The Education Department made misleading statements which discouraged parents from appealing against the allocation of secondary school placements, a report by the Ombudsman has found.
The department also effectively reduced the duties of a body monitoring the appeal process to that of a rubber stamp, the report released by Ombudsman Alice Tai Yuen-ying yesterday said.
It concluded that the appeal mechanism was fine in principle but deficient in its implementation.
The mechanism was introduced in July last year after a court ruling a month earlier found the allocation system in which girls and boys were treated separately was discriminatory.
The investigation focused on comments by the department which stressed that the chances of students being successfully allocated to new schools would be extremely limited. It estimated there would only be about 600 places available for reallocation of students.
'Some parents had refrained from appeals as a result of the department's statement,' the report said.
Despite the department's comments, 2,261 of the 3,001 students who made successful appeals were reallocated to schools higher on their list of choices.
In a later arrangement, the department placed 672 of the remaining 740 aggrieved students in 11 secondary schools which they preferred to their original allocation.
'The department had made apparently 'cautious', but in effect misleading, statements about the chances of successful reallocation through the mechanism,' the report said.
In a separate censure, the Ombudsman's officers found that the results of the appeal process were presented to an independent monitoring group after they had been announced at a press conference on July 27, last year.
The seven-member group was set up by the department to oversee the operation of the appeal mechanism.
The group was not able to examine the appeal results before they were released, the report said.
The Director of Education, Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, said in July it was not essential for the group to examine the appeal results before their release, saying it was not a statutory body with monitoring powers but only an advisory one.
The Ombudsman's Office said it could not accept the department's statements that there had been no obligation for it to check the results at the request of the monitoring group before releasing the information.
'In the event, the group endorsed the sample checks after the registration of students at their reallocated schools,' the report said.
'This has created the unfortunate public impression that matters tabled for the group were fait accompli , and that the group was merely a 'rubber stamp' for the department,' the report said.
Ms Tai said the public had expected the group to monitor the appeal mechanism.
Mr Cheung agreed that it would have enhanced the credibility of the mechanism if time had been allowed for the checks to be conducted before the release of the results.
He added that the department had no intention of discouraging parental appeals.