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This paper will examine and discuss the issues arising from the educational reform of School-based Management, which has brought a significant impact on current educational system, in 1990s to 2000s in Hong Kong. With the ultimate goal of improving the standards of teaching and students' learning outcome, the Education Department (now known as the Education Bureau) decentralizes power to aided-schools to encourage the developing of its own characteristics so as to suit students' needs.
Nevertheless, some questioned the effectiveness of SBM on achieving its own goal. Rather, some even doubted the real motive behind the government's education decentralization.
This paper will first examine whether the educational reform of SBM is decentralization or recentralization through the analysis of its characteristics of decentralization and discussion of the argument between the School Sponsoring Bodies (SSB) and the Hong Kong Government (HKG). It will then examine the influences or problems such as de-professionalism raised by applying the concepts of managerialism and accountability in Education sector. After this, teaching professionalism will be discussed.
Last but not least, this paper will examine whether the implementation of SBM managed to achieve the ultimate goal as set by the Government.
In this paper, references are made on academic literature and the documents of Education Bureau regarding the relevant policies. Besides, there is also source from a wide range of people, who actively engaged in schools, such as teachers and principals who expressed concerns and worries about the business-like mode of Education as cited in a book and a journal.
Before the discussion, the author would like to define several terms as these are the linkage and the main concepts throughout the paper.
The meaning of decentralization
According to Bray (1999), there are three major forms of decentralization:
Deconcentration - typically involves the transfer of tasks and work, but not authority to other units in the organization;
Delegation- involves the transfer of decision-making authority from higher to lower hierarchical units, but that authority can be withdrawn at the discretion of the delegating unit;
Devolution- refers to the transfer of authority to an autonomous unit that can act independently, or a unit that can act without first asking permission. (as cited in Mok, 2003, p.7)
The meaning of Manageriaism
According to Fitzsimons (1999):
Managerialism is a mode of governance under the restructured public sectors. The restructuring has involved the reform of education in which there has been a significant shift away from an emphasis on administration and policy to an emphasis on management. This form of managerialism is known as New Public Management (NPM).
The meaning of accountability
Frymier (1996) gives the definition of accountability and also point out the inseperable relationship between accountability and evaluation:
To be accountable means to be responsible. To assess responsibility, one must judge performance against a criterion. To judge performance against a criterion means to evaluate. Therefore, accountability requires evaluation. (Frymier, 1996, p.9-10)
Background: educational decentralization policy (SBM) in Hong Kong
The framework of SBM was first introduced in 1991 as School Management Initiative (SMI) (Education Department, 1991). At that time, only one third of secondary schools in Hong Kong joined the scheme as it was on a voluntary basis. After the handover, the Hong Kong Government pushed forward and introduced the Education Commission Report No. 7 (ECR7) (1997) requiring all aided schools should practice SBM by the year of 2000 under the slogan of "pursuit of quality education".
The ways to pursuit quality education is that government decentralizes power to schools by providing schools with greater autonomy and flexibility. Yet, at the same time, transparency and accountability towards school operations, school performance and proper use of funds have to be enhanced. As a result, a participatory decision-marking mechanism is introduced ,which advocates parents' and teachers' participation in school management, and an incorporated management committee (IMC) is required to set up in every aided school under the Education Ordinance. This action provokes the SSBs due to the loss of control on the schools that they sponsored (Pang, 2007). Besides the pursuit of "quality education" and "school initiative", one of the most important objectives for implementing SBM is to improve the efficiency of government spending on the school service through managerial techniques (Leung, 2003). This comes to the second part of the discussion regarding "Managerialism".
Decentralization or Recentralization
Characteristics of decentralization of SBM
According to the document of Introduction of School-based Management (EDB, 2010, p.1), the objective of SBM is to 'devolve more responsibilities to the schools and provides them with greater autonomy and flexibility in managing their operations and resources and planning for school development'. As mentioned above in the part of theoretical framework, there are three types of decentralization. In the case of Hong Kong, the levels of educational decentralization are only de-concentration and delegation. The Education Ordinance authorizes IMCs the decision-making authority such as planning and managing financial and human resources of the school as well as employing teaching and non-teaching staff but the authority can be withdrawn by the government at any time. On the surface, it is a form of devolution from Hong Kong Government to the individual school unit. However, there is a point that we should pay attention to is the introduction of participatory governance framework where all stakeholders, including teachers, parents and independent community members are involved in IMCs. Hong Kong government claims that the 'direct participation in school decision-making and different input of these key stakeholders help enhance transparency and accountability of school governance and contribute to more effective school operation' (EDB, 2010, p.5). The reality is that, as Leung (2003) mentioned, 'the objective of SBM is to delegate responsibilities to the stakeholders and to use public participation and transparency as a way to scrutinize school performance' (p.32). The following part will further discuss how the government recentralizes power by the introduction of new accountability system.
