Principals have been warned not to accept gifts from school suppliers or hire relatives as part of an integrity crackdown in Victoria’s schools.
The measure by the Victorian Education Department follows reports of conflicts of interest and sloppy procurement practices on a regular basis within the state’s schools.
Earlier this year, the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC) inquiry revealed instances of school council members tendering for school contracts, principals awarding contracts to friends and relatives, and principals accepting gifts, invitations to events and other benefits from suppliers.
The Victorian Education Department will soon be deploying integrity committees across the state so that department officials can regularly review conflicts of interest and integrity matters concerning local schools.
The Australian Principals Federation (APF) Victorian branch president, Julie Podbury, told The Educator that the Federation has been telling the state’s principals to “review their practices through a new lens in the post-IBAC era”.
“A new culture needs to be established in Victorian Education and our principals will lead the way by scrutinising their practices more carefully, following the advice given,” she said.
Podbury added that while there were no new rules, it was current standing DET policy.
“The APF is offering advice of a new way of examining their operation with the mind that all things in the public domain are open to scrutiny,” she said.
“While it may have been the past practice for a principal or business manager to accept gifts of expensive wine, or tickets to the tennis or a box at the football, in light of the corruption hearings held recently in Victoria, we consider that such things should now benefit the school and not an individual.
“Our advice is that such gifts should be auctioned, or raffled to raise funds for the school,” Podbury said.
APF national president, Ron Bamford, told The Educator that the Federation's role was to provide general advice to its members so they could avoid any potential pitfalls.
“In all professions, judgements need to be made when policies are unclear or situations arise that are unusual. After all, the world is not black and white,” Bamford said.
“Principals across Australia are hard-working and are focussed on getting the best for their students. Above all, principals provide a moral compass for their communities and as such strive to be above reproach.
“Advice such as that issued by the APF in Victoria helps principals manage the broad range of organisational issues while still trying to keep focus on the main game which is teaching and learning.”
Education department spokesman Steve Tolley told The Age that policy on school procurement would continue to be developed next year in consultation with schools.
As it stands, department employees involved in procurement processes must refuse gifts from contractors or organisations about which they are likely to make decisions in regards to tender processes, licensing or regulation, he said.