Accountability is an important principle guiding the work of every government department in Hong Kong and, in the education sector, it is a crucial factor in ensuring that standards continue to improve.
Parents, students, teachers and government officials may all have different expectations, but each group is prepared to acknowledge that a transparent system of accountability benefits all parties.
With this, it is possible to measure standards, regulate funding and identify areas for improvement.
The Education and Manpower Bureau (EMB) has responsibility for supporting schools and helping students develop their potential to the full. Hong Chan Tsui-wah, who is chief quality assurance officer for the EMB's Quality Assurance Division (QAD) says one of the major tasks is to provide information on school performance by carrying out regular school inspections and reviews. These cover local kindergartens, primary, secondary and special schools, and the various findings are used to inform policy making, the prioritisation of tasks and the allocation of resources.
"The idea of promoting and validating school self-evaluation was introduced in 2003 when the School Development and Accountability (SDA) framework was implemented," says Mrs Hong. "It provides tools and mechanisms for the improvement of student learning outcomes and external school reviews have become the main work of the QAD." For its work, the division relies on a team of professional reviewers whose duties range well beyond conducting simple compliance checks.
Each review team has a leader and a number of school inspectors. Essentially, their role is to study school documents, analyse performance data, and observe lessons and other activities. It also entails conducting focus group meetings with various personnel on different areas of schoolwork, providing feedback, and preparing review reports.
Besides that, it is necessary to coordinate initiatives which promote the SDA framework and conduct research projects on teaching, learning and school improvement.
"To do the job, you must be willing to accept challenges and have a commitment to the field of education," Mrs Hong says. "There will be a range of different expectations, so reviewers need the moral courage to report honestly on school performance and give practical advice for improvement."
She adds that, to be considered, people must have good time management skills, be versatile, and show that they are both excellent communicators and team players.
These professional attributes are especially important in times of change within the education sector. "We need to play the role of an educational leader capable of supporting schools," adds Mrs Hong. "Nowadays, inspection jobs are much more challenging than in the past but, in general, schools have a positive attitude towards reviews and are happy to adopt the practices recommended by the external teams."
The EMB sets high entry requirements for candidates and looks for integrity, self-confidence and good analytical abilities. It is necessary to have at least a degree in education or a relevant subject; a teacher's certificate from a local tertiary institution, or equivalent; a good standard of English and Chinese; and six years of related work experience.
"We regard these as minimum requirements, since we need a pool of expertise to handle the challenging work ahead," Mrs Hong notes. "We are very demanding about picking the right candidates and realise there can be a lot of pressure in a profession where it is sometimes difficult to see immediate returns. However, people who are interested in the field will keep learning about educational changes and will contribute significantly to meeting our divisional goals."
- Division is responsible for reviewing standards in schools and ensuring the quality of education
- Inspections and reviews help with policy making and the allocation of resources
- Various tools and mechanisms can be used to improve student learning outcomes
- A transparent system of accountability benefits all parties
- Review teams analyse performance data, observe school activities and conduct research projects