ESF - English Schools Foundation

Voice urged for special needs on ESF board

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 October, 2007, 12:00am

Parents keen to ensure quality education for all

Parents of children with special needs have demanded their voices be heard by having a designated representative on the English Schools Foundation's proposed board of governors.

They told a bills committee meeting this week such a representative on school councils and the board of governors was vital to ensuring their views were heard.

The ESF (Amendment) Bill proposes replacing the 130-member foundation and executive committee with a 25-member board of governors. The board would consist of 10 independent members, seven parents, three ESF staff representatives, three school council members and two legislators.

Other proposed amendments include removing the Legislative Council members from the board and inserting the words 'without regard to disability or special educational needs' into the bill's section on the objects of the ESF.

Shirley Liu Ying-yee, representing a group of parents of children with special educational needs (SEN) at King George V School, said an SEN parent representative on the board would ensure all students were given a quality education.

'The voice of SEN parents has to be heard, especially given that SEN students are a small proportion of the student population,' she said.

Ms Liu said a 2005 report had pointed out deficiencies in the ESF's provision for special needs children. She said the ESF had not implemented most of the report's recommendations and had no timetable to do so.

But this was strongly denied by ESF chief executive Heather Du Quesnay, who said there had been a 'clear series of achievements', including the establishment of three new learning support classes.

'I'm absolutely certain that there's clear evidence of the amount of new work that has been done,' she said.

Terry Mountain, chairman of the Jockey Club Sarah Roe School's parent and teacher association, also supported the idea of adding an SEN representative to the board.

'How else can SEN and individual needs ... be properly debated and agreed unless there's parental representation at the top of the management structure?' he said.

Virginia Wilson, from the SEN Parents' Advisory Group, said the group had not yet agreed whether the board should include a representative but she personally did not support the amendment.

'Any member should act on behalf of the greater good ... rather than any individual constituency,' she said.

Chairwoman of the Joint Council of Parent and Teacher Associations Jane Tracey said most parents did not support the amendment.

'The key point is that all parents who are represented at a school council should be looking to the broader interests of the school and not one particular aspect of the school,' she said.

The ESF said children with special needs represented only a small proportion of students and the board would need to consider the interests of all children.

Liberal Party legislator Tommy Cheung Yu-yan, a Legco member of the foundation for the past seven years, has proposed removing legislators from the board. He said he often missed meetings because of other commitments.

But Ms Du Quesnay said the ESF wanted to retain Legco members and asked the bills committee to consider the balance of the board if they were removed. Ms Tracey said parents had also indicated they wanted to retain Legco members.

Legislators Mandy Tam Heung-man and Abraham Razack supported having a SEN parent representative on the board, but Ms Tam did not agree with the proposal to remove the two Legco members.

Ms Du Quesnay said it would take a 'big effort' to get the bill passed before Christmas. The bills committee is due to meet again on November 5.