schools which provide school places for the school net the student belongs. Parents then make choices from the list and place them in an order of preference. Allocation of school places is done according to the order of preference indicated.

    6. Allocation by Net, by Band and by Parental Choice

      Allocation is done on a net basis. According to their parents' choices, Band 1 students are allocated Secondary 1 places first, then Band 2 and so on. If a particular secondary school has more applicants than places, applicants of the same band with smaller random numbers will be allocated first. Within a band, all first choices will be allocated first, to be followed by second choices and so on. This process will go on until all the students in the net have been allocated places.

    7. Discretionary Places

      Secondary schools participating in the SSPA System are allowed to keep a maximum of 10% of their Secondary 1 places as discretionary places. Students are free to apply to one secondary school in any net for a place. A student accepted in a discretionary place by a secondary school will not be allocated another place in the central allocation.

    a:\school place english.doc

    1"Eligibility Rate" is the percentage of Secondary 3 students in a school eligible for allocation of subsidized Secondary 4 places.

    2 Asymmetrical schools are schools with more classes in Secondary 1 to 3 then Secondary 4 and 5; Symmetrical schools are schools with same classes in Secondary 1 to 5.