Who Should Participate in the Development of Teachers’ Professionalism?
The Hong Kong Association of the Heads of Secondary Schools (HKAHSS)
25 April 2022
The Education Bureau (EDB) announced on 19 January 2022 in a Press Release that the Council on Professional Conduct in Education (CPC) will officially come to an end on 1 May 2022. While the announcement may not be a bolt out of the blue, many were appalled by the fact that the EDB did not consult the education sector over this, nor had it really understood the difficulties in the operation of the CPC. Abruptly halting the operation of the CPC, which has been operating for more than 20 years with members coming from direct elections or being appointed by the government from within and outside the education sector, really stunned and worried many educators. This also reminded people how the EDB suddenly announced in January 2021 that the Hong Kong Teachers’ Centre (HKTC), which was established in 1987 with an aim to promote teachers’ professional development and in-service training, would cease to operate on 1 September 2021 without any prior consultation. With a vision to enhance professional development in education, The Hong Kong Association of the Heads of Secondary Schools (HKAHSS) has been nominating representatives throughout the years to join these 2 organizations which have their unique historical mission. We are really very much concerned about their cessation within such a short period of time.
The CPC was officially established in April 1994. The Education Commission then agreed that “setting up an autonomous governing body for the teaching profession was a worthwhile goal”. This was based on the recommendations of the Education Commission Report No.5 in 1992 which first and foremost suggested the establishment of a Council on Professional Conduct in Education. It further recommended that “a few years after the Council is set up (say five years), the possibility of setting up a statutory professional governing body should be reviewed by the Government.”  Unfortunately, up till now, there has been no progress at all in this area. The CPC is therefore not given any legal status and its function is also very limited. When handling cases of complaints, CPC does not have any authority to summon nor to carry out investigation. If the respondent or the school does not cooperate with the CPC and/or procrastinate his/her presence in the hearing, it would seriously affect the progress and efficiency in case handling. Despite encountering various difficulties and limitations, Council members in successive terms have been steadfast in their effort in promoting teachers’ professional conduct. Upon extensive consultation, the task of revising the Professional Code was completed in 2019. Yet, this newly-revised Professional Code has been shelved till now and it will most likely become a historical document.
Who will substitute the function of the CPC?
We are very much concerned about the impact upon the dissolution of CPC, especially the possible hindrance that frontline educators may encounter in their striving for upholding teachers’ professionalism.
The Education Commission Report No.5 in 1992 stated that “The Council should have two main tasks. It should first draw up criteria against which, in the eyes of practising educators, the conduct of their peers should be judged. Once such criteria are drawn up, the Council will then be in a position to mediate objectively in conflicts among teachers or between teachers and other sectors of the community; and to offer sound advice to the Director in resolving cases of misconduct.”
We cannot help but ask the following questions upon the dissolution of the CPC:
- Will there be any new system or organization to undertake the function of the CPC in consultation and in formulating teachers’ Professional Code? How can we ensure that the set of criteria is drawn up “in the eyes of practising educators”?
- Will the new organization work like the CPC with broad representation in its membership?
- How would mediation be done objectively? How will cases be handled and processed in an fair and equitable manner?
- In dissolving the CPC, will there be any concrete plan from the EDB to promote teachers’ professionalism?
While the dissolution of the CPC is a foregone conclusion, we expect the EDB would make thorough plans and announce as soon as possible how frontline educators can continue to make contribution on issues related to professional development and professional conduct. Their active participation in the discussion on the underlying vision and principles as well as an appropriate mechanism is of paramount importance.
How can we ensure that the Teachers’ Code of Conduct to be released can fully reflect the views of practising educators?
In the Press Release, the EDB expressed that “Regarding teachers’ code of conduct, as announced in the 2021 Policy Address, the EDB will provide clear guidelines and examples on teachers’ professional conduct, which are expected to be completed with this year.” We believe that the EDB is discussing and formulating related guidelines in full swing. Yet, we wonder how this new Teachers’ Code of Conduct would benefit the teaching profession without the active participation of front-line workers. Whether the new code can embrace their opinions and expectations is in doubt.
The Education Commission in their Report No.5 stressed that the set of criteria for professional conduct should be “through consultation to gain widespread acceptance of these criteria among all sectors of the education community”. We therefore expect the EDB will sincerely and extensively consult the opinions of the education sector regarding teachers’ code of conduct and the setting up of an appropriate mechanism and system to tap views of different stakeholders in the future. With teachers’ participation and according them the due respect they deserve, Hong Kong teachers’ professional conduct and ongoing professional development can then be enhanced.
How can an organization with wide representation to promote teachers’ professionalism be established?
The Press Release announcing the dissolution of CPC concluded that “The EDB calls on education sector to work together to enhance teachers’ professional conduct, establish a professional and high-quality teaching force, raise the professional status of teachers, and boost public confidence in the teaching profession.” We earnestly want to know through what channels and which mechanism the EDB is going to work with the education sector hand in hand so that all can contribute in the area of teachers’ professional conduct.
We believe that Hong Kong needs a statutory professional governing body with wide representation in its membership. There should be teacher representatives through direct election, representatives nominated and elected by different professional bodies, parent representatives, appointed EDB officials and representatives from different social sectors. Through this, the EDB could continue to solicit opinions from different stakeholders and discuss with the education sector on how to optimize the mechanism to promote teachers’ code of conduct. At the same time, it can make use of different channels to link up with education workers for better communication, discussion and the dissemination of the contents of teachers’ code of conduct.
