School Principals volunteered interest in their school being visited as part of the evaluation of the ENET Scheme, and nine schools were chosen to represent different contexts for deployment of NETs. Thus, schools were chosen to represent school diversity in medium of instruction (English or mother tongue) and academic Band levels of students. Schools were also drawn from different geographic regions of Hong Kong, and chosen to include schools with different durations of deployment for the current NET. Detailed descriptions of each of the schools, and the deployment strategies for their NETs, are included as Appendix B.
The visits provided descriptions of the ways in which the ENET Scheme operated in different types of schools. Their purpose was to provide an overview of the activities typically performed by NETs and the interactions between NETs and other teachers in the English program. With the support of the Principal in each school, the visits included interviews with NETs, Principals. English Panel Chairs, local English teachers and students and, in some cases, observation of lessons taught by NETs or co-taught by NETs and local English teachers.
The main purpose of the visits was to examine the use of, and contributions to, resources made by the NETs in different school contexts, and to address the following questions:
• How does the NET interact with and influence the staff and students in the school and affect the human resources of the English Panel?
• How are materials and facilities at the school focused on the improvement of English language, and what is the NET’s impact on this?
• How is the language program in the school influenced by the NET?
During the focus groups, medium of instruction and ability Band level of students had been identified as important influences on the optimal deployment of NETs. The visits to schools confirmed this, at least to some extent. NETs working in EMI schools with mainly Band 1 students acted as teachers of English within a team of colleagues with similar skills and experience. The roles of NETs in CMI schools were more varied, and tended to be contingent on the skills and experience of the NET. It could be argued that NETs in CMI schools with mainly Band 3 students might be best deployed as specialist teachers. In this context, a NET may benefit from a background, training or experience in teaching English as a Foreign or Second language and possibly some remedial teaching. A NET in a CMI school with mainly Band 2 students fits somewhere between these two extremes, and may be deployed in quite different ways to suit both the NET’s own skills and experiences and the needs of the school community.
3.1 Human Resources
Schools had devised quite different patterns of deployment for their NETs and, in many cases, these were justified by school leaders on the grounds that they suited the particular strengths and interests of the NET, rather than being explicitly tied to the needs of the students. In all schools, NETs were described as a scarce resource and the loss of a NET was seen as a negative event for the school. Locating a suitable NET, settling a new NET into the school, retaining the services of the NET, and managing the relationships between NETs and local teachers were described by Principals and Panel Chairs as demanding tasks. Having a NET at
retaining the services of the NET. From a human resources standpoint, it was also recognized that individual NETs brought their own particular skills, training and interests to the school and school leaders took time to understand what these were and to capitalize on them. In general, NETs were deployed in one of the following ways:
• As an ordinary member of the English Panel, taking the same role as a local English teacher including number of classes taught, administrative and marking duties, responsibility for examination-level classes, and contribution to the English program.
This deployment pattern was sometimes observed in EMI and CMI schools where the NET had been working for several years and had won the confidence of the Principal and Panel Chair. NETs were unlikely to be given responsibility for preparing students for examinations unless they had achieved a level of esteem within the English Panel, and this took time and consistent, diligent demonstration of their capacity as teachers by the NETs. This deployment strategy was also observed in schools where the Principal was concerned to protect perceptions of parity between local teachers and the NET. It was a strategy suited to NETs working in EMI schools, where the other English teachers were likely to be quite similar to the NET in skills and experience.
• In a mixed role, where the NET taught some (often Junior Form) classes and took responsibility for oral classes across several levels. In some schools, the NET was assigned to classes with the more able students because these students were expected to be able to gain most advantage from working with a NET. In other schools, this strategy was adopted because of concerns that NETs could not cope with discipline problems in more challenging classes.
• Across all year levels to teach oral language classes only. This strategy had been tried and rejected in several schools, because it meant that the NET did not have an opportunity to get to know any of the students. It was seen as a threat to the job satisfaction of the NET, which might in turn lead to the loss of the NET. However, it was a pattern chosen by other schools to provide as many students as possible with opportunities to work with the NET. These were schools where it was seen as important to differentiate clearly between the sort of contribution expected by a NET and the role and responsibilities assigned to the local teachers. In these schools, the NET was treated as a resource additional to the local teachers, to be deployed for enrichment and extracurricular programs.
