On 6 April, 2022, the Hon Michael Tien received a written reply by the Secretary for Education, Mr. Kevin Yeung, in the Legislative Council. Mr. Yeung set out the respective rates of retention and attrition of Native English Teachers (NETs) in primary and secondary schools in the past five school years.
Following that, several news outlets noted that NETs were leaving the NET Scheme in record numbers.
We have completed an analysis of the 2021-22 academic year, and our research indicates that this academic year’s attrition will be even higher, ranging from 18% to 20% for Primary NETs and Secondary NETs respectively.
We looked at the current number of published job ads for NETs and compared them historically for the past few years. Our records indicate that published vacancies are up 35% year on year, and that more than 30% of all eligible schools are currently looking for a NET. (As NETs are employed on 2-year contracts, only half of all schools are potentially looking for a NET each year.)
Using historical data from the EDB to track the attrition of NETs over the years, combined with the published job vacancies, we can predict that the number leaving the NET scheme this year will increase by about 60%.
Why are NETs leaving in record numbers?
From the LEGCO written reply:
“There may be various reasons for NETs choosing to leave their service. They may include retirement, family reunion and the wish to work or live in other countries. The decision of NETs to take up teaching posts in Hong Kong or not depends on their personal considerations.”
We agree that NETs deciding to leave the NET Scheme is a personal choice, but that fails to address the reason or cause of NETs leaving. Recruiting NETs is expensive and time consuming for the EDB and schools. Reasonable efforts should be made to retain experienced and qualified NETs and teachers in general.
NETs are typically recruited from overseas, and are compensated with a ‘Special Allowance’, roughly equivalent to local teachers’ provident fund, by fulfilling the EDB’s requirements that “the teacher’s normal place of residence is established as being outside Hong Kong”. https://www.edb.gov.hk/attachment/en/sch-admin/admin/about-sch-staff/net-scheme/MOCS_201920_Secondary%20Schools.pdf
It is these very same overseas social ties that NETs are specifically valued for that have become one of the main reasons NETs leave the Scheme.
All NETs respect the law and fully support the Government’s efforts to protect life in the face of the COVID pandemic, but the EDB are attaching additional restrictions and limitations on NETs that are causing the greatest concern. As evidenced in the recent Judicial Review brought by a NET against the EDB, there are many (in the Judge’s words) “rigid, rigidly applied, or irrational” rules and guidelines applied by the EDB.
NESTA is committed to working together to improve the NET scheme and English language learning in Hong Kong, and we call on the EDB to take action to retain professional and experienced NETs. We hope there can be productive dialogue on this and many other issues facing NETs at our upcoming NESTA EDB Liaison meetings.