New ESF chief Belinda Greer vows to watch the pennies
Belinda Greer says she will draw on experience with cash-strapped Scottish schools to help cope with loss of government money
The expenses of the English Schools Foundation warrant closer scrutiny so fees can be kept down as government subsidies are whittled away over the next 13 years, the body's new chief executive says.
To that end, the ESF may stop recruiting replacements for some departing staff members, Belinda Greer said yesterday at her first meeting with the media since she took over last month.
Greer said she would draw on her experience running an authority that oversaw 85 nurseries and schools in Scotland, which had its budget slashed as austerity took hold in Britain in 2011. "The challenge is to do better with less," Greer said.
Greer takes over from Heather Du Quesnay just three years before the government begins phasing out its HK$283 million annual subvention for the ESF. Fees for new pupils at the ESF's 20 schools and kindergartens are expected to be 23 per cent higher from 2016 as the government stops supporting new students.
And Greer is keen to avoid further big fee increases so the ESF remains a cost-effective alternative to international schools.
When funding was cut in Scotland, Greer said she started working with school principals to decide whether the responsibilities of employees leaving the central authority could be taken over by schools themselves.
"Could the principals start to work differently and take their responsibilities in, for example, developing the curriculum?" Greer said. "As people were leaving, schools were taking greater responsibility for some of the work the centre did. For me, I saw improvements not just in the budget but in motivation, leadership and change."
She said she would also look at how ESF staff could operate more efficiently, for example by cutting back on trips to conference.
The turnover rate among ESF teachers in the last academic year was 7.4 per cent, while turnover among non-teaching staff hit 14 per cent.
The foundation has 3,000 full and part-time employees.
Greer said she was not afraid of competition from international schools in terms of attracting staff, because she wanted to attract people who were motivated not just by salaries, but also by the foundation's reputation for "strong, continuous professional development".
Government funding for the ESF's Jockey Club Sarah Roe School and learning support centres for children with special needs will be frozen at HK$28.3 million. Greer said she would lobby for more support for special-needs education and seek a new principal for Sarah Roe, with the skills and experience needed to support such children.
And Greer echoed Du Quesnay in saying that Putonghua should form an important part of the ESF's curriculum.