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HKPNET Resources - www.hkpnets.org
Resources, links and ideas for PNETs in Hong Kong.
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NET Scheme Fact Sheets
Under school-based management, aided schools (specifically, their IMCs) are responsible for formulating school-based policies on sick leave management (including the submission of medical certificates, means of notifying school that the sick leave ends etc.) in accordance with provisions under the Codes of Aid, the Employment Ordinance and instructions issued by the Permanent Secretary for Education. Leave policies are intended to apply equitably to all staff.

Schools are supported in this by their respective EDB REO (Regional Education Office), but the actual policies adopted are up to each school to determine. Government schools differ as they are governed directly by the EDB and therefore follow rules set by the EDB.

Refs:
- Primary Code of Aid: Leave, Appx 10, Appx 11
- Secondary Code of Aid: Leave, Appx 11, Appx 12
- Employment Ordinance: Concise Guide
- Instructions issued by the Sec Ed: Full List, EDB Guidelines for Granting Leave, Guidelines Attachment 4 Notes
- LegCo Update: Press Release, Nov 2015
- School Administration Guide: Chapter 7.5.3, Supplement Appx H
- Common Administrative Isses: Checklist

Sick leave exceeding two days should be supported by a valid medical certificate. There is no rule for less than two days so it is a school-based decision as to whether a medical certificate is required for a one or two sick day(s).

The EDB School Administration Guide states a rule for sick leave of 2+ days:
"Appendix 8 Leave entitlement for staff in Aided Schools
Sick leave application exceeding 2 days must be supported by a valid medical certificate"

The 2012 NET contract was altered to explicitly state what should happen for 2+ days:
"22. Absence from Duties
If a NET is absent from his/her duties for reasons of ill health, he/she shall report immediately to the Principal/Supervisor of School and shall, if the period of absence exceeds two days, forward to him/her an acceptable medical certificate."

Neither say anything about sick leave of two days or less. There is nothing to stop a school making a stricter rule requiring a cert for one or two days - its the Principal's decision.

Statutory holidays do not count as sick leave.

For all valid sick leave taken, days are initially taken from the accumulated sick leave balance and only if that balance expires does it become necessary to classify leave as no-pay sick leave with a loss of salary. (See Guidelines Attachment 4 Notes).

Unfortunately, there is no specific statement anywhere that foreign medical certificates are valid. Instead, the employment ordinance implies it by omission through its non-geographically-limited definition of a valid medical certificate as being one "supported by a medical certificate (The medical certificate should specify the number of days on which, and the nature of the sickness or injury on account of which, the employee is unfit for work.) issued by a registered medical practitioner, a registered Chinese medicine practitioner or a registered dentist."

Abutting Holiday Periods or Weekends
Similarly unfortunately, it seems that nowhere are there any explicit statements concerning specific rules governing sick leave abutting or overrunning holiday periods.

PNET experience is that the standard approach used in IMC schools is:
- Sick leave is counted only for those days actually taken.
- Sick on Friday is one day only and Sat/Sun are not counted.
- Sick on Friday and Monday is four days as Sat/Sun are counted
- Sick on the last day before or the first day after a school holiday is one day only and the holiday period is not counted.
- Sick leave supported by a medical certificate is counted for every day stated on the certificate

Some schools however, (seemingly including government schools) adopt one or more of these approaches:
- Sick leave is counted to include days until you next report.
- Sick on Friday is counted as three days including Sat/Sun.
- Sick on Friday and Monday means that Sat/Sun are counted.
- Sick leave is counted to include abutting holidays.

In government schools, leave policies are controlled more closely by the EDB presumably to be more in line with general civil service sick leave policies so the weekend rule applies:

CSR 1270(b): Definition of sick leave.
Sick leave means any period during which an officer is permitted to be absent from duty on account of illness or other medical treatment or investigation without forfeiting leave of any other description. Any intervening Sundays, Saturday afternoons, gazetted general holidays and, for staff on the alternate Saturday-off system, any Saturday mornings on which they are not due to attend for duty, are counted as sick leave.

