Review of the Education Department
On 20 July 1998, the Government issued a consultation document and the full consultancy report on the review of the Education Department (see Annex) for a three-month public consultation. This paper sets out the major views we have received up till mid-September 1998.
2. The Chief Executive announced in his 1997 Policy Address the decision to adopt the recommendation by the Education Commission (EC) Report No.7 to conduct a review of the organizational and management structure of the Education Department (ED). The purpose of the review is to facilitate the implementation of various new initiatives to improve the quality of education.
3. A management consulting firm was commissioned by the Education and Manpower Bureau (EMB) in December 1997 to conduct the review. The consultants submitted the final report in May 1998. A consultation document which sets out the major recommendations and the Administration's initial response was prepared and published on 20 July 1998 for public comments.
4. We have since issued over 27 000 copies of the consultation document and 2 300 copies of the full consultancy report. More than 25 editorials and commentaries on the subject were carried in the press and we have received some 20 written submissions from various organizations and members of the public. We have also attended over 20 seminars and briefing sessions to solicit views from various educational bodies, the media, staff of ED and major advisory bodies, including EC and the Board of Education.
Comments from the Public
(A) General Comments
5. The public generally consider that the review is timely. In line with the spirit of school-based management, the review should help enhance ED's efficiency in the implementation of various new initiatives and promote the long-term development of quality education. The broad direction for change proposed by the consultants is accepted by the community in general. Many people even point out that the proposed changes should be implemented as soon as possible and a dedicated team should be set up to steer and to lead the reform. The central Administration, the school sector and advisory bodies should also play their part to facilitate the smooth implementation of the reform measures.
(B) Comments on individual recommendations
(I) Restructuring ED into client-based divisions
6. The public in general agree that this recommendation will improve ED's interfaces with the school sector and the community and help promote a culture of service. Some staff of ED express concern about the grouping of functions and distribution of duties under the future client-based divisions.
(II) Re-configuring the District Education Offices (DEO)
7. In general, the education sector agree that the functions of DEO should be streamlined to signify a new relationship between ED and the schools that built on partnership rather than micro-management. However, opinions are varied on the precise number of Regional Education Offices (REO) after the reconstitution of DEO at regional level. Some people from the education sector express concern that the small number of REO may cause inconvenience to schools and parents in obtaining information.
(III) Streamlining the grade structure
8. The public and staff of ED generally support the proposed simplification of grade structure to facilitate interchange of personnel between schools and the Department, and enhance the professional development of staff to cope with new demands. Some ED staff suggest that in formulating detailed proposals, the Government should consider carefully the professional requirements of individual grades and the promotion prospects of the staff.
(IV) Opening up professional posts
9. The public and staff of ED generally agree that if suitable candidates are not readily available within the Department, professional posts should be opened up to external recruits to enhance the Department's professional credentials. Some staff indicate that apart from open recruitment, the Department should also strengthen staff training to equip them with the skills to cope with the changing demand.
(V) Creating a separate agency for school inspections
10. The majority of respondents from the education sector support the proposal to create a separate agency for school inspections outside the mainstream Department. The various school inspection and advisory functions now undertaken by various divisions should be centralised, and the new division formed should report directly to the Director of Education. The general public also agree that the inspection team should comprise more principals and teachers with teaching and school management experience. Some inspectors even suggest that the entry requirements should be raised to attract more experienced front-line education workers.
(VI) Increasing the professional autonomy of the Curriculum Development Institute (CDI)
11. The public generally agree that CDI should be transferred out of mainstream ED and that the proportion of contract posts should be gradually increased to facilitate its professional development.
(VII) Arrangements for Government Schools
12. The majority of the respondents support that government schools should enjoy the same degree of flexibility as aided schools in financial and personnel matters. The public generally agree that there is no strong justification for hiving-off Government schools at this stage. The issues involved would be very complicated and the transitional costs could be very substantial.
(VIII) Quality of Principals
13. The public agree that the quality of principals is pivotal to the development of quality education. As regards the consultants' recommendations that ED should be more actively involved in the selection of principals and that a fund should be set up to encourage incompetent principals to retire early or leave the schools, it is the general view that other more effective means should be considered. These may include requiring schools to introduce performance appraisal for principals; enhancing training for principals to ensure their quality; and requiring the school management committees (SMC) to select principals on the basis of criteria drawn up by ED. Some organisations also point out that, in the long run, the respective responsibilities of key players in the school system, including sponsors, SMC, supervisors and principals, should be clearly defined to ensure accountability in schools.
(IX) Non-core functions
14. Members of the public and the education sector generally support the proposal for ED to transfer certain non-core functions, such as the registration of non-local higher education and professional courses, non-formal adult education and post secondary college to appropriate agencies in due course.
(X) Management of funds
15. The public generally support the consultants' recommendation that the transfer of the management of the Quality Education Fund and the Language Fund to ED may be considered when the reforms are well underway.
The Way Forward
16. We will continue to seek the views of various sectors of the community during the consultation period. On the basis of views received, the Government will take a final view on the recommendations to be adopted. A dedicated team will be set up within ED to formulate detailed proposals and implementation schedule. The EMB will also set up an appropriate institutional framework to monitor progress.
Education and Manpower Bureau