PTU News Reporter
The recent events at Hing Tak School aroused significant concern among the people of Hong Kong. Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union had been closely following and handling the said events with confidentiality. As the matter began to settle and had been made known to the public, it is the right time to inform our fellow co-workers the happenings.
A number of teachers from Hing Tak School sought help from us during mid-February. As teachers made strong accusations towards the principal, our President, Mr. FUNG Wai-wah promptly contacted the Education Bureau (the Bureau), listing clearly the complaints of fellow teachers, and requested the Bureau to investigate matters thoroughly.
Senior School Development Officers from the Bureau assisted in putting Mr. FUNG and the director of our Rights and Complaints department, Mr. CHAN Hung in contact with the Incorporated Management Committee (IMC) of Hing Tak School at the end of March. The attempt to meet with the IMC of Hing Tak School was of little success, the committee refused to allow representative from the Bureau to be present at the meeting. With incorrect reference to the “Project on Enhancement of Complaint Management in School”, Hing Tak School wrongfully claimed the need of the Bureau to avoid interfering with school affairs by giving priority the school’s Incorporated Management Committee to handle complaints. Upon the incorrect claims made, we responded quickly and rectified the related clause and concepts. We had since been urging the Bureau IMC handle complaints made, yet investigation progressed slowly, with officers from the Bureau believing that the school was not to be overlooked, because the school did not receive excessive government subsidy with an exceptional students list. Although the teachers had reported such matter to the police, it was not met with proper handling either.
On the other hand, the principal of the school continued to unreasonably issue warnings and berate the teaching staff, causing immense stress among the teaching staff and leading staff calling in sick. The failure of the school’s principal in properly arranging class substitution and the careless shifting of teaching duties resulted in disordered class arrangements and had mostly paralyzed the operations of the school.
In between February and June we issued close to twenty letters, demanding the Bureau to take swift action in light of violations and unlawful happenings occurring at Hing Tak School. Seeking to resolve such predicaments and to restore normal operation to the school, our Rights and Complaints Department had also assisted teachers to seek help from law enforcements and the Legislative Council Complaints Division. Our representative at the Legislative Council, Mr. IP Kin-yuen, had repeatedly stated the severity of the issue to the then Under Secretary for Education, Mr. Kevin YEUNG Yun-hung.
The Chief School Development Officer of Tuen Mun District School Development Section, Mr. CHENG Kwok Yan eventually intervened upon the repeated demands made by us and the teaching staff at Hing Tak School. Apart from meeting individual teachers and parents in order to look into the problematic management of the school. Mr. CHENG also made frequent visits to the school in order to make in-depth investigations and to request the school to respond to inspections.
Drastic changes were observed in between June and July when the school dismissed two teachers, violating given guidelines. The Bureau, after receiving complaint from us, demanded the IMC to suspend the dismissal, but Hing Tak School insisted the dismissal to be executed. In addition, despite receiving warnings to comply with instructions issued by the Bureau, the IMC refused to observe the said instructions. In accordance to Education Ordinance (CAP 279), the Permanent Secretary for Education hence appointed school managers to the IMC of Hing Tak School. Upon the appointment, the prime objectives are to revoke the dismissal of the two teachers and the removal of the principal from office. All matters were settled during August, and Hing Tak School is now promptly preparing for the coming academic year.
Professionals led by the Inexperienced
School Management by Incorporated Management Committees
School managers under the IMC of schools are not paid nor are they required to work full time as school managers. In addition, most school managers are not trained as education professionals; training courses organized by the Bureau for school managers are not mandatory either. Yet under the School-Based Management system, excessive power is given to these IMCs. Given the power and the lack of experiences of the school managers, the professionals of education were led by the inexperienced. School principals’ became the actual administrators of schools due to school managers’ reliance on the principal’s opinions and practice. This results in the lack of ability to keep the power of the principal in check. To worsen the matter, the Bureau are reluctant to interfere in school affairs on grounds of “School-Based Management” Ultimately, all power and pressure is passed to the principals. While good principals struggle to carry out duties, ill-intended principals take chance to seize power, causing stress among the teaching staff.
The Bureau as a Bystander
It is the responsibility of the Bureau to monitor schools, unfortunately the Bureau uses “School-Based Management” as means to shirk responsibilities. The insistence of the Bureau in implementing Project on Enhancement of Complaint Management in Schools hinders parents from seeking help from the Bureau when problems emerge. Fellow teachers at Hing Tak School reported the issues at school to the Bureau repeatedly, but as the current Under Secretary for Education described, the Bureau were not following the reported issues closely. ‘School-Based’ management as a concept deeply rooted in the Bureau’s understanding became an excuse for the Bureau to evade all responsibilities; the Bureau did not actively initiate thorough investigation until we repeatedly demanded such to be carried out. Public opinion criticized the Bureau of their initial handling of the matter upon media exposure of the matter. The inability of the teaching staff to seek help will impact the quality of teaching and the morale of the teaching staff, eventually harming the rights of students.
Consolidating the role of teaching staff in school affairs
Apart from the need for the Bureau to resume its responsibilities, the fluctuating managerial abilities of these IMCs should also be closely looked into as it affects the effective allocation of government’s funding, the safeguarding of the teaching profession and the rights of students. It is our opinion that the current “School-Based Management” system resulted in the obscureness of responsibilities between schools and the Bureau, leading to more instances of evaded responsibilities. The lack of means to participate in school affairs restricts teachers from performing their duties as teaching professionals, creating the tendency of tilted and concentrated powers. We hereby demand:
- The role of teaching staff in school affairs to be consolidated
- The Education Bureau to review the system of “School-Based Management”
- Mechanisms handling complaints made against schools to be re-evaluated
- To re-establish the means to communicate among schools, teachers and the Education Bureau
The teachers at Hing Tak School voice out against the managerial issues within school; seeking help from the Union when the issue remains a deadlock can ensure faster settlement to the problem. We call for all teaching professionals to seek help from the HKPTU when faced by managerial problems harming the rights of teachers and students. All complaints received will be handled with confidentiality.