A badly managed school is not usually a big news story. But the way Hing Tak School, a primary school in Tuen Mun, has become so dysfunctional it would have been almost comical but for the terrible effects it may have had on the well-being of its young pupils.
What is worse is that for a government-subsidised school, the Education Bureau has known about its problems for some time, yet little was done about it other than sending a troubleshooter to smooth things over two months ago.
But clearly, the trouble goes much deeper, as police have been called in to investigate. None of this might have come to light – or at least not so quickly – had a few teachers not complained to the Professional Teachers’ Union, which helped them take their case to the bureau.
The most serious matter is the allegation that school management inflated student numbers to keep government funding and avoid being targeted for closure. Twenty-one “shadow” students had allegedly been missing school for up to two years.
Police are looking into the matter, though the school principal said some of the missing students – most from the mainland – had been on extended sick leave; others were kept on the school roster at the request of parents.
The school reportedly forced teachers to go to the mainland to recruit students. Some disgruntled teachers stormed a meeting in February to protest. Two were subsequently dismissed. A few others went on leave. School teachers have been divided into rival groups, which also forced some parents to take sides.
The new school year will start next month. All these issues need to be sorted out before then. Under the Education Ordinance and as the primary funding body, the bureau has the legal power to demand Hing Tak’s management committee take over the running of the school as a short-term measure. Bureau officials need to keep the committee on a tight leash until it can be overhauled. The school’s sponsoring body is associated with three registered villages under the Tuen Mun Rural Committee. Its controversial principal, Chan Cheung-ping, still enjoys the support of rural members on the school’s management committee despite the revelations.
As a longer-term solution, the bureau needs to examine whether the current sponsoring body is up to the job. Otherwise, it must cut funding and insist another sponsoring school body take over.