Hong Kong schools

Governance problems at more than 10 Hong Kong schools prompt call for change from union

Education Employees General Union points to bullying of teachers, the covering up of sexual harassment and unfair sackings

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 August, 2017, 9:07pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 August, 2017, 4:18pm

A teachers’ union has called for a review of the current management model for public schools – which gives school boards full powers in matters such as promoting teachers – after it found more than 10 schools were facing governance issues.

The revelation came a week after Hing Tak School in Tuen Mun shocked education circles with its poor management record, which saw teachers complaining about the exaggeration by the principal of enrolment numbers to secure more funding and its deviation from normal procedures in sacking two teachers.

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Eva Yu Yee-wah, president of the Education Employees General Union, said Hing Tak’s case was just the tip of the iceberg and that it had received similar complaints about at least 10 other schools.

Yu said eight teachers working at the same secondary school had complained to the union about a host of issues with their principal, including the school covering up a sexual harassment case and the principal openly insulting, threatening and inciting other teachers to bully “uncooperative” teachers.

“The principal openly threatened teachers who complained about the school to its supervisor, the Education Bureau and the union by telling them at a meeting ‘see you in court’,” she said.

The existing school-based management policy launched by the Education Bureau in 2005 was intended to give schools more autonomy and greater financial freedom to better meet the needs of students.

School boards gained more powers such as being able to hire and promote teachers without going through the bureau, which critics said had led to abuse in some schools.

Yu noted that the bureau was investigating the case and found that the principal violated regulations. This could not be confirmed by the bureau as the union was not willing to reveal the school’s name.

A teacher from a primary school in North district who wished to remain anonymous said he was unfairly sacked by his former school in 2015, despite his positive appraisal.

He believed his dismissal was caused by the principal not liking teachers who were too opinionated.

“For example, some of the teachers reminded the principal of the need to alert the Education Bureau about a pupil not going to school for more than seven days, but the principal seemed to think we were being too nosy,” he said.

He said the bureau found the school violated regulations by firing him and sent it a warning letter. This also could not be confirmed by the bureau as the teacher was not willing to reveal the school’s name.

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Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said she was “very disappointed” about the Hing Tak School case.

“The government has placed a great deal of trust on school operators and principals ... but this doesn’t mean we are leaving them with [full] management responsibility,” she said. “This is still the bureau’s job.”

A bureau spokesman said school boards had to operate in accordance with its governance and accountability framework and follow education laws and regulations. He added schools were required to submit annual audited accounts for review by the bureau.

The spokesman said after receiving the complaint from the union about the secondary school, the bureau had been providing support to its management and requiring it to improve relations with staff. He added the bureau would continue to closely monitor the situation and ensure that the school operated smoothly.