There was a call for tougher guidelines to deter education officials from securing school places for associates yesterday, after an Education Bureau employee was sentenced for helping her landlord's niece get into a school under her supervision.
The court case prompted a statement from Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim that it was not "appropriate" for officials in his bureau to write recommendations for pupils.
Ng said he was "saddened" by the incident.
Education-sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen called for tighter guidelines to stop the bureau's officials becoming the "private tools" of their friends and relatives in the city's competitive education scene.
"Recommendations from education officials would definitely put pressure on schools," Ip said. "Such actions should not be allowed, especially if they are done only to help out their personal connections."
Yuen Wai-cheong, 52, was yesterday sentenced to 140 hours of community service for getting her friend's niece into a school under her charge three years ago, when she was senior school development officer at the bureau.
In July 2011, Yuen helped get the pupil transferred to Church of Christ in China Mong Man Wai College - a secondary school in Kwun Tong that teaches mainly in English - from a Chinese-language school without declaring her relationship to the girl's aunt, who was her long-time landlord and friend.
Yuen had pleaded not guilty to the charge of misconduct in public office and was convicted after a trial before Deputy Magistrate Veronica Heung Shuk-han in Kowloon City Court.
Ng said schools that still had vacancies left after the central allocation stage had the discretion to decide whom to admit.
The exercise divides pupils into three groups based on their academic performance, then allocates them randomly.
"Education officials don't have the need and it is not appropriate for them to write recommendation letters for students except in certain special circumstances," he said. "Referral letters, not recommendation letters, can be issued to parents who seek help from us."
Yuen's duties have been suspended and Ng said the government would follow established disciplinary procedures now that the court case had finished.
The college's principal, Andy Ip Shun-tak, said the school followed objective procedures in enrolling pupils, regardless of who had recommended them.
The court heard earlier that Yuen's boss, chief curriculum development officer Kwan Pak- keong, recommended a pupil in 2008 to Kowloon's Sing Yin Secondary School at the request of his own boss.
The school did not accept the pupil.
Its principal Kwok But confirmed he had received a recommendation letter from Kwan. "We followed our admission procedures to consider the pupil's application but he did not meet our requirements, so he was not offered a place."