It also appears that governments schools may have the ability to be much stricter on checking up as to whether sick leave is real or not:

CSR 1273: Grant of sick leave.
The Secretary for the Civil Service is the authority for the grant of sick leave to substantive or acting Heads of Department and officers occupying posts of equivalent status. All other officers may be granted sick leave by their Heads of Department according to the following rules:
(i) as a concession, sick leave not exceeding two working days may be granted without the production of a medical certificate. However, unless the authorising officer is reasonably confident that the officer is genuinely sick, he has discretion to withhold the grant of sick leave not supported by medical certificates, particularly where the officer concerned applies for sick leave frequently or in a regular pattern;

CSRs 1282 and 1283: Prolonged sick leave.
If an officer is still unfit to perform his duties after being granted 91 consecutive days sick leave, the Head of Department will request the Chief Executive, Hospital Authority, to appoint a Medical Board to examine the officer. Further sick leave may be granted only with the Medical Board¡¦s recommendation. If the officer is still unfit for duty after being granted 182 consecutive days sick leave, a further Medical Board should be arranged, and thereafter at intervals of three months;[/quote]

For issues regarding leave, the EDB advises NETs to talk to the school Principal in the first instance and if further assistance is needed to contact the school REO.

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A school "Supervisor may grant special leave with pay for a maximum of 2 days per academic year to teachers on grounds of urgent private affairs of grave importance".

Under school-based management, aided and special schools are responsible for defining what is classified as urgent private affairs. Schools are supported in this by their respective EDB REO (Regional Education Office). Government schools differ as they are governed directly by the EDB and therefore follow rules set by the EDB that seemingly do not include things such as weddings, family gatherings, deaths of non-immediate family, casual leave etc.

Special Leave rules for all teachers working in primary, secondary and special schools are detailed in the respective Codes of Aid (sections 29a, 28a and 31a) and additionally, in the Compendium to Code of Aid for Aided Schools (Section 8). These rules apply equitably to all teachers in those schools.

The NET Schemes inherit the special leave rules from the Code of Aid. This is evidenced as follows:
1. The original NET Scheme and Enhanced NET Scheme proposals placed before LegCo in which NET-specific terms and conditions were defined, agreed and authorised made no mention of special leave rules; and
2. The standard Memorandum on the Terms and Conditions of Service for Appointment as Teachers under the NET Scheme/Enhanced NET Scheme (section 13.4) for aided schools make specific reference to special leave being "Subject to the rules governing such leave in the respective Code of Aid".

Changing the Rules
To change the special leave rules for NETs therefore requires a change to the Codes of Aid. As things stand, that change would have to be applied to all teachers. There are 53,000 primary and secondary teachers. Given the financial and logistical implications of granting an extra days' leave to those teachers, the EDB would not consider proposing such a change. The EDB would similarly not consider proposing a change for the sole benefit of 870 NETs, given that it would only apply to 0.016% of teachers covered by the Codes and would require a fundamental change in the way the Codes are written equitably for all teachers.

Should this analysis be incorrect, it should be noted that any change to the Codes of Aid or the NET Schemes Remuneration Packages requires the oversight and agreement of the LegCo Education Panel and the LegCo Finance Committee. Whether any such change be proposed by the EDB, or anyone approaching LegCo directly, it would inevitably result in a full LegCo review of all aspects of NET Schemes remuneration (including SA and RI). It would probably also be argued that remuneration as it currently stands compensates NETs for agreeing to work and live in Hong Kong, and therefore also already compensates for the suggested hardship suffered should close family members not in Hong Kong become sick or pass away, harsh though that may seem.

Abutting Holiday Periods, Sick Leave or Weekends
For Aided and Special schools, the EDB confirmed during liaison with the HKPNETs Forum in July 2015 that in summary, special leave taken before or after other types of leave does not affect the classification of that leave i.e. special leave and sick leave can be combined; leave abutting special leave is not classified as no-pay leave. This is a school-wide policy not just for NETs: special leave rules are detailed in the Codes of Aid and there are no stipulations regarding abutting leave; the only leave for which such stipulations are stated is no-pay leave. (See also Follow-up documentation for the liaison meeting held in Nov 2015)

Under school-based administration, schools are responsible for formulating school-based leave policies but you can contact your REO to confirm standard rules for aided and special schools if your school is unclear on the rules or claiming that the rules are different to the above.

