Ex-Ombudsman Alice Tai to head body to handle school disputes

Former watchdog chief and government critic Alice Tai appointed in a bid to alleviate public concern over the education system

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 January, 2013, 3:45am

Outspoken former ombudsman Alice Tai Yuen-ying is set to return to the spotlight with the government appointing her to head a panel to resolve education disputes.

As Ombudsman, Tai was a critic of a range of government policies before she left in 2009.

The government wants Tai to lead an independent appeal board to deal with unresolved conflicts within schools, with the hope that she can ease public concern over the city's education system.

The Education Bureau now handles most of the complaints involving schools and Tai's appointment is part of its proposal to reform the complaint-handling system, a government source said yesterday.

The proposal is to be tabled in the Legislative Council in February, the source said.

The bureau began a two-year pilot scheme in 80 schools this month to change the way complaints are handled.

"While the bureau would handle complaints relating to the Education Ordinance, education policies and services it directly provides, schools should take up complaints relating to schools' daily operations and internal matters directly," says a brief on the new policy.

The bureau said there was a need to enhance "school-based management" in which schools are expected to resolve day-to-day operational issues.

Problems that crop up range from mosquito and noise nuisances to staff disputes, and the bureau receives more than 200 formal complaints from various stakeholders every year.

Any issues that the bureau or schools cannot resolve will be sent to the panel headed by Tai, who is expected to open the handling of complaints to more public scrutiny.

The 63-year-old gained attention before she left the ombudsman's office - which she had served for 10 years - for urging the government to improve teamwork and stop the top-down approach to policymaking.

The Professional Teachers' Union said that channelling complaints back to schools would create conflicts of interest and jeopardise the complaint-handling system.

The union, which thinks the plan will reduce civil servants' workload, also raised concerns that it would overload the workload of schools, making disputes more likely.

It would be "unacceptable" for staff disputes to be handled among school staff, union chief Fung Wai-wah said yesterday.

With the bureau exiting part of the process, some cases would be brought up because complainants were unwilling to let schools handle the disputes, he said.

The union is scheduled to meet bureau officials to discuss the proposal soon.


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