A strike team of integrity watchdogs will be appointed to curb corruption and misconduct in the Victorian education department, following this year's revelations that schools were being systematically rorted by some senior bureaucrats.
Months after the Independent Broadbased Anti-corruption Commission exposed the so-called banker schools scandal, the Andrews government has vowed to crack down on the "disgraceful behaviour", culture of entitlement and lack of accountability that insiders say has plagued sections of the education bureaucracy for years.
Part of the plan involves setting up a new whistleblower service to encourage people to speak out anonymously, as well five "integrity leadership groups" made up of school staff with a direct line to the head of the department, Secretary Gill Callister.
"It's one way that we can combat the disgraceful behaviour that has been exposed by IBAC," said Deputy Premier and Education Minister James Merlino. "There are a range of integrity measures that the Secretary has put in place and I will be holding her accountable to these. We need to fix the culture within the department and rebuild trust within the community."
The push to restore the public's faith in the department comes as IBAC finalises its report into the banker schools investigation, which found that millions of dollars in education funds had been diverted by senior officials, including disgraced former finance manager Nino Napoli, and misused for their own personal benefit.
The commission has also turned its attention to the botched Ultranet computer project, which was dumped in 2013 after costs blew out to $180 million.
Apart from being one of the biggest IT failures in recent departmental history, the Ultranet has also been marred by suspicions of fraudulent payments and shonky probity practices, with the home of least one former department official believed to have been raided in recent months as authorities begin to act.
IBAC is yet to make any formal announcements about the Ultranet, but a spokeswoman confirmed this month that the commission was still looking into the matter.
The idea of having dedicated strike teams within the department to curb corruption and misconduct was outlined to principals over the past few weeks as part of the government's "education state" policy consultations. School and office staff appointed to the groups will be required to identify and discuss integrity issues, propose ideas for reform, and promote a more open culture where staff are encouraged to speak up about unacceptable behaviour.
I feel the biggest problem is not so much corruption of the type that is exemplified by the behaviour of Napoli et al. ( it was after all a small amount of money in a huge budget) it is more about incompetence on a grand scale, lack of wit and imagination , the lack of confidence and trust ( No wonder they don't initiate surveys to find out what teachers/ principals think about them) and the inability to focus on genuine improvement. ( accept there is a problem, consult, plan a course of action and see it through) Just refer to the myriad of damning auditor General's reports on systemic failures in the education system!
Briefing documents seen by The Age also reveal:
The government plans to set an ambitious target to reduce the rate of Year 12 dropouts by 50 per cent over the next decade.
There are concerns that existing training programs for principals are insufficient to meet demand, with only 80 trained each year at present.
140 new department staff will be employed in the department's regional offices to help principals and schools improve results.
The Education State is the catch-all phrase Labor coined ahead of last year's election to describe its plans to lift the quality of education in Victorian schools.
Some of the policies have received a lukewarm response – for instance, one principal last week described the dropout reduction target as an unachievable "pipe dream" – but others have welcomed the renewed focus on teaching, learning and improving the culture of the department more broadly. This year's budget also provided an extra $747 million for schools over the next four years to complement the policy, much of which will be targeted towards disadvantaged students.
Asked if some of the targets outlined in the policy were unrealistic, Mr Merlino replied: "We have set the bar very high but these targets are achievable. We simply cannot afford to accept that so many students are dropping out of the system; it's too important an issue to ignore.
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