Legislative Council

LC Paper No. CB(2)620/98-99
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration)

Ref : CB2/PL/ED

LegCo Panel on Education

Minutes of Meeting
held on Monday, 21 September 1998 at 4:30 pm
in Conference Room A of the Legislative Council Building

Members Present :

Hon YEUNG Yiu-chung (Chairman)
Hon Mrs Selina CHOW LIANG Shuk-yee, JP
Hon CHEUNG Man-kwong
Hon LEUNG Yiu-chung
Hon SIN Chung-kai
Hon Andrew WONG Wang-fat, JP
Dr Hon YEUNG Sum
Hon Emily LAU Wai-hing, JP

Members Absent :

Prof Hon NG Ching-fai (Deputy Chairman)
Hon CHOY So-yuk

Public Officers Attending :

Item III

Mr Raymond L M YOUNG
Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower (2)

Principal Assistant Secretary for Education and Manpower (8)

Item IV

Mr Joseph W P WONG
Secretary for Education and Manpower

Mrs Helen C P LAI YU
Director of Education

Mr Raymond L M YOUNG
Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower (2)

Ms Carol S W YUEN
Principal Assistant Secretary for Education and Manpower (3)

Attendance by Invitation :

Item IV

Partner, Pricewaterhouse Coopers

Ms Bronwyn DREDGE
Principal Consultant, PriceWaterhouse Coopers

Clerk in Attendance :

Mrs Constance LI
Chief Assistant Secretary (2) 2

Staff in Attendance :

Mr Stanley MA
Senior Assistant Secretary (2) 6

I. Confirmation of minutes of meeting and matters arising

The minutes of the meeting held on 28 July 1998 were confirmed.

II. Date of next meeting and items for discussion
[Paper No. CB(2)280/98-99(01)]

2. Members agreed to discuss the following items at the next regular meeting to be held on Monday, 26 October 1998 -

  1. Policy on Government bought places in private schools
    (Item suggested by Hon CHEUNG Man-kwong); and

  2. Learning environment and facilities in special schools for physically handicapped children
    (Item suggested by Hon LEUNG Yiu-chung).
On item (b), members also agreed that deputations would be invited to express their concerns on the subject.

3. With regard to the list of items for future discussion, members agreed to delete the item on implementation of whole-day primary schooling and to include the following new items suggested by Hon Selina CHOW -

  1. Progress on measures to enhance teaching of English as a language in schools; and

  2. Training and development programmes for school principals.

4. Members also noted that the Secretary for Education and Manpower would brief the Panel on his policy programmes after the Chief Executive had delivered his 1998 Policy Address.

(Post-meeting note : The briefing was held at a special meeting of the Panel on 12 October 1998.)

III. Quality Education Fund
[Paper No. CB(2)280/98-99(02)]

5. With regard to a member's enquiry about the Administration's response to comments on the operation of the Quality Education Fund (QEF), Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower (2) (DS/EM2) said that the Administration was reviewing the operation of QEF based on the experience of the first round of applications, and had held a consultation meeting with the education sector for this purpose. So far, comments from the media and educational bodies focused mainly on the following -

  1. there should be greater transparency of the assessment criteria and vetting process, and applicants should be informed of the reasons of failure;

  2. more time should be allowed for submission of applications; and

  3. there should be an appeal mechanism for re-consideration of unsuccessful applications.

6. DS/EM2 said that the QEF Steering Committee would examine what could be done to further increase transparency of the vetting process. At present, the public already had access to details of applications through the Internet, and the Steering Committee and its Secretariat responded to all enquiries about the progress and outcome of applications. However, due to time constraint, it had not been possible for the QEF Secretariat to inform each unsuccessful applicant of the reason of failure. With regard to the establishment of an appeal mechanism, QEF Steering Committee had consulted the Education Commission. They were of the view that schools already received recurrent financial provisions from Government for extra-curricular activities, and QEF only provided supplementary funding for worthwhile school projects which met the criteria of QEF. Given the resource implications of setting up an appeal system, and that unsuccessful applications could modify their proposals and re-apply, an appeal mechanism was not necessary for the time being.

