DSS schools seem to be better than aided schools but there are also problems. Apart from Mrs. Cheung’s and Simon’s criticisms, the Audit Commission has also criticised the management of DSS schools in a report last year. Incidents of financial mismanagement and failure to set aside enough reserves for fee remission schemes were highlighted. Questions were asked about whether there were loopholes in the existing monitoring system for DSS schools.
Hui Wai-tin, a former principal of a DSS school and the vice-chairman of Education Convergence, thinks the media has exaggerated the problems of DSS schools. “Similar problems have been found in aided schools,” he says. Hui believes the problems in DSS schools are reported because they enjoy more resources and freedom.
Hui thinks the core problem is that DSS schools get subsidies from the government but do not have clear accountability. He says the EDB had warned the problematic DSS schools about their practices before the release of the audit report. Some schools ignored the warnings because there are no clear standards to regulate DSS schools.
As the audit report states, some DSS schools are receiving public funding although they have not signed a service agreement with the EDB. What is more, Hui points out that schools are asked to “refer to” rather than “follow” the government guidelines for aided schools.
Hui believes the EDB needs to solve this problem as soon as possible by clearly stating what DSS schools can and cannot do in their agreements. This would make for easier monitoring. But given the system is designed to give DSS schools greater freedom, the question for Hui is, “how far should that freedom go?”
In the end, Hui believes, the most effective measure of a DSS school’s quality is student enrolment, “If DSS schools do not perform well, they will have no students.”
Lam Kin-wah, the chairman of DSSSC agrees. “DSS schools wish to be energetic and innovative. At the same time, they are conscious of crisis,” he says. “Fewer students means less income. Eventually, badly operated schools will not be able to survive.”
Lam adds that the existing system for monitoring DSS schools was drawn up 10 years ago, so it is necessary to review and perfect the system in order to plug any loopholes. He also feels the EDB has been putting off dealing with problems rather than solving them immediately.
Ultimately though, Lam believes the quality of DSS schools, “should be perfected by the schools themselves”.
In the wake of the audit report, the schools said the accusations levelled at them were unfair given unclear rules from the government, while the Secretary for Education, Michael Suen told legislators his bureau “lacked the teeth” to stop some of the irregularities. The schools want the government to give them clearer guidelines, but they also claim they are in the best position to monitor their own quality. For the parents who are considering DSS schools for their children, and taxpayers who are contributing towards them, there is no clear answer as to who they can trust to guarantee the performance of DSS schools.
|From Logos Academy’s point of view
|We asked Logos Academy to respond to Mrs. Cheung’s criticisms; a source close to the school denied there were 50 students in one class for English, as the school does not have a classroom that can accommodate 50 students. The source also described the incident where parents did not know which textbooks to buy as an isolated incident. The source said the school was waiting for the arrival of a new teacher. The source added the turnover rate of teachers at the school is relatively low.