Hong Kong’s education chief on Friday fended off accusations that the government had been slow to react following a series of cases involving malpractice or maladministration uncovered in schools. Lawmakers gave Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung a grilling over a number of scandals at primary and secondary schools in which funds were misappropriated, pupil enrolments falsified or accounts audited unsatisfactorily. At a special sitting of the legislature’s finance committee, several lawmakers said the Education Bureau had failed to fulfil its duty to competently oversee the operations of local schools. “In recent months we have seen very chaotic school administration. And sometimes these cases were only followed up on because the media reported them or complaints were made. What more can you do?” asked Ip Kin-yuen, who represents the city’s education sector in the Legislative Council. Last month a 48-year-old teacher at Tung Wah Group of Hospitals’ Leo Tung-hai Lee Primary School in Tin Shui Wai was found dead after falling from a six-storey campus building. Authorities said the school had been the subject of a complaint before the incident and that the school’s governing committee would handle the case. This sparked concerns that the committee, made up of supervisors, alumni, teachers and the principal, was wielding too much power with insufficient oversight. Teenage boy at private Hong Kong secondary school seriously injured after being gouged in face with pen during fight with fellow pupil Civic Passion lawmaker Cheng Chung-tai slammed this citywide policy of school-based management, which was launched in 2000 to grant more autonomy and improve learning outcomes. “These incidents have shown that the leadership and management committees at schools have been trying to cover up scandals, so may I ask, under what circumstances would the government be willing to review the school-based management policy?” Cheng said. Minister Yeung however backed the policy and said it had undergone several revisions and improvements since its introduction. “A task force is looking into these cases … No regime can prevent all accidents from happening. It does not mean the regime has utterly failed,” he said. Top local institution Baptist (Sha Tin Wai) Lui Ming Choi Primary School made headlines last October over accusations it had misappropriated funds collected from pupils for overseas trips. Yeung said investigative work into the case by the Education Bureau had begun long before the allegations came to light in the media. “We had already sent out warning letters to the school stating what improvements to make,” he said. “Investigations take time and we take our investigations very seriously … There may be accounts of the incident which have not been verified. As the government, we cannot take these things lightly, and must base everything on facts before we issue advice or recommendations.” Law enforcement agencies in Hong Kong investigate top primary school suspected of misappropriating funds collected from pupils for trips to Australia The bureau revealed on Thursday that investigations by both itself and the school’s governing board had shown official guidelines for arranging overseas trips were not followed. The board said there had been a lack of supervision over the administrative and financial procedures involved in organising the excursions. The principal and a teacher were given a written and verbal warning respectively. Five months earlier media reports claimed a portion of cash collected from pupils in Australian dollars worth US$366,000 had ended up in a teacher’s bank account. But Yeung said it was wrong to assume the government had not been doing its job just because the media uncovered the scandal first. “I think that is not a fair comment,” he said. “We do our best but the reality is that we have 1,000 subsidised schools, government schools and direct subsidy scheme schools, and if you ask us to prevent even the most minor incidents happening, that is impossible.” He told lawmakers the bureau was working to enhance communication among teachers. Legislator Ip said officials must intervene sooner when problems arose. “When something is brewing, you can act when things are just starting to happen, but the current system is not efficient in this way.” Yeung also weighed in on another scandal, involving the principal of a secondary school in Ma On Shan, who was believed to have been tipped off in advance by Education Bureau officers about an inspector’s visit. Pan Yee-ling, the principal of Yan Chai Hospital Tung Chi Ying Memorial Secondary School was accused of working with bureau officers to gain details of a surprise external school review visit – an hour-long school evaluation conducted by observing classes, reviewing existing documents and interviewing different stakeholders. It was said that in October last year, Pan received a schedule of the school visit and reminded teachers to be well prepared before the visit. “After an internal investigation, we believe there was an inappropriate release of information to the school and we have already conducted an inquiry into the people involved. Disciplinary action has also been taken against them,” Yeung confirmed. He said authorities would pay a second, unscheduled, visit to the school in due course.