Legislators pass law to change makeup of ESF

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 March, 2008, 12:00am
 

The English Schools Foundation has entered the final chapter of its protracted governance reforms as lawmakers passed legislation to radically alter its structure.

But while the broad strokes of the foundation's revised ordinance - which will replace the 130-member foundation with a 26-seat board of governors - had cross-party support from legislators, the subject of students with special education needs proved a sticking point.

The issue has been a bone of contention throughout the seven months the ordinance has spent in the bills committee, and dominated yesterday's 21/2-hour debate.

Legislators finally supported an amendment from Liberal Party legislator Tommy Cheung Yu-yan to set aside a dedicated seat on the board for a special-needs parent - provided the candidate was elected by the entire parent body.

However, another amendment from the Civic Party's Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung - to introduce the aim of 'non-discrimination against students with special education needs' into the foundation's powers and aims - was defeated by functional constituency votes.

Dr Cheung said the motion was intended to 'recognise the ESF's success in providing special needs education' and set a precedent to other school-sponsoring bodies. 'If there was the opportunity, I would hope that all schools would include such a clause in their objectives,' he said.

But Abraham Razack, who introduced the bill on behalf of the foundation, said while he appreciated the good intentions, the motion went 'a step too far and was one whose implications are not quite clear'.

'Like many citizens I believe we do not need legislation to make us do good work,' he said. 'Goodness comes from within.'

He said he accepted the foundation's concerns that including the clause could leave it open to litigation and judicial review.

Legislators also voted to remove the two posts on the board that had been proposed to come from their own number.

ESF chief executive Heather du Quesnay said after the meeting she was delighted the bill had finally gone through and relieved Dr Cheung's amendment had not been passed.

'It is ... simply a matter of practical implementation,' she said. 'I think people did understand that we were seriously concerned about potential litigation and about the sort of financial implications that could imply, but also the huge pressure that any kind of legal action puts on principals and teachers.'

The ESF had been opposed to a special-needs parent on the board, but Ms du Quesnay said she was 'quite happy' with the outcome.

The new board of governors will be made up of parents, teachers, school council representatives and independents plus the foundation's chief executive. Ms du Quesnay said the first election for parent members would probably take place early in the autumn term.

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