Wednesday, 1 July 2015

The IBAC dilemma

From the Age Education Facebook page.

Public trust in Victoria's education system has crumbled.

Claims of corruption have been flooding into The Age via emails, hushed phone calls and handwritten letters.

Even after the explosive IBAC hearings had been wound up on Tuesday, the calls were still coming in. 

A worried parent on a school council told us she was pressured to sign off on a $200,000 deal for artificial grass without seeing any quotes. An anonymous teacher phoned with concerns about a principal hiring relatives. Another parent said she was worried about "excessive" overseas travel.

The Independent Broad Based Anti-corruption Commission hearings into the rorting of education funds has put corruption at the forefront of parents' and teachers' minds.

It could take a long time to repair the damage.

The sweeping changes announced by new Secretary of the Department of Education and Training Gill Callister on Tuesday are a relief. They will resonate in the schoolyard, in the staff room and among hardworking public servants whose workplace has been tarnished.

By targeting the entire education system, they acknowledge the rorting was not just confined to a few bad eggs in head office. Principals have also been caught up in this mess. Five principals have been suspended and one has been sacked.

Under the changes,officials will be rotated through the department to prevent corrupt ties forming, while principals, schools councils and business managers will receive better financial training.

The so-called banker school system, which was allegedly used by corrupt officials to rort more than $2.5 million of education funds, has been abolished. There will be changes to procurement and school grants to ensure "all public education funds are fully accounted for".

This is particularly important in an environment where parents have to sell sausages and cakes to raise funds for basic school maintenance.

Any squandering of precious funds is soul-destroying.

Ms Callister is in a perfect position to overhaul the Education Department.

She started the job in January after leaving the Department of Human Services, which is usually the department usually associated with a crisis of some kind involving child protection. She has no baggage and does not appear to owe anyone any favours.

Victoria's autonomous education system, which gives schools control over million dollar budgets, also needs to be questioned.

While the system has allowed schools to have a much greater say in who they employ and what they offer, it has also exposed them to risks.

Principals are now expected to be business managers, but some have raised concerns about inadequate financial training.

The crackdown has tried to strike a balance between increasing probity without reverting to a centralised system where schools lose their autonomy.

The Kennett reforms of the mid 90s promoted the self-governing schools model and this is the result. Nepotism in some local schools is a genuine problem and regional staff should have been aware of it and should have acted. Some schools have massive budgets often controlled by staff with limited training and experience. Hopefully we won't be bombarded with too much more red-tape as a result of this but obviously more oversight is required.

1 comment:

  1. The optimist in me Tony really wants to believe that public confidence may be restored. Sadly though,'Napoli Inc.' would appear to be only the tip of the iceberg. What of those dead-set dodgy Ultranet deals? A Merit and Equity system in tatters? The rampant bullying culture within our schools? Or the litany of financial black-holes that, in all likelihood, will never be exposed? IBAC'S done a great job but they've only scratched the surface...the culture of silence in our schools is deafening.