Complaints about nepotism in Victorian government schools 'continue unabated'Date posted:
Modern music begins to play.
Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass appears in mid-shot, from a dining room, speaking directly to camera.
Glass: My latest report is about well-intentioned, busy people trying to solve problems, who got it wrong.
Text appears on screen: “Since 2013, the Ombudsman has dealt with more than 20 cases where school principals or staff allegedly gave jobs and contracts to family members, associates or related businesses.” Excerpt from the investigation report
Glass: My office regularly receives complaints from whistle-blowers about nepotism in Victorian government schools.
Glass: So I am releasing this report to draw attention to the problems and the consequences.
Glass: In my report, I outline three cases.
Text appears on screen: The three cases in my report involved Principals who:
- instigated engagement of their partner for maintenance work without advertising the position
- suggested two of their adult children be employed in casual support roles
- endorsed the appointment of one of their children to a fixed-term teaching role
The text fades to footage panning across a bright classroom, with a teacher speaking to five primary school children.
Glass: These were not corrupt staff deliberately disregarding their obligations as public officers.
Glass: The Principals all said they were not aware of their obligation to declare a conflict of interest to the Department. And they said it was often difficult to find people to fill these roles.
The classroom footage fades back to the mid-shot of Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass speaking to camera.
Glass: The cost to these individuals was high.
Glass: Their actions led people to question their integrity.
Glass: The suitability of their family members for the roles to which they were appointed was questioned.
Glass: Confidence in merit-based decisions at their schools was compromised.
Text appears on screen, showing a timeline of the Department of Education’s conflict of interest policy:
2007 Recruitment in schools policy
2010 Conflict of interest policy
2013 Conflict of interest framework
2015 Conflict of interest toolkit
2017 Conflict of interest quick guide, Procurement policy for Victorian government schools
2018, eduPay conflict of interest declaration form, Conflict of interest declaration form resources x 3, School procurement procedure.”
Glass: The Department of Education has had a conflict of interest policy for 10 years, which it has continually updated and expanded.
Glass: A retired school principal told us the Department’s online resources are ‘fantastic’.
The text on screen fades to close up footage of a laptop computer, displaying the Department of Education Conflict of Interest web page. The page is being scrolled down.
Glass: Yet, we know Principals are time-poor and under pressure at work.
The laptop footage fades back to the mid-shot of Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass speaking to camera.
Glass: Building a strong integrity culture requires more than policies on a website.
Text appears on screen: “The Department of Education and Training is developing:
- a new online Policy Advisory Library
- resources and training for managers who receive COI declarations
- updated online integrity training modules
- an evaluation of its COI register
Glass: I welcome efforts by the Department to develop and communicate its integrity framework. I hope my report assists its efforts.
The text fades back to the mid-shot of Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass speaking to camera.
Glass: My message to principals and others is simple: Leadership starts at the top.
Glass: If you can, avoid hiring your partners, children, friends or other associates.
Glass: If you can't, be aware of the rules – and the consequences of getting it wrong.
The text fades to black, with the music fading to an end at the same time. End.
Family members and associates of principals in Victorian government schools continue to be hired without principals properly declaring or managing their conflicts of interest, the Victorian Ombudsman has warned.
“Over the past decade, the Department of Education has built a comprehensive policy framework including detailed advice about conflicts of interest,” Ms Glass said.
“Despite this, complaints about nepotism in schools continue unabated.
“Troublingly, many investigations continue to find that jobs and contracts are given to family members, associates or related businesses of principals or other senior staff without their conflicts of interest being declared or managed.”
Her report includes three case studies investigated by her office over the past year:
- a Principal who instigated the engagement of their partner for almost $80,000 of maintenance work, without declaring a conflict of interest or advertising the position
- a Principal who suggested two of their adult children be employed in casual support roles, without initially declaring a conflict of interest to the department
- a Principal who endorsed the appointment of one of their children to a fixed-term teaching role, without letting the department know of their conflict until a year later.
Ms Glass welcomed efforts by the department to better communicate its integrity framework. She found the department’s policies were spread across multiple documents on multiple sites, and all of the principals were unclear about their obligations.
“Mostly, the subjects of these allegations were well-intentioned, busy people trying to solve problems, who got it wrong,” Ms Glass said.
“The cost to these individuals was high,” Ms Glass said. “Their actions led people to question their integrity. The suitability of their family members for the roles to which they were appointed was questioned.
“The inevitable effect is that confidence in merit-based decisions at the schools was compromised.”
Ms Glass said she hoped her report would assist the Department in getting the message through to principals and senior staff.
“My message to principals and others is simple: Leadership starts at the top.
“If you can, avoid hiring your partners, children, friends or other associates.
“In any event, be aware of the rules – and the consequences of getting it wrong.”
Please note: Ms Glass will not be available for interview about this investigation, due to it being about the conduct of individuals and the requirement of parliamentary privilege.
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