Principals fear being ‘set up for investigation’

Principals are refusing to complete a major Education Department survey out of fear their feedback will be traced back to them – and with severe consequences.

The South Australian online Organisational Climate Survey allows school staff to evaluate the effectiveness, efficiency and culture of their workplaces and make suggestions for improvement.

However, they’d better watch what they say, warns South Australian State School Leaders Association (SASSLA) chief executive, John Gregory.

Gregory told The Educator that mistrust between principals and the Department has become more of an issue over time as school leaders have “good reason to fear they are being set up for investigation”.

“We have eight internal sources of investigation in this state, and two external – an ICAC and police. They have proliferated,” he said.

Some of the state’s principals, as well as other school staff, are now hesitant to share feedback in such surveys as a result, fearing they too will face ramifications from the Education Department.

Principals ‘marginalised and sidelined’

Gregory said the ramifications for principals who provide negative feedback in Education Department surveys include marginalisation, poor morale, poor references, sidelining and difficulties maintaining career pathways.

“We have members who have been directed away from site for up to two years, without determination. One has been sidelined, the subject of malicious and vindictive accusations,” Gregory explained.

“Police decided not to proceed, but this member still hasn’t been allowed back on site. Several others wait and wait without any finality.”

Gregory added that matters that might have been dismissed – or the subject of better advice – are made to “drag out with formalities” which he said were out of proportion to the problem.

“Members were told years ago that anything they sent using departmental email could be traced via IP addresses and the department’s sophisticated technology,” he said.

“The survey asks leaders to identify their position and their site, then snap – gotcha. It takes so long to complete the flaky web based survey that many members give up and report their frustration at time outs and drop outs.”

Gregory said the South Australian Education Department has also instigated a new review process which relies on data interrogation.

“Unfortunately, many of our members feel as though they are being interrogated, subjected to an inquisition. These things all add up to a loss of morale, increased work load, and an atmosphere of mistrust and suspicion,” he said.

“Leaders feel as though they are being policed, rather than worked with.”

‘They have taken the educators out of education’

Gregory said that, according to his media sources, only three out of the top 15 Education Department officials have a background in state school leadership.

“I haven’t checked the numbers, but it sounds about right. They have taken the educators out of education. It’s time they got off their backsides and out of their offices, instead of relying on web data,” he said.

“As overloaded preschool directors put it, spend more time ‘on the floor’ – listening.  School and preschool staff feel as though they are not understood. They fear increasingly they will be caught out doing something wrong.”

Gregory said “the essence of good administration” was to catch people doing something right and to listen and to work together on those things that can be improved.

“Unfortunately, too many of our leading staff off site – and there are many of them – about three times the ratio interstate – too many of them are much more able to specify goals for our achievement than they are to resource or support us,” he said.

“We need that off-site leadership resource on site. The system is “size-ist” – it puts out policies which require the sorts of talent that only large schools can source, and they struggle.

“More than 60% of our sites have just one leader. We are little preschool and little school leaders with big hearts, and we are sick of being put upon as though we have an infinite capacity to absorb these things.”

Department claims to ‘preserve anonymity’

Education Department acting deputy chief executive for corporate services, Sam Bradley, told The Advertiser that demographic data was “only used at a whole of department or corporate office level” to preserve anonymity.

“Reports will only be generated where there are more than 10 responses captured at a school or preschool site or corporate office level,” she said.

“The survey has been designed to capture perspectives from various roles and areas, so we can better target employee engagement initiatives.”