7. Noting that a member of the QEF Steering Committee was allowed to present an application on behalf of his school, a member asked whether there were any guidelines to avoid conflict of interest in the discussion and approval of QEF applications. DS/EM2 responded that members of the Steering Committee had to declare their interest in any applications during the vetting process. While these members were allowed to present projects to the Steering Committee on behalf of their schools, they were required to abstain from the subsequent discussion and evaluation of the applications concerned. The member commented that, to avoid any public perception of conflict of interest, it would be desirable for members of the Steering Committee to refrain from presenting to the Committee those projects which they had direct interest or involvement. Her views were shared by another member. DS/EM2 noted the comment.

8. On a related issue, the Chairman asked whether there was any role conflict for the Task Group under QEF Steering Committee to organise the Outstanding Teacher and School Awards. DS/EM2 said that this was a function for the Steering Committee as laid down in the Education Commission Report No. 7 (ECR7) and that this did not preclude other bodies from seeking funding to organise similar award schemes. The Task Force would take necessary steps to ensure fairness and transparency in the nomination and selection process.

9. A member enquired whether a successful applicant could apply for additional funds under QEF subsequently in respect of an approved project. DS/EM2 replied that the organisation concerned would have to submit a new application in such circumstances.

10. Another member asked whether the Government would consider promoting worthwhile innovative QEF projects in other schools or organizations. She considered that there should be a mechanism for making provisions from the central resource allocations to promote worthwhile projects in other schools. DS/EM2 agreed that many QEF projects had the potential of being disseminated to other schools, and the QEF Steering Committee would facilitate this process of dissemination in due course. The Steering Committee would organise a large-scale exhibition of the achievements of these project next year. The QEF Steering Committee would assess the merits and resource implications of financing the extension of worthwhile QEF projects to other schools or institutions.

11. Noting that one single school had been granted about $10 million under QEF in addition to funds received under the Pilot School Scheme for introducing IT in education, a member asked whether there was any upper limit on QEF grants for each successful application. DS/EM2 replied that there was no prescribed maximum grant for each project, but the general principle was that one school should not take on too many projects at the same time. With regard to the $10 million grant to a school, the QEF Steering Committee had given detailed consideration to the proposed project and was convinced that the school concerned had the ability and commitment to carry out the sophisticated pioneering project which had potentials for wider applications in other schools. The member considered that for parity reasons, other Pilot Schools should also be allowed to apply to QEF for funds on similar projects. In this connection, he also expressed concern that some applications for establishment of brass bands and lion dance troupes in schools were successful while others were rejected. DS/EM2 responded that all applications were considered by the QEF Steering Committee based on the same criteria as detailed in the Administration's paper. As regards the standards used to assess the 'quality' of QEF applications, DS/EM2 stressed that the Steering Committee would assess what benefits would be brought to the development of students and teachers in the school concerned, and whether the school had the capabilities and commitment to implement the project. Approval of an application would depend on whether the project really met the needs of the school.

12. Members generally agreed that QEF should only fund projects which could really enhance quality school education, which were innovative and pioneering in nature, cost-effective and carried value-added, and which had the potential for wider application and implementation in the education sector. They also urged the Government to ensure fairness and transparency in the vetting process. Members considered that the QEF Steering Committee should review its guidelines in the light of experience gained in the first call of applications. DS/EM2 assured members that their concerns would be considered by the Steering Committee. Adm

IV. Review of the Education Department
[Paper Nos. CB(2)280/98-99(03) and CB(2)300/98-99]

13. The Chairman welcomed the Secretary for Education and Manpower (SEM) and representatives of the PriceWaterhouse Coopers to the meeting.

