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.
Tabling her investigations into allegations of nepotism in government schools report in the Victorian Parliament today, Ombudsman Deborah Glass said she hoped her report would draw attention to the problem and its consequences.
“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.”
Source: Office of the Victorian Ombudsperson, Australia