3.1.1 Impact on Teachers
Many of the local English teachers welcomed opportunities to learn new ideas from NETs, but expressed regret that it was often difficult to find time to do this. Co-teaching or peer observation were methods used in some schools to allow local teachers to learn from NETs and NETs to learn from local teachers. However, as one teacher pointed out, co-teaching often took the form of the NET leading the class and the local teacher helping to maintain discipline. It was an opportunity to observe the NET but not really to co-teach or to work together to plan a lesson and understand why the lesson should be organized in that manner.
Only one of the visited schools articulated a plan designed to allow NETs and local teachers to collaborate. In this school, the Principal asserted that the NET needed to be treated as a specialist teacher, in addition to the Panel’s allocation of English teachers, and funding was available for this to be realized. This deployment strategy enabled the notion of partnership teaching to be used extensively throughout the school. The NET worked with a local teacher for two months at a time. After a two-month period of partnership teaching, the NET moved to work with another teacher.
Most schools placed emphasis upon informal, rather than structured or timetabled, opportunities for NETs to interact with local teachers. NETs were often provided with space close to the Panel Chair or other members of the English Panel in staff rooms and, in the main, they were warmly welcomed into the life of the school. Some of the NETs related narratives of less positive experiences in previous schools, and spoke about experiences of alienation and loneliness in those schools. Some of the Principals and Panel Chairs talked about their concern to make sure that the NET was not isolated within the school community.
Most valued the contribution of the NET, and were anxious not only to ensure that the NET was happy at the school but also to create harmonious and supportive relationships between the NET and other teachers at the school.
It was unusual for a NET to be given a leadership role in the school, or to be expected to take responsibility for the professional development of other teachers. These were the roles of the English Panel Chair. Several schools expressed concern about giving leadership roles to the NETs as they were seen as temporary visitors to the schools, who might leave at any time.
Even when a NET had been deployed for an extended period of time at one school, his opportunities to provide other teachers with new ideas and strategies came under the control and direction of the English Panel Chair. In many schools, collaboration with the local teachers was facilitated by the expertise and confidence of the Panel Chair. If the Panel Chair had good coordination skills and was able to assist the NET, collaboration between NETs and local teachers was generally more successful.
In some schools, teachers had started planning for the implementation of the New Senior Secondary Curriculum and saw the NET as a potential source of information about how to teach the language arts component of the curriculum. Many, however, were cautious about incorporating new ideas into their teaching practice due to uncertainty over the impact on students’ examination results. The importance of the examinations for students, teachers and schools, and their impact on opportunities for NETs to bring new ideas to the English Panel at schools, was a constantly repeated message. In most schools, a conservative approach was favoured and any new idea or teaching practice would be rejected if it took class time away from preparation for the examinations.
3.1.2 Impact on Students
In many schools, it was expected that the NET take up a role as a resource person who created an “English-rich environment” for students. An often repeated comment was that students found it much easier and more natural to switch to English with a NET than with another Chinese person. In the view of many local teachers, this was the major contribution of NETs, and something that could not be provided in any other way. Many of the students also made this point. They said that, without the NET, they would not use English outside the specific context of an English lesson and that, even in that context, they would most likely use more Cantonese than English if the teacher spoke Cantonese.
Although students expressed their enjoyment of classes held by the NET and were enthusiastic about chances to learn more about English language and culture from the NET, they maintained that local teachers were more useful for exam preparation. NETs taught English in ways that students interpreted as fun and interesting, but which were not always recognized for their educational value. In general, if an activity could not be directly linked to better examination results it was likely to be dismissed. Thus, as noted by teachers in one
students said that the NETs were not as helpful as the local teachers when they needed support in exam preparation, as they could not go into the depth of explanation (in Cantonese) required for students to fully understand difficult concepts.
Several NETs commented on the negative impact of large class sizes on a teacher’s (NET or local) opportunities to meet the individual needs of students. In particular, some of the NETs felt that their opportunities to effect positive change could be greatly improved by smaller class sizes and more split class teaching, so that teaching could be tailored to the needs of students and more feedback could be provided.
3.2 Materials and Facilities
The schools were very well equipped for English language teaching. It was standard for schools to have excellent computer facilities, a language laboratory and a multimedia room, although it seemed that these were not in constant or even regular use in many schools.