14. At the invitation of the Chairman, Mr Nigel KNIGHT of PriceWaterhouse Coopers presented the major findings and recommendations of its consultancy report on Review of Education Department (ED). Mr KNIGHT emphasized that the consultancy study was based on an ECR7 recommendation and was a management review rather than a policy review. The review had identified three major problems -

  1. ED was not seen to be sufficiently responsive to the major stakeholders who found it difficult to access information as ED was not customer-focused;

  2. The human resource policies of ED inhibited effectiveness, and there was a split between the department and frontline staff; and

  3. The progress towards school-based management was disappointing.

15. Mr KNIGHT said that the consultancy recommendations were detailed in its report ( a copy had been distributed to members). He highlighted the proposed client-based model for ED and the implementation plan to enable ED to carry out the many initiatives and reforms in recent years. He also mentioned that the role of ED would need to change radically from a controller to facilitator and adviser in response to school-based management, and that Government schools should be on a par with aided schools and given more flexibility in resource management. He recommended that re-organization should start from the ED headquarters, and that implementation would require commitment of ED and a Steering Committee led by the Education and Manpower Bureau (EMB).

16. A member expressed concern about recent press reports that some ED staff were resistant to changes proposed in the consultancy report. SEM clarified that the Education Commission, EMB and ED were committed to introducing improvements to enhance the efficiency of ED in implementing the various policy initiatives. DS/EM2 said that ED staff were generally in support of the change, but it was understandable that some staff members might have reservations on certain recommendations which would have impact on their career and job content. These reservations might have been exaggerated in the press reports. The Director of Education (D of E) assured members that ED staff were positive towards reform and a client-based culture. Before drawing up its final report, the consultants had in fact discussed with staff representatives and staff unions. The broad directions of changes recommended in the consultancy report were generally supported by ED staff. In the absence of details, e.g. about proposals on streamlining of grade structure and re-configuration of District Education Offices, it was natural for affected staff to have concern. EMB and ED were now consulting various educational/advisory bodies and ED staff on details of implementation. For this purpose, some 23 seminars/consultative meetings had been arranged to obtain staff feedback.

17. The member said that while he agreed to most of the recommendations in the report, he cautioned that the Administration should keep an open mind during consultation and must not simply treat staff comments as resistance to change.

18. As regards the experience and expertise of the consultants, Mr KNIGHT said that the review was carried out by an international specialist education group comprising reputable academics and education experts. The group was assisted by an expert panel including overseas specialists with substantial experience in the field of education administration. With regard to consultation with frontline staff during the review, Mr KNIGHT said that the specialist group had met about 200 groups/individuals including school principals, teachers, staff unions and educational bodies. Their views and comments had been incorporated in the report.

19. On the recommendation that Government schools should enjoy the same degree of flexibility as aided schools in management and financial arrangements, a member asked about the feasibility of hiving off Government schools as proposed by the consultants. SEM responded that Government fully appreciated the rationale behind the recommendation and agreed in principle that Government schools should be given greater flexibility to achieve quality school management. While the Government would positively consider the hiving off proposal, there was still much room under the present structure for further delegation of authority to Government schools to give them more freedom in school management. Considering that school-based management only started recently and that other initiatives were under implementation, the Bureau would, as a first step, consider further delegation to Government schools in consultation with the Finance Bureau and Civil Service Bureau. SEM added that the hiving-off proposals would have substantial resource implications, and would require careful consideration after consultation. According to the feedback so far, there was not much support of immediate implementation of the hiving off proposal. Another member remarked that while she agreed that Government should give careful consideration to the proposal, resource constraint should not be a reason for non-implementation.

20. A member asked whether there was any feasible plan to implement the recommendation of paying off school principals who did not wish or were unable to make the transition to school-based management, to retire early or leave schools. SEM responded that this was a controversial issue. The public generally agreed that the quality of principals was pivotal to the development of quality education. Some were inclined to put in place a more flexible and efficient system to terminate the appointment of school principals who had difficulties in meeting the objective. SEM stressed that the proposal did not imply that many existing principals were incompetent, but was to ensure that principals were capable of implementing quality school management. The initial response during consultation was that other more effective means should be considered to enhance the quality of school principals. These could include introducing proper selection procedures and performance appraisal system, and enhancing training and development for principals. The member remarked that the Administration must also deal with incompetent principals under an efficient, fair and open system. D of E assured members that ED recognised the importance of ensuring the quality of both school principals and teachers as they were partners with parents in education. The Government would collate views during public consultation and consider what should be the best model to address the concern.

