An investigation into nepotism in Victoria’s state schools has found that principals are hiring family members and associates without regard to conflict of interest.
In a report tabled in parliament on Wednesday Ombudsman Debrorah Glass says her office has been investigating an ongoing string of complaints, including one case where a principle handed their partner almost $80,000 of maintenance work without advertising the job.
In other cases, the adult children of principals were employed in teaching and support roles on the instigation of the principals without letting the department knowing about the conflict for over a year.
The ombudsman’s office has investigated more than 20 cases of alleged nepotism since 2013, Ms Glass said.
“Over the past decade, the Department of Education has built a comprehensive policy framework including detailed advice about conflicts of interest,” she 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.”
Unaware of conflict of interest obligations
In most cases the intentions were good and were the result of “busy people trying to solve problems”, she said, and she did not find the people involved to be corrupt.
Often the principals concerned were unaware of their obligations, under pressure to fill a position or get a job done, or unable to find anyone else at the time, she said.
But they got it wrong and their behaviour had series implications for the erosion of confidence in merit-based decision at Victorian schools, Ms Glass said.
Ms Glass said the three cases highlighted in the report had occurred despite the education department’s comprehensive integrity policy framework.
In each case, the principals were unclear about their conflict of interest obligations when hiring family members.
The department said it had told investigators it has done more to communicate its policies since 2018 when the cases first came to light.
The report acknowledged that the department faced challenges in implementing an integrity program to 75,000 teaching employees spread across 1,500 schools.
“Communicating integrity expectations to such a large and decentralised workforce presents some obvious challenges,” it said.
The Department said that as of February 1,868 employees had completed its online conflict of training module and at that as of January 75 per cent of Principal Networks had completed conflict of interest workshops.
In some regions training had been delayed because of bushfires and COVID-19.
The report was handed down just days after Government News reported that another Ombudsman’s investigation had identified instances of “jobs for mates” at a Victorian council.
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