Hong Kong’s major provider of english-style education has been plunged into turmoil by a series of crises that have left it leaderless and the subject of blistering attacks by its former chief executive as well as by the government. The Education and Manpower Bureau has demanded an answer to allegations that the management of the English Schools Foundation (ESF) is dysfunctional and its finances poorly controlled.
This follows the leaking of a letter in late February by former chief executive Jonathan Harris, previously director of education for Cornwall. In his letter, Harris says that if the ESF were inspected by Ofsted (Britain’s Office of Standards in Education), it would be classified as an institution with "serious weaknesses" or, at best, under-achieving. He called for chairman Jal Shroff to recognise the need for change and accused senior managers of wasting money on long lunches and afternoon drinking sessions.
Arthur Li, secretary for education and manpower, echoes Harris’s call for an independent audit of the ESF and says he would come down on it "like a ton of bricks" if it was found to be wasting public money. The government subsidises about a third of ESF costs.
Harris’ letter to Shroff was leaked anonymously. Harris denies he knows the source of the leak and declines to comment because of a confidentiality agreement. ESF, which runs 19 schools teaching 12,000 students has submitted its response to both the government and to parents and teachers, refuting most of Harris’ claims.
The crisis came a week after a bitter battle over the appointment of Harris’ successor. A selection committee chose Mike Haynes, a parent and member of its executive who works in the insurance industry, prompting opposition from parents and staff on the grounds that he is not an educator.
Comments Christine Houston, the parent who leads the campaign against Haynes: "We had an absolute sense of clarity that the process has been corrupted. All we are asking is that it be started again." Haynes was offered the job ahead of an assistant director of education for New South Wales and a deputy minister of education for Manitoba in Canada.
But Shroff has failed to secure enough votes to endorse the appointment, sparking his resignation, along with that of the vice-chairman and treasurer.