The debate between SSBs and HKG, centralized decentralization
The new concept of accountability resulted in big changes on education system, which affected the interests of different parties. The SSBs was suspicious of the government's intentions of asking parents' and teachers' participation in school management, as its interests had been weakened the most from this, which led to a big disagreement between SSBs (especially Catholic Diocese) and the Hong Kong government.
When tracing back to the British colonial era in Hong Kong, there was fewer than 6% of schools were directly operated by the government while most of the schools are fully subsided by the Government but managed by various non-government organizations. Therefore, the delivery of the school service in Hong Kong at that time has been pluralistic in nature (Leung, 2003). Before the reform, 'The SSBs are entrusted with the responsibilities of management at the school-site level, including the recruitment of teaching and non-teaching staff. . . as well as the day-to-day administration' (Leung, 2003, p.23). Nonetheless, with the implementation of SBM, all these responsibilities and powers are entitled to IMCs but not SSBs. Although the government argues that there is 60% of the committee members of IMCs are appointed by SSBs and they could still determine the school mission, school policies, and the constitution of IMC (Education and Manpower Bureau, 2004), the SSBs concern is the new joiners in IMCs such as the teachers, parents and alumni members. These remaining 40% of the committee members are elected and 'they do not necessarily agree to the education mission of the school sponsoring bodies' (Zen 2004b, as cited in Pang, 2007, p. 19). Lam (2004) therefore argued that 'the pluralistic nature of education would be affected' due to the participatory decision-making mechanism. (as cited in Pang, 2007, p.29). Obviously, as Leung (2003) suggested, this is a form of 'transferring powers from the SSBs to the SMCs (now known as IMCs), with external members from the public acting as a check on the SSBs' (p31). The Catholic Church treated SBM as a means for the Government to centralize the power by weakening the SSBs' direct influence over schools. Zen (2004a) (as cited in Pang, 2007, p. 20) criticized that:
The Government makes use of the new Bill to devolve the power from the school sponsoring boby to the individual school's incorporated management committee. . . It abrogates the intermediary control structure. This is centralization by the Government through decentralization from the school sponsoring bodies. . .
Besides the regain control from SSBs to IMCs, it is worthy to take a look at the characteristics of Hong Kong Education System and SBM. Hong Kong Education System is a mixture of centralization and decentralization - 'centralized in terms of the curriculum and the examination structure, but decentralized in terms of the operation of schools. The SBM brought the major chances in the operation of schools, which shift the power from SSBs to IMCs, where IMCs are under the control of government' (Leung, 2004, p.4). Besides, the evaluation indicators are determined by the Government. Individual schools have to follow centralized agenda as clearly stated in the document of the 'Introduction of School-Based Management':
School-based management does not mean that schools are independent and do not subject to any control. As a matter of fact, schools are required to operate within a prescribed framework of governance and comply with the rules and regulations under the Education Ordinance and Regulations, other related ordinances, the relevant code of aid, instructions as the Education Bureau may from time to time issue. . .(EDB, 2010)
Leung (2003) has come to a conclusion that 'the SBM movement under the label of decentralization is in reality a re-centralization of authority (regaining of control of the schools from the SSBs), or at most a deconcentration where power is shifted from those (SSBs) that are seen to be less supportive of the government to those sectors which the government has more control of' (p.6).
The next part will discuss the impact of applying the ideology of managerialism into Education sector management.
As the Government mentioned in the first point of the document of 'Introduction of School-based Management', 'Government's annual subventions to an aided primary school (24 classes) and secondary school (29 classes) average to about $24 million and 43 million respectively (figure of the 2008/09 school year)' (EDB, 2010, p.1). Due to the large expenditure, the Government tends to use managerialism as means of cutting costs and raising standards. It is common for many western countries such as UK, New Zealand to introduce managerialism as a new mode of governance under the restructured public sectors (Fitzsimons, 1999). Therefore, the Government applies the principles of private sectors into public sector (Education) management, which requires external and self evaluation for quality assurance and accountability. Through SBM, schools will develop a management system to ensure the quality of learning and teaching. Schools can flexibly use and enjoy the autonomy of a number of funding or grants such as "Block Grant" and "Capacity Enhancement Grant" so as to implement long-term strategic planning or even contract out service (Lam, 2006). Schools are now running as business-like as Mok & Chan (2002, p.250) described that 'by adopting a managerial approach in education, education is being viewed as a commodity, the schools and universities as 'value-adding' production units, the school principals and university presidents as the chief executive officers (CEOs) and managing directors, the parents and employees as consumers and customers (as cited in Lam, 2006, p. 7).
The Pursuit of quality Education and accountability
Through decentralization, according to the advocacy of SBM, schools should enjoy more autonomy and flexibility so as to perform in an efficient and effective way. However, most people especially those actively engaged in schooling wonder if it is the real case. A college principal expressed his feeling on this system that 'autonomy brings you freedom on the one hand, but you could end up losing it on the other, because the government starts throwing targets at you' (Green, 2011, p. 26).
