For discussion
on 21 June 1999

LegCo Panel on Education

Benchmark Qualification for English Language Teachers


The purpose of this paper is to report on the progress in the development of language benchmarks for English language teachers.


2. The setting of language benchmarks for teachers is one of the recommendations of the Education Commission Report No. 6 (ECR 6), published in 1996, to enhance the quality of teaching and learning of both language and non-language subjects in schools. Since language is an essential medium for teaching, teachers should have adequate language proficiency to ensure effective teaching.

3. Immediately following the publication of ECR 6, a Task Force on Benchmarking was set up in early 1996 under the Advisory Committee on Teacher Education and Qualifications (ACTEQ) to develop the benchmarks and to make concrete proposals to the Government.

4. The Chief Executive announced in his 1997 Policy Address that teachers have to meet language benchmarks according to the following timetable:

    - by 2000: all new teachers joining the profession

    - by 2005: all serving language teachers

    - by 2008: all other serving teachers

5. Teachers can get benchmarked through the following avenues:

  1. for new teachers: those who undertake a pre-service teacher education programme will be benchmarked mainly through the professional training programme; those who have no teacher training will have to go through the benchmark examination; and

  2. for serving teachers: they can either take the benchmark examination (to be jointly administered by the Hong Kong Examinations Authority and the Education Department), or undertake a training course through which they can get benchmarked by passing various assessments integrated in the course.

6. The Government has earmarked $ 73 million per annum over the next ten years for the provision of language training to help all serving teachers reach language standards at or above the benchmark levels. Of this, it is estimated that each year around $ 29 million will be spent on language enhancement for English teachers.

7. The recommendation of ECR 6 in relation to benchmarks covers three languages, that is:

  1. English teachers and teachers using English as the medium of instruction;

  2. Chinese teachers and teachers using Chinese as the medium of instruction; and

  3. Putonghua teachers.

As Members' interest is on benchmarks for English teachers, the discussion in the rest of this paper will mainly focus on English language benchmarks.

Progress in the development of English benchmarks by ACTEQ

(1) Initial consultancy and tentative benchmarks

8. In March 1996, ACTEQ appointed language consultants to develop the English benchmarks. The English consultancy is jointly undertaken by the University of Hong Kong and the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

9. By early 1997, the consultants have come up with tentative benchmarks for English teachers in lower secondary forms. In order to ensure that the tentative benchmarks developed are appropriate and professionally sound, the work done during the consultancy included the following:

  1. a questionnaire survey of all serving English language teachers, school heads and educational bodies to obtain their views. A total of 83.8% respondents expressed support for the need to set benchmarks;

  2. case studies of language assessments on a small sample of teachers (around 50), and videotaping the teachers in a live classroom setting for establishing the tentative benchmarks; and

  3. in conjunction with the ACTEQ Task Force, explaining the benchmark initiative and exchanging views with front-line teachers, principals and educationalists and the public in two public fora held in July 1996.

The preliminary results of the consultancy indicated that the language skills to be benchmarked in respect of English should include reading, writing, listening, speaking and classroom language.

(2) Pilot exercise

10. To ensure that the final benchmarks developed are appropriate and reasonable, it was decided that the tentative benchmarks would be finalised through a pilot exercise involving a larger sample of teachers (involving around 300 teachers with different background in terms of academic, subject and professional training, and teaching experience).

11. In September 1997, an English Subject Committee was set up under the ACTEQ Task Force to develop the test specifications and draw up the various assessments for the pilot. This arrangement followed the Hong Kong Examinations Authority's (HKEA) normal procedures in developing examination papers for public examinations. The pilot was co-ordinated by ACTEQ, with HKEA administering the written and oral examinations, and the Education Department being responsible for the classroom assessments.

12. As teacher education providers' experience and expertise in training teachers to an effective level of language proficiency for teaching is important to our benchmark exercise, and as they play a highly important role in ensuring that our future teachers meet the benchmark standards, we have closely involved them in all stages of the benchmark exercise. They are represented on the ACTEQ Task Force, as well as the Subject Committees.

13. By June 1998, the Subject Committees have finished their work in drawing up the assessment tools for the three languages. ACTEQ then published the examination syllabus with exampler tasks to all teachers in September 1998, and invited all teachers, in particular those who will participate in the pilot, to three regional briefing sessions concerning the benchmark policy and arrangements for the pilot. The briefings were heavily oversubscribed, and a fourth one was organised. A total of over 3,600 teachers and a few parents from Parent Teacher Associations attended the sessions. The sessions were highly useful and provided a good opportunity for ACTEQ, the Subject Committees and teachers to exchange views.

14. The pilot assessments took place from mid-October 1998 to February 1999. The marking of the examination scripts has completed. The English Subject Committee is currently analysing the results, with a view to finalising the benchmarks, drawing up exemption criteria (if appropriate) and fine-tuning the assessment tools. We expect a report from the Subject Committee by the end of June, making recommendations on these important issues.

Way forward

15. The English benchmarks for other school levels will continue to be developed to tie in with the implementation timetable announced by the Chief Executive.

Education and Manpower Bureau
June 1999