ESF accused of stifling dissent on board

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 September, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 September, 2010, 12:00am

A police officers' association is accusing the English Schools Foundation of stifling dissent and communication with parents through a gagging clause on its governing board.

The Overseas Inspectors Association has written to legislators asking them to look into the legality of a clause in the code of conduct that members of the ESF's governing board are required to sign.

The association says the clause prevents parent members from performing their duty of representing parents. The clause states: 'No member of the board or its associated bodies must ever bring ESF's name into disrepute.'

Association chairman Ron Abbott wrote to ESF chief executive Heather Du Quesnay demanding deletion of the 'disgraceful' clause, along with a breakdown of voting and other information on key board decisions. These include parent and teacher voting on the latest fee increase and the introduction of a HK$25,000 refundable capital levy, and whether parent members have opposed any matters, especially those relating to tendering.

Abbott said the association had heard nothing from board members about its agenda, how they voted, and about issues such as the legality and fairness of tendering processes and adherence to recommendations in the ESF's 2004 audit report.

'Clause 3.1 has the effect of stifling members, not only of the board but also on the other committees, from informing parents and/or the community at large of any misgivings they have as to the manner in which the ESF is managed,' Abbott wrote to legislators.

'Parent members are directly elected by parents and are there to represent all ESF parents and to act as a check and balance. Unfortunately they are not able to perform their tasks due to clause 3.1.'

In the past school year, 257 children of police officers attended ESF schools, the association said.

Du Quesnay said: 'This clause is pretty standard practice. It is not a gagging order. It does not prevent members of the board from raising a concern, making a complaint or communicating effectively with parents.

'It simply says that by their behaviour they should not undermine the reputation of the organisation that they are governing. I very much doubt that we will delete the clause but it will be a matter that the board will take a view about.'

The ESF would not provide breakdowns of parent and teacher voting on the various issues demanded by the association because most of them had been decided on a basis of 'achieving a consensus'.

'Our communication with parents is very regular,' Du Quesnay said. 'We talk regularly and openly with the committee of parents and we talk to parents through every school council and with regular e-mail letters.'

Cyd Ho Sau-lan, outgoing chairwoman of the Legislative Council's education panel, said she would refer the letter to the Director of Audit and had circulated a copy to members of the panel and handed it to Legco's complaints division. 'Of course we will look into this complaint,' she said. 'All education institutions have to hold themselves accountable to students, parents and the public, so it is not acceptable that the school management operates behind closed doors.

'In my capacity as an individual legislator, I will also bring this matter to the attention of the Director of Audit. We expect all institutions that have been through the auditing process to make relevant improvements in their governance. If the problem persists, we have to follow up on the issue and ask why it has not been solved.'