Hong Kong schools

Education officials to do random headcounts at Hong Kong schools after ‘shadow pupils’ scandal

Authorities reveal spot checks to take place across the city throughout September

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 August, 2017, 11:40am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 August, 2017, 11:52am

City education chiefs will send officials to do stringent headcounts at Hong Kong public schools next month, after more institutions came under suspicion of using “shadow pupils” to avoid funding cuts.

In a blog post on Monday, the Education Bureau said it would visit more schools in the coming academic year, starting this Friday, to verify student numbers.

The problem of “shadow pupils” – children permanently absent from school but still registered on the student roster – came to light after the discovery earlier this month that government-subsidised Hing Tak School in Tuen Mun had listed 21 such pupils. The revelation led the primary school’s board of governors to sack the principal.

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The bureau said it would follow up with schools if it found anything amiss, as well as checking up on specific pupils if they were away from school during spot checks, which could be carried out any day in September.

“To answer to society’s concern, the bureau is reviewing the method of checking student headcounts,” it said.

The bureau is reviewing the method of checking student headcounts
Education Bureau statement

The number of pupils determines the number of classes a government-subsidised school can have, and the number of classes is vital because it determines the amount of resources a school gets, such as the number of teachers.

It was reported on Monday that government-funded Caritas Tuen Mun Marden Foundation Secondary School was suspected of counting eight senior pupils in Form 1 classes to maintain three classes.

The eight pupils reportedly returned to their actual forms – ranging from Form 2 to Form 4 – after the bureau’s headcount. The school could not be reached for comment on Monday.

Another government-funded primary school, Tun Yu School in Yuen Long, was found to have allowed at least three pupils, who had been absent from 10 to 108 days and had missed all school exams, to keep their places for two years.

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However, the three pupils would not have affected the school’s overall number of classes, and the school said it had reported the cases to the bureau.

It was also reported that two of the three later quit the school and the third returned to the school and was on track to graduate next year.

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In its blog post, the bureau said it would advise Marden, and handle its case seriously if it found the school had acted inappropriately.

Regarding Tun Yu, the bureau said the school should improve its reporting procedure and follow-up measures. Improvements could include promptly updating information about the absent pupils in the school’s computer system and giving more accurate records about the cases to the bureau.