Similarly, several schools had libraries containing a wide selection of books, movies and other resources in English although the use of these materials was often focused on exam and school-based assessment (SBA) preparation.
Many local teachers expressed interest in the sorts of materials that NETs used in teaching, and hoped to be able to incorporate some of these in their own teaching practice. NETs were generally described as very creative. As one local teacher in an EMI school said, the NETs’
approach to teaching was innovative and unfamiliar to local teachers, and they had helped her to modify teaching materials in attempts to make English classes more interesting for the students.
Although all schools provided teachers and students with access to a wide range of teaching resources, relatively few had organized times to allow teachers to discuss and review resources outside the formal structure of an English Panel meeting. However, in one of the schools the teachers could draw on textbooks, resource books, online resources stored on the school server, and there was a strong culture of sharing resources and ideas with each other.
In their efforts to gain the interest of the students, they had recently shifted to using resources that were described as more “authentic”, including newspapers, videos, TV programs, magazines, food menus and maps. The Panel had a regularly time-tabled co-planning meeting every cycle that allowed teachers to discuss and exchange materials.
Several of the experienced NETs, and especially those who had previously worked in the Primary NET Scheme, expressed their interest in support from the NET Section that was modeled on the Primary Literacy Program – Reading (PLP-R) and provision of high quality teaching resources. NETs were often deployed primarily to support oral language activities in the secondary schools, although several expressed interest in contributing to the reading and writing proficiency of students. One NET commented that he would particularly like the NET Section to work on a reading program for the secondary schools. He felt that the NET working books were very helpful for sharing good resources on drama and poetry and hoped that they would be carried into every elective.
3.3 Impact on English Program
Leadership of the English Program at all of the schools was the responsibility of the English Panel Chair. The NET’s role in that program and opportunities to effect improvements or add value to the program were mediated and moderated by the Panel Chair. Several schools had
found ways to provide NETs with avenues to make contributions, but this depended upon the duration of the NET’s deployment, as it took time for schools to develop an understanding of the sorts of contributions the NET could make and to have confidence in the NET.
In some cases, the terms and conditions of the NET’s deployment acted against the NET taking a more active role in the English program. For example, two of the EMI schools ran bridging programs over summer to meet the needs of students who arrived at the school from CMI primary schools. This was a very important foundational learning activity at each school.
In one of these schools the NET, who was a resident of Hong Kong and had been deployed at the school for many years, took a leading role in the organization of this bridging program. In the second school, the NETs had not contributed to the language bridging program because they usually took holidays in summer. Instead, the school brought in external service providers and assigned one of the local English teachers to take charge of the program.
NETs were responsible for the creation of an “authentic” environment for English in the schools. In many schools, this was interpreted as making a contribution to oral language practice for both teachers and students. Many schools had deployed the NET to maximize this contribution. For example, in one school the NET had traditionally been assigned responsibility as a leader in the choral language and drama competitions, English clubs, festivals and general English extracurricular activities. These were regarded as enrichments to the English Program, and contributions that NETs were very well-suited to make.
However, in several schools the Principal and Panel Chair argued that NETs should not be overloaded with too many responsibilities for extracurricular activities. The division was between schools that felt NETs should best be treated as an additional resource person, and not deployed for a large teaching load, so that they had free time to devote to many extracurricular activities, and those schools where the NET was deployed mainly for classroom teaching. In all cases, this decision was taken by the school leaders but sometimes in negotiation with the NET and sometimes as a result of the perceived needs of the school community. Where NETs were assigned a heavy teaching load, this diminished their time to make other contributions to the English program.
In most of the schools, NETs were valued as specialist teachers who could bring new resources and ideas to the school community and share these with other teachers. Some schools had organized formal and structured opportunities to support their NET and teachers in this endeavour, and others used informal methods to bring the NET and local teachers into regular contact. NETs were not regarded as “agents of change” in schools, nor were they routinely given leadership positions in the English program.
Students were enthusiastic about the creative and interesting teaching style used by many NETs, but also acknowledged the value of the contributions local teachers made to their examination readiness. More experienced NETs also spoke about the particular skills required to prepare students to meet the challenges of the examinations and some had made efforts to understand and acquire these skills. School leaders reported that parents were eager for their children to be taught by a NET, but also concerned that the NET would not provide sufficient feedback to students and thus hamper their efforts to do well on the examinations.