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LCQ3: Pilot Project on Enhancement of Complaint Management in Schools

     Following is a question by the Hon Ip Kin-yuen and a reply by the Secretary for Education, Mr Eddie Ng Hak-kim, in the Legislative Council today (December 10):


     Under the Pilot Project on Enhancement of Complaint Management in Schools (Pilot Project) implemented by the Education Bureau (EDB) since the past two school years, if EDB receives complaints lodged by parents or members of the public or referred to it by other organisations relating to the daily operations and internal matters of the schools that have joined the Pilot Project, it will refer such cases to the school concerned for handling after obtaining the complainant's consent. The school concerned will conduct an investigation according to its school-based complaints handling procedures. EDB will not follow the established practice of replying to the complainant after scrutinising the complaint investigation report submitted by the school concerned. If the complainant does not agree to referral of his case to the school for handling, EDB normally will not intervene by conducting an investigation. EDB may consider conducting direct investigation only if the complaint involves incidents of serious nature or maladministration. At present, more than 350 schools have joined the Pilot Project. Some members of the education sector have relayed to me that EDB has, using school-based management as a pretext, shirked its responsibility of overseeing school administration. Also, it will be difficult for a school to investigate impartially into a complaint that involves itself because of role conflicts. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) of the number of complaints against schools directly investigated by EDB in the past two school years, and among them, the number of those involving schools which had joined the Pilot Project, with a breakdown by the number of complaints in which the school was involved (i.e. 1 to 2 cases, 3 to 5 cases, and 6 cases and above); among the complaints directly investigated by EDB, of the number of those in which the complainants lodged appeals as they were dissatisfied with the investigation results, as well as the details of the appeal mechanism;

(2) whether it has assessed if the arrangement whereby EDB normally will not intervene by conducting an investigation even though the complainant does not agree to the referral of his case to the school for handling, has deprived the complainant of the right to choose to lodge his complaint with EDB, and is therefore in breach of procedural justice; and

(3) whether EDB will ensure that upon completion of the Pilot Project, complaints involving school staff or labour relations will continue to be directly investigated by EDB under the prevailing mechanism?



     Before answering the three parts of the question raised by Hon Ip, I would like to highlight that according to the Education Ordinance, the school management committees/incorporated management committees are responsible for the management of schools. All aided schools are required by EDB through legislation to set up a participatory governance framework involving all key stakeholders, including representatives of school sponsoring body (SSB), the principal, teacher(s), parent(s), alumni and independent community member(s) in making decisions on school policies. The school authority being the employer, should handle all matters relating to the appointment of staff with great care to ensure compliance with the Education Ordinance, relevant provisions of the Codes of Aid and relevant requirements of the Employment Ordinance, etc., whereas EDB will support and monitor schools in accordance with the Education Ordinance, the Codes of Aid and the guidelines issued to schools from time to time as required by the education policies.

     Premising on the above framework, EDB launched the "Pilot Project on Revised School Complaints Handling Arrangements" (renamed as "Pilot Project on Enhancement of Complaint Management in Schools") in the 2012/13 school year. The Pilot Project aims at helping schools to enhance or set up a clearly defined school-based mechanism to effectively handle school affairs and school-related complaints. Before implementing the Pilot Project, we have widely consulted the school sector and various stakeholders, including the SSBs, school principals' associations, school councils, teachers' associations and federations of parent-teacher associations. Most of these groups are positive to the relevant proposals.

     We would first of all clearly define the roles of EDB and schools participating in the Pilot Project in handling school complaints. In gist, schools should handle complaints relating to daily operations and internal affairs according to their school-based mechanism in order to effectively address the concerns of complainants. In this respect, the pilot schools are required to consult their stakeholders on the setting up of a clear and transparent school-based complaint handling mechanism. To ensure fair and just handling of complaints, the school-based mechanism should include an appeal channel and the requirements of keeping confidentiality, stating clearly the responsible personnel and declaration of interests, etc. As for complaints relating to the Education Ordinance, education polices and services directly provided by EDB, they will be handled by EDB.

     When EDB receives complaints relating to a pilot school, the case will be referred to the school concerned for handling and reply direct to the complainant. The pilot school is required to send a copy of the reply letter to EDB for reference. If necessary, EDB may also take appropriate follow-up action. Under special circumstances, e.g. the complaint involved maladministration of the incorporated management committees or incidents of grave concern, EDB will intervene and conduct direct investigation. For non-pilot schools, they are required to submit responses or reports to EDB which after examining the school's responses or reports would reply to the complainant. The aim of such arrangement is to help schools enhance their governance in order to address the concerns or enquiries of stakeholders in a timely manner. It should not be construed as shirking or relegating EDB's responsibilities to schools.

     Replies to the three parts of the question are provided below.

(1) In the past two school years, i.e. the 2012/13 and 2013/14 school years, EDB respectively received 239 and 179 school-related complaints, amongst which 17 and 38 cases involved schools participating in the Pilot Project. There are respectively only one and eight cases which were directly handled by pilot schools. All the remaining cases were handled by EDB. Relevant details are provided in the Annex.

     EDB has set up the Review Board on School Complaints (Review Board) to be responsible for reviewing complaint cases involving pilot schools. The Review Board consists of independent members coming from the education and non-education sectors. If a complaint is unresolved after going through the investigation and appeal stages of the school, the complainant may request the Review Board to conduct a review on the case. For other complaints handled by EDB, if the complainant is not satisfied with the investigation result and is able to provide reasonable justifications, we will take follow-up actions such as reviewing the relevant information again and/or re-investigating the case. The complaint information kept by EDB does not have classification on past appeal cases, but the information system set up for the Pilot Project has already provided classifications on appeal and review cases. According to the relevant information, EDB has no record of appeal or review cases involving pilot schools in the past two school years.

(2) and (3) When EDB receives complaints against schools, the contents of which would involve personal data and privacy, the responsible staff will seek the consent of the complainant to refer the case to the school for follow-up action. If the complainant does not agree to the referral, EDB will not forward the complaint to the school regardless of whether it is a pilot or non-pilot school. However, depending on the nature and gravity of the case, EDB would consider referring the case anonymously, e.g. concealing the relevant personal data, to the school for follow-up action or conducting a direct investigation by the Bureau. Hence, there should be no issue relating to breach of procedural justice. When complaints lodged by school staff are received, EDB will take appropriate follow-up actions depending on the nature of the cases.

Ends/Wednesday, December 10, 2014
Issued at HKT 15:45


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