The policy of school-based management was introduced on the rationale that devolving decision-making powers to schools may result in better decisions in terms of quality and attention paid to the school context. The powers concern mainly financial, personnel, curriculum matters and the school purpose.
Given that an aided school spends tens of millions of dollars every year, it is hoped that such devolution of powers will enhance efficiency.
The policy requires the establishment of an incorporated management committee (IMC) as a legal entity in every aided school for governance and implementation of central education policies. Each IMC comprises various stakeholders, including members of the school sponsoring body, teacher, parent and alumni representatives, as well as an independent member from the community. The IMC's role is to dispense resources from the government properly, within prescribed boundaries, and to deliver quality education.
After the ongoing legal wrangles over the issue have been resolved, all aided schools which have not started the process have to form their IMCs within pressing time frames set by the authorities. Under this new form of school governance, Hong Kong now needs thousands of school managers - each school needs around a dozen managers on its IMC and no person can serve consecutively on more than five.
To achieve the desired improvements, it is imperative that decision makers understand the nature as well as impact of the decisions they make, especially in terms of their educational effects.
Since the IMC's decisions can directly affect teachers' quality of life and the quality of the education they provide, this new power in the educational landscape needs close scrutiny. If managed improperly, the new IMCs, being highly autonomous and powerful, can become mere talking shops or, worse still, battlefields in which different interest groups clash. Incessant conflicts of views might waste valuable meeting time and, at worst, undermine the quality of the school's education. .
Moreover, as most of the members may not have much experience in the education sector, it is worrisome they may put efficiency, economy and productivity above educational considerations, and so adversely affect the educators' morale or hurt the school's work environment.
To counter such negative possibilities, extensive training needs to be provided for school managers, especially to the newcomers. The authorities have started doing that, but given the magnitude of the need, much more should be contemplated.
Managers need to be initiated into their jobs and helped to understand the purpose of modern school education especially. They need to learn how financial and personnel resources can be deployed to achieve school effectiveness and see how internal policies can shape the school's culture and ethos, and enhance its administration. Micro-management is what they should eschew.
While positive input from non-educational sectors is desirable, collaboration with educational professionals for the good of the students should be the goal.
School principals, while becoming full members of the IMC under the new set-up, also need training to deal effectively with different stakeholders and competing demands without sacrificing the school's educational purpose. Even government officials may need to learn how to tackle the array of issues that may arise from school autonomy to achieve the desired educational improvements.
Now that school-based management is in full swing, it is assumed the government will conduct a large-scale study at an appropriate time to assess the policy's effectiveness, with a particular focus on the relationship between the functioning of the IMCs and school effectiveness.
The investment in time, money and human resources will be justifiable if and when the policy is seen to be raising the overall standard of local education and improving the educational ecology for all.
Robin Cheung is a retired school principal