It is the recent (Oct 2016) experience of PNETs that the REO has stated to schools that it is possible for special leave to be taken that abuts sick leave. The case in point also confirmed that a medical certificate issued abroad is acceptable.

Government schools are different. They operate their own rules for all teachers as detailed in the standard Letter of Appointment for Government School NETs:

15 Leave Entitlement
15.4 ... Special Leave with pay shall be granted in accordance with the rules and practices governing the granting of such leave for government school teachers.

These rules appear not to be documented anywhere, but current understanding is that special leave in government schools is counted to include abutting holidays for special leave i.e. special leave and sick leave cannot be combined in government schools; leave is classified in government schools as no-pay leave if it abuts special leave.

It is the recent (Nov 2016) experience of PNETs that these are the rules applied in government schools.

If you are in a government school and need to take special leave, it is worth clarifying the rules as they stand by contacting the EDB Administrative division (responsible for gov't schools) as there was a case in 2010 of a leave period of a NET in a government school being retrospectively classified as no-pay leave due to a misunderstanding of the rules. 

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The Medical Allowance facilitates the reimbursement of medical insurance scheme costs to the value of HK$1,400 per year for a single NET and HK$5,400 per year for a NET accompanied by spouse and/or children.

Participation in a medical insurance scheme is not mandatory and there are no restrictions regarding the choice of insurance provider, the choice of policy provision and cover, or the actual cost of a chosen policy. Where a chosen policy costs in excess of the allowance values reimbursement is possible to the amount of the allowance value. Double-benefits arising from employment or from a spouse's employment are not allowed and must be declared during application.

Application for reimbursement should be made every year and reimbursement is provided on a pro-rata basis should insurance policy coverage not coincide with the contract period.

The Medical Allowance is taxable (see EDB FAQ Q20 and Government Schools Memorandum on T&Cs Section 14.2).

Medical Allowance reimbursement is provided on a fixed-sum basis as determined by LegCo when the NET Schemes were established (see below). Index-based adjustment to support ongoing changes in policy costs are made  through the Special Allowance which is "provided on a non-accountable basis so as to provide the NETs with the flexibility to dispose the allowance in meeting other living expenses of their own choosing".

NET-Specific Medical Insurance
All teachers can make use of medical insurance schemes available through the HK Professional Teachers' Association (HKPTU)

Local and international insurance providers are unwilling to provide NET-Specific medical insurance policies to groups of NETs:

- Group schemes are usually compulsory such that the insurer's risk can be spread over a range of ages, sexes and general levels of health. Where there is no compulsory participation, companies' experience is that the older or less healthy are more likely to take up policies which skews the risk profile. Given that NET insurance coverage is not compulsory and uptake is likely to be limited in number and high-risk in nature companies are generally not willing to take on NET-specific group-policy business. HKPTU insurance coverage is able to overcome this though its extremely large membership encompassing the 53,000 primary and secondary teachers eligible to join its schemes. Policies provided by the English Schools Foundation to its staff overcome these issues by making enrolment mandatory for the 1300 teachers at its 22 schools.

- NETs in government schools are employed by the government, but are not classed as civil servants. NETs in aided and special schools are employed individually by a given school. Insurance companies will not provide specialised insurance coverage to a school with only 1 employee requiring dedicated insurance. They are similarly unwilling to provide coverage to associations with low-numbers of employees such as the EDB with 64 NETs in government schools under its control, to a sponsoring body with multiple but small numbers of schools under its remit, to NESTA with its 130+ members or to the HKPNETs Forum Primary Association with its 400+ PNET members.

The HKPNETs Forum has sourced two companies willing to provide NET-specific policies but they do so on the basis of their standard international ex-pat insurance coverage with associated higher-level premiums.

Many thanks to the PNET who spent many months investigating this issue and facilitated the NET-specific insurance mentioned.

Review of the Medical Allowance
The fixed-rate Medical Allowance was initially approved by the LegCo Finance committeee in 1997 as part of the reimbursement package for NETs at the commencement of the Enhanced NET Scheme. In 2002, it was expanded by LegCo approval to include the NET Scheme in Primary Schools.

