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Speech by PSEM at HKDF luncheon


Following is a speech by the Permanent Secretary for Education and Manpower, Mrs Fanny Law at the luncheon meeting of Hong Kong Democratic Foundation today (May 4):

Ladies and Gentlemen,

When I called on Bishop Zen in February this year, he suggested that we should have an open debate on school-based management. So, when I received the flyer on the luncheon meeting today, I seized the opportunity to have a dialogue with the Bishop in front of a third party. And, I thank the organiser for giving me the time to say a few words on the bill currently being examined by the Legislative Council to establish an incorporated management committee in every aided school.

As taxpayers, you are entitled to know that the annual subvention for all aided schools amounts to $24 billion. The annual provision for a standard 30-class secondary school is about $38 million, and the corresponding provision for a primary school is about $22 million. Of this, about 85% are for salaries.

To give schools flexibility over the use of resources, the government introduced in year 2000 a lump sum capacity enhancement grant, which is very much welcomed by principals and teachers. We intend to extend the practice to other non-salary grants. In other words, in future, schools may have full discretion to spend up to 15% of the annual subvention according to their needs and priorities.

We firmly believe that individual schools should have the flexibility to determine their own priorities in the delivery of educational services and to deploy resources accordingly. 'One size fits all' no longer works if we are serious about catering for individual differences, and not giving up any child.

Decentralisation of authority is the global trend. Over the years, the government has progressively moved away from input control to monitoring of educational outcome through quality assurance inspections and more recently school self-evaluation coupled with external school review. Schools must develop the professional capacity from within to reflect, evaluate and seek continuing improvement.

As schools enjoy more flexibility and authority, the government has a duty to put in place the necessary checks and balances to ensure that taxpayers' money is spent properly and responsibly. Our top priority is always to ensure that any spending must benefit students first and foremost.

Government subvention is paid to the school, and each school is an independent cost centre. Each school should therefore set up its own management committee, with participation of the key stakeholders, including the school sponsoring body (SSB), parents, teachers, alumni and members of the community, and be accountable for their decisions. This is akin to the Board of Directors in the business world where it is stipulated by law that the Board should include non-executive directors to provide independent oversight of the company.

Parents and teachers have the best knowledge of students. They should have a say in how taxpayers' money is used to meet students' needs. We therefore propose to include elected parent and teacher representatives in the school management committee.

Through years of negotiation, the bill, as it now stands, allows the SSB to appoint up to 60% of the members of the school management committee, whereas parents and teachers only have two seats each and between them just one vote. Parents and teachers have accepted the arrangement nonetheless as they just wish to have their voices heard, and to work with the school for the benefit of students. Participation, transparency and accountability are the key.

There is abundant evidence, both in Hong Kong and overseas, to show that school-based management provides an enabling environment to build capacity from within the school for sustainable improvement. It gives schools the autonomy to develop their own characteristics within a framework of policies, standards and accountability. The ultimate objective is to enhance student outcome.

So, to recapitulate, there are three reasons for introducing school-based management with parent and teacher participation, namely, to increase the transparency and accountability of schools, to ensure that taxpayers money is properly used, and to enhance the quality and effectiveness of school education.

To put the present debate in perspective, you may wish to know that the government introduced a voluntary scheme of school management initiatives in 1991. Schools were advised to produce annual school plans, set up school management committees and establish a staff appraisal system. By 1997, less than one-third of schools have adopted these initiatives.

In its Report No. 7, the Education Commission advised that by 2000, "each school should produce a constitution for its SMC to govern the way the school is to be run. SMC members should fulfil their obligations arising under the 'service contract' entered into with SSB......Members of SMC may comprise representatives of SSB, the chairman of the school executive committee, teachers, parents, alumni, and other persons appointed by the Director of Education."

It is disappointing to find in a survey conducted in March 2003, more than six years after the report was published, that only 16% of schools have set up school management committees with both parent and teacher representatives and they are selected by the SSB.

It has been more than four years since the consultation document on "Transforming Schools into Dynamic and Accountable Professional Learning Communities" was published with proposals to take school-based management one step forward. Numerous discussions have taken place with key stakeholders, including SSBs, and a bill was introduced into the Legislative Council in December 2002, more than 16 months ago.

The Bills Committee has met 22 times and conducted four public hearings. Members proposed over 30 amendments to protect the rights of school sponsoring bodies. The bill will be amended to provide SSBs with the authority, among other things, to set the vision and mission, appoint up to 60% of the members of the incorporated management committee, redeploy staff between schools, appoint the school supervisor, nominate candidates for the principalship, and manage their private funds and assets.

Furthermore, we will allow a transition period of five years for SSBs and schools to gear up and to train the school managers so that they are well prepared to take on the responsibility.

I hope, through a constructive dialogue, we can bring all stakeholders together to work in partnership for the benefit of our children.

Ends/Tuesday, May 4, 2004


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