As previous defined, accountability followed by evaluation, the relationship between these two are inseparable (Frymier, 1996). With the emphasis on the quality education and be accountable to the public for their performance and proper use of funds, therefore, 'the quality assurance mechanisms has been introduced where internal quality assurance includes the auditing and monitoring of the performance of teachers, the use of both process and output indicators to measure 'value-addedness' in the schools; while the external quality assurance mechanisms include the Quality Assurance Inspection (QAI) / External School Review (ESR) from the EMB' (Lam, 2006, p.8).
To increase its transparency, schools have to prepare a three to five year development plan and an annual school plan; departments need to prepare an annual program plan with a budget, evaluation and follow-up actions. All these largely increase the workload for teachers as they have to spend most of the time writing reports and dealing with administrative duties. It is a worrying trend that teachers are not trained to be writing reports or budgeting, instead, teachers should focus on teaching, lesson planning, caring about students' personal growth and study. This result apparently conflicts with the aim of improving learning and teaching which advocates by the Government. Even worse, 'the system of public accountability marginalizes or deforms important aims, values, and ideals of education' (Green, 2011, p.27). The following extract is a teacher's feeling and questions about ESR:
The school I am teaching is going to have ESR in the coming September and we are now working hard to gather evidence for the 80 components of the 29 performance indicators. It's really a hard time and we discover that we are like secretaries or clerks working in a commercial company instead of a school. During the three-day visit, the external reviewers need to observe lessons and each reviewer has to shadow one student for a whole day. They also need to interview teachers and even janitors. How accurate and objectives are the judgements made? How well do they know about the school from the documents and the three-day visit? Is it possible to determine the school can provide quality education when all these are done? (Lam, 2006, p.8-9)
Undoubtedly, accountability is the result of the practice of managerialism in Education sector. Teachers and principals are therefore suffering from the work generated by this ideology, such as the key performance measures (KPM) as a means to assure the quality of education. Thanks to this, schools tend to focus on performance-based, and shift the attention from improving teaching and learning to outcome-based. Green (2011) pointed out that 'some of the things which "matter" in teaching such as care and love cannot be measured or set as targets' ( p. 27).
The attempt in enhancing teaching professionalism
On the other hand, teaching profession has long been treated as semi-profession when under the governance of colonial government. It was because, according to Morris (2004), there was no minimum entry requirements for people to obtain employment as teacher; Some English and Art teachers had no background in studying the subject as a major within their degree programmes. Thanks to this, the government put emphasis on teacher professionalism, while it claims that qualifications of teachers have a direct impact on the quality of schooling. In 2000, there was a policy applying to all teachers of English and Putonghua. All English and Putonghua teachers have to pass a language proficiency attainment test (LPAT), except for those are exempted from Postgraduate Diploma in Education in the language they taught. Moreover, not only teachers' professional development is needed but also apply to principals. A programme called 'Continuing Professional Development (CPD) of principals is introduced, which requires serving principals to undertake CPD activities for minimum of 150 hours in three years. However, these policies are not strong enough to enhance change the professionalism of teaching. Instead, the voices from teachers and principals are negative as they feel stressful on meeting the requirement.
Does SBM achieve its own goal
From the above discussion, there are two main motives for government to implement SBM, they are: 1) recentralizing power from SSBs to government and 2) decentralizing decision-making power (financial level) to ensure quality control and efficient use of resources within a central framework of monitoring and supervision (Leung, 2003, p. 26). While comparing with its original ultimate goal of improving the standards of teaching and students' learning outcomes, the implementation of SBM does not have any direct impact on teaching or learning improvement. It comes to no surprise that people are skeptical about the hidden motive of the implementation. Leung (2003) gives a comprehensive comment on SBM:
The real reason for decentralization is not to distribute power or to encourage participation, but to maintain central effectiveness. . . The primary objective of the government was to reregulate its monitoring framework in the aided-school sector by installing a system of public accountability, transparency, performance indicators and output evaluation. Hence, the SMI/SBM reform is a strategy of "recentralization" through "decentralization". Its ultimate aims are to ensure quality control and to enhance productivity with the resources available. . .(p.34-35)
Based on the above discussion, it is clear that the motives for government to implement the educational reform are to weaken SSBs power by the introduction of participatory decision-making mechanism which highlights parents' and teachers' participation in school management and to minimize the public spending on education by applying the principles of managerialism. However, the SBM was dressed up by improving the standard of teaching and students' learning, which is apparently not the case. Some may argue that government does decentralize authorities to IMCs of aided-schools, however, the level of decentralization is very limited and the goal achievement mechanism, quality assurance are the ways to monitor schools at a distance. The most influential factor is the result of the emphasis on accountability, which leads to high demand of administrative work and workload other than teaching for teachers and principals. And this eventually affects the quality of education.
Apart from this, the author suggests that the enhancement of professionalization of teaching is essential as it should be the same as other professions that can have high autonomy and the privilege of self-regulation. It would be a better way for the development of teaching instead of using the ideology of managerialism. However, it seems that the government has no further intention to empower teaching professionalism in Hong Kong.