The Medical Allowance was reviewed in 2005 at LegCo suggestion and the EDB stated "The provision was originally made in 1997 to reflect the average government cost of medical benefits paid to comparable civil servants. As NETs are on valid work visa and they enjoy the public sector medical services just like every member of the public, we consider that there is no case to improve on this medical provision as at present."

A further review took place in 2009 that stated that given "the stringent policy considerations on the fringe benefits of the civil service, it would not warrant any justifiable reasons for EDB to revise the other fringe benefits of NETs." This was presented to NESTA in a liaison meeting on 8 July 2009 at which NESTA "expressed their full understanding" that "it was not a suitable time to conduct a comprehensive review on the remuneration package of NETs under the NET Schemes in the foreseeable future."

In 2014, the EDB stated that it "had conducted a market search and found that there were affordable packages with reference to the present rate of allowance. NETs could consider the basic medical insurance plans and avail themselves of the service of public hospitals."

In 2016, the EDB was documented as having stated "any revision of the allowance needs to be approved by LegCo. EDB has looked at plans in the market and some are within the allowance e.g. PTU basic plans. NETs are also eligible for public medical services. NETs have other allowances e.g. SA, which NETs have the flexibility to use to cover other living expenses. The medical allowance is not intended to provide full coverage of private health insurance. Priority is given to the SA and passage allowances. A lot of work would need to be undertaken to achieve increases in the medical allowance and even if increases could be achieved these could result in less money being allocated for the SA or passage allowance."

If applied to the medical allowance, the 2016 HK inflation rate of 2.4% would effect an increase of $33/$130.

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All teaching and non-teaching staff covered under the EDB approved Staff Establishment of the school (the number of staff allowed at each grade for a given number of classes, including both NETs and LETs) are funded en bloc via the EDB's recurrent Salaries Grant paid monthly to schools.

Any suggestion that NETs are paid from specially-designated EDB funds, not from school funds, and should be treated differently misunderstands the EDB funding mechanism.

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The NET Schemes were first proposed in 1996 by an Education Commission (Report No. 6) set up by the government in the last years before the handover. It was implemented in two stages.

The Enhanced NET Scheme in secondary schools (SNET Scheme) was formally proposed as government policy by the Chief Executive in 1997. As government policy, details were presented to the LegCo Finance Committee which rubber-stamped recurrent funding for an SNET in every Secondary School as part of the 'teaching establishment' (the number of LETs, NETs, ancillary staff funded by the EDB in each school as part of the Salaries Grant). The EDB didn't "ask" for funding, it was rubber-stamped as for all government policy. The implementation of the SNET Scheme fell to the EDB Professional Development and Training Division (PDDT) which already administered salary and fringe benefits for LETs. They set up the NET Admin Team to recruit SNETs and administer their salary and benefits. Funding for the NET Admin Team did not require Finance Committee authorisation as it was covered within the EDB's own civil service budget.
[Note: at this stage, the NET Section did not exist]

In 2001, the government set up a Standing Committee on Language Education and Research (SCOLAR) and tasked it with evaluating the effectiveness of the SNET Scheme. Research was commissioned by them from HKIEd known as the MENETs Report.

The PNET Scheme was formally proposed as government policy by the Chief Executive in 2001. As the LegCo Education Panel Committee had now been established, the details of the proposal were presented to the Panel. As a result of recommendations made in the MENETs Report the proposal included the establishment of the EDB NET Section within the EDB's Curriculum Development Institute to support the implementation of the two NET Schemes. Following Education Panel discussion, details were presented to the LegCo Finance Committee which rubber-stamped recurrent funding for a PNET in every primary school again as part of the 'teaching establishment'. Funding for the NET Section, as for the NET Admin Team did NOT require Finance Committee authorisation as it was covered within the EDB's own civil service budget. This distinction is important because it separates "The NET Scheme" from both the NET Admin Team and the NET Section.

