Center on International Education Benchmarking

Hong Kong: Teacher and Principal Quality

Overview | Learning Systems | Teacher and Principal Quality
Supporting Equity | Career and Technical Education | Governance and Accountability

Since 1997, when Hong Kong gained independence from Britain, it has dramatically expanded its teacher workforce, raising requirements gradually and providing supports necessary to ensure that teachers had skills they needed to teach Hong Kong’s new curriculum. Most recently, Hong Kong paired this with efforts to develop leadership skills among both teachers and school leaders.

Teacher Recruitment and Compensation

As the student population has declined during the past decade, Hong Kong has taken steps to adjust the supply of teachers, including temporarily reducing the number of available spaces in teacher preparation programs. The student population began rebounding in 2017-18 and is expected to return to pre-decline levels by 2020-21. Each institution offering a teacher education program sets their own admissions requirements, which generally include practical tests and at least one interview to assess aptitude for teaching and fluency in both English and Chinese.

In order to be hired as a teacher, a candidate must apply for registration at the EDB. Candidates become either registered teachers, who have earned a teaching qualification by completing teacher training, or permitted teachers, who have met the minimum education requirements but do not have formal teacher training. Permitted teachers may become registered teachers after completing in-service training. Neither type of candidate is required to pass a test in order to become registered.

Teachers in Hong Kong are paid according to the Master Pay Scale of the Civil Service Bureau and are generally well-compensated. Starting salaries are determined by level of education, teacher preparation and years of experience. As of 2018, primary and secondary school teachers with bachelor’s degrees and teacher training can earn monthly starting salaries of HK$31,855 (US$4,938), which is about 1.5 times the starting pay of other similarly educated professionals.

Initial Teacher Education and Training

Hong Kong had a two-tier teacher training system prior to 1994. Primary and lower secondary teachers were educated in two- or three-year sub-degree-level programs at government-run Colleges of Education, while upper secondary teachers typically completed a postgraduate diploma after finishing university education. In 1994, the five Colleges of Education joined together to form the Hong Kong Institute of Education, and the Education Bureau began phasing out sub-degree-level preparation programs. As of 2004, all new primary and secondary teachers are required to hold bachelor’s degrees. Primary and secondary teachers are now prepared in undergraduate or postgraduate programs at any of five institutions: the Hong Kong Institute of Education, which specializes in educator preparation; three comprehensive universities that have designated educator preparation programs; or the Open University of Hong Kong, which specializes in distance learning. Nearly all teachers now have a bachelor’s degree or higher, which is a dramatic change from two decades ago.

The EDB has become increasingly involved in teacher education, producing guidelines for the professional growth of new and existing teachers. A general Teacher Competencies Framework was introduced in 2003, and a new set of Professional Standards for Teachers is currently under development. Students in full-time teacher preparation programs complete practical teaching experience in local schools under mentor teachers. Once teachers are hired by schools, they are provided with one year of support from experienced teachers trained as mentors by the EDB. This is done through the Teacher Induction Scheme, which was started in 2008. However, the Committee on Professional Development of Teachers and Principals (COTAP) has proposed transitioning to a clinical model of teacher training. This would expand collaboration between preparation programs and practicum schools and align coursework with practical experience. In 2015, COTAP began studying models of initial teacher preparation in Finland and Victoria, Australia, to inform this process and is currently conducting feasibility studies on the clinical model.

Teacher Career Ladders

Hong Kong does not currently have a formal career ladder for teachers, but the idea is being discussed within the EDB. In 2015, COTAP proposed an expert teacher career track to help make teachers feel more valued and rewarded by society. As of 2016, COTAP was conducting a pilot study of ways to recognize the contributions of experienced teachers. In 2017, the EDB also established a Task Force on Professional Development of Teachers charged with making recommendations to the Secretary for Education on the development of a comprehensive professional ladder. While the details of the proposed ladder have not yet been released, it is expected to incentivize the development of specialized skills, such as teaching Chinese as a second language or supporting students with special educational needs. The Task Force will submit its recommendations to the EDB in early 2019.

At present, primary and secondary school teachers can be promoted to senior teacher, deputy principal, and principal. Some senior teacher positions have specific focus areas, such as primary school curriculum leader. Promotions to these positions generally require specific training courses, with standards set by the EDB. These positions increase teachers’ points on the Master Pay Scale of the Civil Service Bureau. Additional leadership roles, such as department head, generally allow teachers release time from teaching but not a formal promotion.

Teacher Professional Development

Hong Kong teachers are required to complete 150 hours of professional development every three years. The Teacher Competencies Framework (TCF) guides teacher professional development. The TCF, which individual schools can adapt to their own contexts, tracks the development of teachers’ competencies (in the areas of Learning and Teaching, School Development, Student Development, and Professional Services to the Community) throughout their careers. COTAP is in the process of updating the TCF which was developed in 2003 with a new set of professional teaching standards, based in part on those of other high-performing systems.

Formal professional development courses and other programs are offered through the EDB, universities, and the Hong Kong Teachers’ Center, a resource center provided by the EDB that offers opportunities for teacher professional learning and collaboration. For example, the Centre for Educational Leadership at the University of Hong Kong facilitates lesson observation and discussion between teachers in different education systems – such as Hong Kong and mainland China or Singapore – through videoconferencing. The EDB also supports school-based professional development, such as lesson observations (including peer-to-peer observations) and collaborative lesson planning. Peer-to-peer lesson observation has been implemented across all schools and follows a common structure developed by the EDB. The primary and secondary Curriculum Guides recommend that schools organize schedules so that teachers of the same subjects and levels can engage in collaborative lesson planning, although this is not required.

The EDB offers rotations for teachers and EDB staff, which are intended to facilitate collaboration across the education sector and provide exposure to other career pathways. Teachers may temporarily transfer to the EDB, EDB employees may take temporary non-teaching positions in schools and EDB employees may apply for temporary transfer within the EDB.

School Leader Development

The shift to school-based management since 1999 in Hong Kong gave principals a great deal more authority and responsibility than before. The EDB developed training to prepare them for these new roles. In 2002, a Continuing Professional Development Framework was introduced to guide initial and ongoing professional learning. The framework spells out professional requirements—including formal leadership programs and school-based professional development activities—for principals at three key stages:

  • Aspiring principals complete the Certification for Principalship. The three steps to Certification are a needs analysis; a Preparation for Principalship program, which includes an action research project; and a professional development portfolio assessed by the EDB.
  • Newly appointed principals, those within their first two years of service, are required to complete a needs assessment, induction, a leadership development program that meets EDB’s standards, and continuing professional development activities. Within their first three years of service, newly appointed principals also complete a study visit to mainland China that includes seminars and school visits.
  • Serving principals with more than two years of experience are required to complete 150 hours continuing professional development over three years, and create a Continuing Professional Development plan, which they are required to update annually.

The Continuing Professional Development Framework also sets the expectation that principals will continue to seek opportunities for professional growth throughout their careers in a process of lifelong learning, in addition to required training. The Framework lays out six core areas of leadership, which guide the training and professional development of principals. The six areas are: strategic direction and policy environment; learning, teaching and curriculum; teacher professional growth and development; staff and resource management; quality assurance and accountability; and external communication and connection to the outside world. The Committee on Professional Development of Teachers and Principals has begun work to update these core areas of leadership and incorporate them into a set of professional standards for principals.