ESF - English Schools Foundation

Whinning and dining near top of food chain

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 December, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 December, 2003, 12:00am

WHENEVER THE ENGLISH Schools Foundation (ESF) gets into a stink about how much money it spends, any number of people call or write to ask me to stick in my oar and join in the whinges.

Hitherto I have resisted. I like a good whinge but I have never been sure which ESF whinge should get my chorus when this choir strikes up. There is cacophony out there when the ESF talks money.

I have made my choice today, however, thanks to a letter to ESF parents, a copy of which has dropped on my lap. It is in the form of a question and answer monologue on the ESF pay review (soft word for pay cut), a review that is now to be reviewed again following a protest by 250 teachers on Thursday.

Up to 2001 the salaries of ESF staff had been linked to the government's Annual Pay Award (APA). Thus when civil servants received a 4.9 per cent increase in 2001, the ESF followed suit.

The question of delinking from the APA then arose and it was done last year, when civil servants' pay was reduced. ESF teachers' salaries were not cut. But this required establishing an alternative pay mechanism and the ESF consequently set up a Pay Review Body (PRB). It was made up of representatives from the community, parents, the ESF executive committee and staff, and it was asked to make recommendations on annual pay adjustments. It went off to analyse all the data on the ESF pay levels compared with pay for teachers in other schools in Hong Kong and worldwide, and then reported back. Here is what the letter to parents says it found:

'When considering the comparative data, which included such indicators as contact hours, teacher/student ratios, extra curricular commitments, it became very apparent that the base salaries of ESF teaching staff were at the top of the top quartile, not only when compared to teachers in Hong Kong schools, but worldwide.

'Furthermore, the margin of differences between the pay levels of ESF teachers and those of other teaching staff within the top quartile was such that the basic pay could be reduced by up to 10 per cent whilst still preserving the ESF's top position. The PRB therefore concluded that reductions of up to 10 per cent could be made to the pay of ESF teaching staff without impacting upon ESF's competitiveness as the employer of first choice for high-calibre teaching staff.'

Let us have that key bit again with some emphasis - top of the top quartile worldwide and by such a margin that even a 10 per cent pay cut would keep things that way.

You may have seen the picture we published on Friday in the City section of several glum-faced ESF teachers standing behind a protest placard written in teenspeak: do these English schools have any English teachers?

I can understand why they are glum. They had the opportunity of taking a small pay cut with the rest of the civil service last year but went instead for breaking the link with government salaries. Bad choice. Sometimes it pays to join the retreat. It certainly would have done in their case. And all I can recommend to them now is that they forget their talk about staff morale, disenfranchisement, being let down by management, and all the usual ESF whinge, whinge, whinge.

You have only one course ahead of you now if you want any popular support for your stance against a pay cut. You will have to do your own review of the pay figures that your Pay Review Body reported. You will have to look for substantial errors or omissions in them and I mean truly substantial ones that would show that these reviewers got it all wrong.

Until and unless you have done that work, you have nothing to say. What is more, if you cannot refute those findings, your only legitimate course is to shut up and take your pay cut.

And if, without doing it, you manage to push the ESF executive committee into repealing the pay cut, then I have a suggestion for Secretary for Education and Manpower Arthur Li Kwok-cheung, who earlier called for a review of the government's subvention of ESF schools, a subvention that now accounts for 28 per cent of their income. Do not bother reviewing any longer, Mr Li. Just move directly to cutting that subvention way back. If these people give you firm proof they do not spend public money responsibly then they need a sharp lesson to start doing so or find themselves left to their own devices.

Top of the top quartile worldwide even after a 10 per cent pay cut and they still complain?