There are therefore 4 separate entities with 3 different fundings:
- the SNET Scheme with recurrent funding from LegCo as part of the teaching establishment;
- the PNET Scheme with recurrent funding from LegCo as part of the teaching establishment;
- the PDDT NET Admin Team and CDI NET Section both with internal non-LegCo civil service funding.

(The cost of the PNET and SNET schemes are regularly reoprted to LegCo. The cost of the NET Admin Team and Net Section have never been reported and questions about their costs never asked in LegCo, but a base estimate would be $53million+ based on most ATs being toward the top of the MPS scale. The total costs of NET Section resources provided to schools such as PLPRW books, SpaceTown resources etc. are unknown.)

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For aided and special schools, the EDB does not set rules for PD. Under school-based management schools are responsible for formulating and managing PD policy. Government schools are different as they are managed by the EDB so will have rules defined by the EDB.

For the same school-based management reason, the NET Scheme does not set any rules about PD other than saying in the Deployment Guidelines that one of our non-teaching activities should be "Attending centralised/regional professional development activities". The NET Scheme does not state that new PNETs must attend a certain amount of PD - even the NET Section Induction course is voluntary.

In 1993 an advisory board was set up called Advisory Committee on Teacher Education and Qualifications (ACTEQ) "to provide a single source of authoritative advice to Government on teacher education programmes, and on qualifications acceptable for teaching purposes". In 2013, the committee was renamed to Committee on Professional Development of Teachers and Principals (COTAP).

The ACTEQ/COTAP Committee  has produced three reports (2003, 2006, 2009) containing a framework of rules with a recommendation of 150 hours of PD over 3 years. The latest version from 2009 states the following (its a long quote, but worth reading to fully understand what counts as PD hours):

"The Teachers' CPD Framework
2.1 To foster  a culture of teachers' CPD, ACTEQ released "CPD Document 2003" in November 2003 and proposed a teachers' CPD framework. The aim was to institutionalise the practice of teachers' CPD to encoursge all teachers to engage in learning in various domains and so enhance their professionalism. Salient features of the framework include:

- an objective target for CPD participation - A "soft" target of 150 CPD hours in a three-year cycle is set, within which teachers can deliberate on the direction and content;

- a broad definition of CPD - Teachers' CPD refers to all kinds of learning opportunities that help them strengthen their professional practices. Teachers in general embrace formal training programmes, which are broadly categorised as "structured learning". More importantly, they should also take on CPD activities that encompass various types of informal learning taking place within and across schools. These CPD activities are broadly categorised as "other CPD modes". "Structured learning"   includes long-term or short-term courses, conferences, symposia, workshops, higher academic studies and offshore study visits. "Other CPD modes" include job enrichment activities, mentoring, action learning, and service ro education and the community See Appendix [E] of "CPD 2003".

- varied and balanced professional learning experiences - It is recommended that teachers spend no less than 50 hours in a three-year cycle on "structured learning" and no less that 50 hours on "other CPD modes" so that they can benefit from rich and balanced professional learning opportunities;

- a sprit of "professional judgement" and "school-based decisions" - The effectiveness of teachers' CPD hinges on the extent to which teachers and schools find their CPD needs are satisfies. The CPD framework therefore attaches considerable importance to giving teachers and schools discretion to decide on the CPD strategies and plans which are most appropriate for their contexts;

4.4 It is recommended that:
the "soft" approach put forward in "CPD Document 2003" should continue viz.
(a) a target of about 150 CPD hours over three years;
(b) the modes and content of the CPD activities to be defined by schools; and
(c) schools to exercise professional autonomy in monitoring the implementation of teachers' CPD."

In summary:

The 150 hours over 3 years is a recommendation not a rule.
It is up to schools to decide whether and how to apply the recommendation.
Teachers and schools should decide together what is appropriate for a given context.
It is not just courses that count but also lots of different PD activities.

What counts as PD?
If you're struggling to find PD to fill in your 50 hours its worth reading the 2003 report Appendix E and the induction programme powerpoint for newly-appointed school Principals.

These state a whole range of activities that you might not think as PD that count toward hours such as:
- mentoring other teachers
- running PD at school
- sharing good practice
- school visits
- school-based projects
- voluntary work
- lesson observation
- and co-planning.

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