21. Referring to one key observation of the consultants that changes in the organization and functioning of ED would not be enough on its own, a member asked about the proposed improvements to enhance the quality of partnership between ED and advisory bodies. She pointed out that there had been comments from educational bodies about overlapping functions of advisory bodies and ineffective communication between the Government and advisory bodies. She asked whether there were any recommendations on the consultative machinery to enable educational advisory bodies to make useful contribution towards the formulation and implementation of policies.

22. Mr KNIGHT of PriceWaterhouse Coopers responded that the role of advisory bodies was the subject of a separate/parallel study. However, the review on ED also revealed that advisory bodies could provide a stronger input if they were consulted at an earlier stage and more comprehensively on Government policies. While ED also recognised the value of contribution of advisory bodies, there had been concern within Government about pre-mature release of proposals which were still in a preliminary stage of consideration. Mr KNIGHT considered that advisory bodies should also be made aware that not all their views could be taken for formulation of policies, and that policies would be subject to changes after public consultation and implementation.

23. D of E supplemented that ED and advisory bodies maintained an amicable and interactive relationship. ED had always consulted advisory bodies and other educational bodies on important policies and matters relating to education, and their views were taken seriously during deliberations. It was however difficult for advisory bodies to identify their original comments or suggestions from policy documents after all relevant views from different organizations were collated and consolidated for policy formulation. Sometimes, the irony was that while a policy might be supported in principle during public consultation, different views could subsequently arise when the policy was put to implementation. One example was the implementation of mother-tongue teaching in schools. Moreover, the media often reported on the negative aspects of new policies, neglecting the positive impact on the community as a whole.

24. SEM said that in the pursuit of providing quality education, a package of initiatives had been launched in recent years. The success of these new measures would require the joint efforts and cooperation of the education sector, the advisory bodies and the Government. He acknowledged that different groups would have different concerns and interests in mind during consultation. He had noted some unfair comments on ED in the implementation of new initiatives, as the difficulties encountered might not necessarily be a problem of ED. Nevertheless, he entirely agreed that better communication and cooperation between ED and advisory bodies, more comprehensive consultation and cultivation of a service culture would be crucial to successful implementation of policies. He anticipated that more improvements would be carried out in this direction.

25. Referring to paragraphs 79 to 81 of the consultation document about re-orientation of the role of Information Systems Division in ED, a member considered that effective use of information systems such as the establishment of an Intranet could enhance communication among schools and teachers, and increase transparency of ED procedures and information. He would like to see more details of the proposal in this respect after public consultation. SEM noted the comment. Adm

26. With regard to the consultants' suggestion of transferring certain professional functions of ED to outside agencies, a member asked whether the Administration would be prepared to open up senior posts in ED for external recruitment in order to provide more professional input to the department. SEM agreed that the best talents should be found for education, and senior posts in ED or even EMB should be filled by the most suitable people. He stressed that at present, all directorate staff of ED except the D of E were educational professionals and that there were also many educational experts in the universities and schools. Consideration was being given to streamlining the different grades in ED to enhance the advancement of frontline professionals to the directorate of ED.

27. The Chairman thanked representatives of the Administration and the consultants for briefing the Panel.

V. Any other business

28. Members noted that the Administration had provided a progress report on members' suggestions on textbook prices and weight of schoolbags (LC Paper No. CB(2)316/98-99 which was tabled at the meeting). The Chairman suggested and members agreed that the issue could be followed up at a future meeting when a full report from the Administration was available. Adm

29. There being no other business, the meeting ended at 6:30 pm.

Legislative Council Secretariat
11 November 1998