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LCQ5: English Schools Foundation

     Following is a question by the Hon Abraham Shek and a written reply by the Secretary for Education, Mr Michael Suen, in the Legislative Council today (October 27):


     It has been reported that a parents' group has accused the English Schools Foundation ("ESF") of failing to communicate with parents since 2008 before the launch of three major policy initiatives, which include an attempt to change the school calendar, the introduction of a HK$25,000 capital levy and an increase in school fees for the 2010-2011 school year.  In this connection, will the Government inform the Council:

(a) whether it knows the measures which have been taken by ESF to implement the recommendations to enhance its governance standard made by the Audit Commission at the Report No. 43 of the Director of Audit published in November 2004 concerning the management and operation of ESF, and whether measures taken by ESF to improve communication with parents were included;

(b) whether the factors and principles considered by the Government in approving the fee increase application by ESF include comprehensive consultation by ESF with the stakeholders concerned; if so, of the details; if not, whether the Government will consider requesting ESF to conduct prior consultation with the parents' representatives on the increase in school fees; and

(c) given that it has been reported that the government subsidy of HK$269 million for ESF for the 2009-2010 school year, which is equivalent to 20.6% of its total income, has decreased by 6.4 percentage points as compared with that for the 2000-2001 school year, whether the Government has considered increasing the amount of subsidy to ESF in the next financial year; if so, of the expected amount of increase in the total government expenditure arising from the increase in such subsidy; if not, the reasons for that?



(a) In response to the Report No. 43 of the Director of Audit and the recommendations of the Public Accounts Committee of the Legislative Council, the English Schools Foundation ("ESF") undertook to reform its governance structure and mode of operation.  Following the enactment of the ESF (Amendment) Ordinance 2008, the ESF has introduced a series of reform measures since end 2008.  These include -

(i) the establishment of a new Board of Governors, comprising ten independent members nominated by an independent Nominating Committee with business, higher education, School Council and parent representation; eight parents elected from within the ESF parent community; three School Council chairmen; four members of staff, including the Chief Executive Officer (as ex-officio and non-voting member);

(ii) the formation of five advisory committees for Parents, School Council Chairmen, Principals, Teaching Staff and Support Staff ;

(iii) the establishment of independent Standing Committees, with no staff among their membership, overseeing audit, finance and remuneration matters;

(iv) the introduction of a Code of Conduct with relevant declaration of interest arrangements;

(v) putting in place Standing Orders to regulate the conduct of its business;

(vi) the introduction of a vigorous annual budgeting process, with involvement of all the committees mentioned above;

(vii) the formulation of a long-term financial strategy for the renewal of its building stock and the establishment of a Major Building Projects Committee to monitor the major construction projects for reporting to the Board;

(viii) a review of the housing policy and its property holdings; and

(ix) a review of the operation of the Hardship Scheme to ensure that the scheme is being implemented as sensitively as possible to support parents who encounter sudden change in circumstances and as a result have difficulty in paying school fees.

     As seen from the above reform measures, the ESF has enhanced its communication with parents through the involvement of parents extensively in the governance structure.  ESF also issues regular circular notices to parents individually by email and via its website on issues of interest.

(b) In considering the fee adjustment application by the ESF, the Education Bureau has attached importance to the "test of due process", including its consultation with stakeholders on the fee proposal.  We note that the ESF's Board of Governors, which has a wide representation, has discussed and reached consensus on the fee adjustment proposal. The ESF has also engaged parents and other stakeholders in the process of explaining the fee increase proposal at various committees under its governance structure such as the Committee of Parents and Committee of School Council Chairmen, whose membership includes parents, teachers and community representatives.  In addition, the ESF has also issued letters to parents explaining the rationale behind the fee increase and the initiatives to be undertaken for the benefits of students.  The concerns expressed by some parents had been followed up by the Committee of Parents and the Board.

     Notwithstanding this, we believe that it would be conducive to the relationship between the ESF and its stakeholders if the ESF would continue making efforts to engage parents and stakeholders directly and forging consensus on issues of mutual interest.  

(c) In the 2009/10 school year, the ESF received a government subsidy of about $284 million, which constitutes around 20% of its operating income.  We will address the issue of whether or not the present mode of subvention should continue and other related matters in the context of subvention review, having regard to the Director of Audit's Report and the recommendations of the Public Accounts Committee of the Legislative Council as well as the provision of education services by the ESF under present day circumstances.

Ends/Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Issued at HKT 14:48


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