Time to review the school-based management policy
The scandal over exaggerated enrolment numbers and other issues at the Hing Tak School in Tuen Mun is a reminder that governance can be improved
After weeks of controversy, the scandal surrounding a Hong Kong school is, thankfully, subsiding. This came after the Education Bureau appointed more members to the board of Hing Tak School, leading to the ousting of the principal last Friday. Controversial as it is, the move helps restore confidence in our school management system. There are lessons to be learnt by all stakeholders. The Education Bureau failed to step in at an early stage amid queries over the way the principal, Chan Cheung-ping, had been running the school in Tuen Mun. Among the accusations were that student enrolment numbers were exaggeratedto avoid government funding cuts, and the flouting of rules to promote or dismiss teachers. The allegations are serious. It has to be asked why the issues were not followed up by the government until recently.
While the main issue appears to be the actions of an individual, it would not have snowballed into a governance crisis had there been proper checks and balances by the school board. The suggestion that some board members connived with the principal is disturbing. It would defeat the purpose of the school board system if those given a supervisory role did not take their duties seriously.
The removal of the principal is just the first step towards putting the school’s house in order. The acting principal is a veteran teacher with 12 years of experience at the school. It is to be hoped that he can put operations back on track.
However, it would not be surprising if the row lingers. Chan’s dismissal came while she was on sick leave. She has denied any wrongdoing and may take the case to the Labour Tribunal.
Eight years ago, the government was forced to take over another school because of mismanagement. This time, officials may well be right in saying that the Hing Tak School scandal is an exception. Nonetheless, authorities should take a closer look at the current governance model. The school-based management policy was meant to give individual schools more autonomy in day-to-day administration. While this policy is still worthy of support, it is perhaps time to review it based on the experience at Hing Tak.