How can fair and equitable case handling procedures be demonstrated?
Unlike other professionals, teachers in Hong Kong are registered by the Government, which is also the gate-keeper. Under the present system, the CPC would first determine the validity of cases involving disputes or alleged professional misconduct. If the validity of a case is established, members of another group would proceed with the hearing. The complainant and respondent would have equal rights and sufficient opportunities to provide relevant information to the CPC directly. After the hearing, the CPC would provide their recommendations to the Permanent Secretary for Education.
If all cases involving disputes or alleged professional misconduct are solely dealt with by the EDB in the future, this signifies that teachers’ professional conduct, registration and the follow-up of complaints are all handled by the EDB only. Under this situation, many questions will arise regarding the independence and neutrality of the handling procedures. Will the voice of frontline teachers be heard? How can procedural justice be demonstrated? And how can the education sector be convinced that cases of complaints will be handled in an fair and equitable manner?
To promote education professionalism in Hong Kong, a set of teachers’ professional code that is broadly embraced by the education sector is much needed. The code will also serve as an objective yardstick in handling disputes of educators or alleged professional misconduct. This will provide concrete and clear guidelines for educators to follow so that they can have peace of mind and stay focused on their work. If the Professional Code which has been in force for more than 20 years is to be shelved, when will the substituting code come by? When will the consultation be done? We sincerely hope that the EDB will widely collect views from the education sector and formulate suitable Professional Code in time as well as put in place a fair and open complaint handling mechanism, which can only be finalized after thorough discussion with the education sector.
Other options for promoting education professionalism
In the announcement of the dissolution of CPC and the remarks on its work, the EDB has mentioned the Committee on Professional Development of Teachers and Principals (COTAP) alongside with the CPC. The EDB also expressed in the Press Release that “EDB would continue to strengthen the collaboration with COTAP and continue to collect the views from various sectors through multiple channels, strive to promote teachers’ professional conduct and strengthen teachers’ ongoing professional development.” While COTAP has been making substantial contributions to the professional development of principals and teachers since its inception, we wonder whether it can really replace the function of the CPC?
In its terms of reference, COTAP is set up to “to advise the Government on policies and measures relating to the professional development of teachers and principals at different career stages of professional growth. It also provides a platform for promoting professional sharing, collaboration and networking with various stakeholders in school management, educational bodies and organizations.”
From this, we see that the functions of COTAP and CPC are different. The goal of COTAP is to enhance teachers’ ongoing professional development and promote the efficacy of school leadership. It is not established to handle complaints about disputes or alleged professional misconduct. Neither has it a mechanism to accept or handle complaints and cases. The T-standard proposed by the COTAP is different from the “Code for the Education Profession of Hong Kong” by the CPC as they are serving different purposes. In the future, if the EDB is the only adjudicating party of any complaints or cases related to frontline teachers’ professional misconduct, how would the opinions and suggestions of the education sector be effectively heard?
Conclusion: How can teachers’ professionalism be really promoted?
Teachers play a pivotal role in education and they are the great driving force behind education reforms. In recent years, front-line teachers have been standing tall on professionalism in helping students through challenges one after another while also striving to maintain the education quality. We believe that teachers need to be duly respected and recognized so that their potentials and capabilities can be fully unleashed. This will definitely promote teachers’ professionalism and the quality of education which will ultimately benefit the younger generation we serve.
In collaboration with Hong Kong Policy Research Institute, the HKAHSS released a research report on “How to promote Hong Kong Secondary School Teachers’ Professional Status and Social Recognition” in June 2021. Secondary Principals and teachers being interviewed expressed that establishing a self-regulatory professional body would enhance the social recognition of teachers and their professionalism. Over 80% of parents shared similar views.
To promote the quality of education and teachers’ professionalism in Hong Kong, the EDB should not be the only one party involved. It should actively consider establishing a statutory professional governing body which would involve frontline teachers so that they can participate in handling cases of complaints, stipulate Professional Code in Education and the promotion of professionalism. With due respect and professional autonomy, teachers would be assured and education can be returned to the hands of the professional.
 The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Press Release “Council on Professional Conduct in Education to officially end”: https://www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/202201/19/P2022011900648.htm?fontSize=1
 Education Commission Report No.5, June 1992, Hong Kong, Paragraph 8.18: https://www.e-c.edu.hk/doc/en/publications_and_related_documents/education_reports/ecr5_e.pdf
 COTAP’s terms of reference: https://cotap.hk/index.php/en/about-cotap/terms-of-reference-cotap
 Research Report on “How to promote Hong Kong Secondary School Teachers’ Professional Status and Social Recognition”: https://www.hkahss.edu.hk/2021/07/09/how-to-promote-hong-kong-secondary-school-teachers-professional-status-and-social-recognition-2/
在解散或評論操守議會時，教育局多次將教師及校長專業發展委員會（COTAP）與操守議會相提並論，教育局發言人在政府新聞公報說：「教育局未來會加強與 COTAP 協作，聽取前線教育工作者及其他持份者的意見，並繼續透過多元渠道蒐集各界意見，致力提升教師的專業操守及加強教師的持續專業發展。」COTAP成立至今，在促進校長及教師專業成長有其貢獻，但COTAP 是否真的可以取代操守議會的功能？