Government primary school principals have hit back at the Audit Commission, accusing it of not having the expertise to assess their teaching and learning after it criticised the schools for failing to meet community needs. The audit report on primary education released last week said the role of the 41 government primary schools 'may not be entirely valid with the lapse of time and changes in circumstances'. It stated that some of the schools had low utilisation rates, with nine not being able to attract enough Primary One applicants to fill their discretionary places. Government primary schools were also found to be much more costly to operate compared with aided schools as their staff were employed on civil service terms and enjoyed better fringe benefits. But government school heads said the audit team was not qualified to assess education. 'It is ridiculous and unprofessional. The Audit Commission should only be responsible for checking the bills. Assessment of our quality should be left to the Education Department,' said Ho Kwok-suen, who chairs both the Government Educational Staff Union and Education Department Consultative Committee (Staff Side). The report states that the role of government schools is to provide a testing ground for education policy and new teaching practices. Staff from the Education Department may be deployed to the schools to acquire frontline experience. They also accommodate children who find it difficult to seek a place in the aided sector. The Audit Commission recommended the Director of Education to critically examine whether the number of government primary schools could be reduced and consider hiring school staff on contract terms. The report was supported by the Education Department, which said it would review its policy on government schools. It would also consider merging smaller government schools and phasing out those with low enrolment, according to the department. Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun, Permanent Secretary for Education and Manpower, met government school principals this week to brief them on the role the schools should play, said Mr Ho. Mr Ho, who is also the principal of North Point Government Primary School (AM), said it was reasonable for some government schools not to have enough Primary One admission applicants to fill its discretionary places because of the decline in birthrates. 'Many aided schools receive far less applications than the schools under study. If the Audit Commission thought that the government schools should be closed, there are many other schools they should close first,' he said. The principal said it was only 'laymen' who could suggest that government schools hire staff on contract terms.