Hong Kong school with permanently absent pupils investigated
Teachers allege principal inflating roster to keep government funding and stave off closure
Hong Kong police are investigating a primary school in Tuen Mun accused of having exaggerated its number of pupils in order to avoid a funding cut.
The school’s teachers and the Professional Teachers’ Union (PTU) complained to the Education Bureau that 21 pupils at the government-subsidised Hing Tak School were absent for up to two years, but remained on the student roster.
According to a source, the bureau referred the case to the police, who confirmed they were investigating a suspected case of using a false instrument.
But the school principal rejected the idea that numbers were inflated so the school could get more funding from the government and avoid potential closure, saying many absent pupils were cross-border children who were on official leave for family reasons.
Cross-border children are those born in Hong Kong to mainland parents between 2001 and 2012 – and therefore eligible for permanent residency – before the government banned local hospitals from taking in mainland women to give birth.
School principal Chan Cheung-ping said parents of the pupils in question had submitted sick leave application forms.
“According to the Education Bureau, if pupils did apply for leave, we cannot just ask them to leave the school,” she said at a tearful press conference on Tuesday.
“Every pupil has a reason. Some are sick, or having issues at home. Many of them have mainland parents, who have some family problems and have to go back to settle the issue before coming back to study,” she said.
The case came as fears of closure grow among school administrators, as the last batch of cross-border children, born just before the 2012 ban, enter primary school in 2018. After that, the number of primary school pupils in the city will almost certainly drop.
Education Secretary Kevin Yeung Yun-hung said his bureau had given the school “some warning and serious advice”, but that the school did not deal with the anomalies. He said the bureau had stepped up investigation and put experienced educators on the school’s board.
A bureau spokesman said the school had broken its rules by letting pupils keep places despite long absences, and not telling the bureau about the situation.
According to PTU president Fung Wai-wah, who alerted the bureau to the problem in February, Hing Tak teachers complained about the irregularities.
In the 2014/15 term, nine pupils from Primary One and Three were absent for the whole year. And during the whole of the next school year, 20 pupils in the first, second and fourth years did not attend.
Fung said the teachers questioned whether their boss had reported the absences to the bureau as, according to a circular from 2009, school heads are required to tell the bureau if a pupil misses seven school days in a row.
Teachers also complained that the principal did not hire staff according to school procedures, and that they were asked to switch classes to go to Shenzhen Bay Control Point to give out fliers to recruit pupils. Chan said on Tuesday that the recruiting tasks were not mandatory.
Chow Kim-ho, principal of Tsuen Wan Trade Association Primary School, said each primary school class can get about HK$600,000 worth of allowances from the government.
He said many schools faced closure back in early 2000s, a situation that the influx of cross-border pupils eased. The impending end of that influx will concern some schools that teach a lot of them, Chow said.
At least 86 primary schools closed for lack of pupils from 2003 to 2012.
Additional reporting by Clifford Lo