Separation of Department and Ministry ‘needed now’

by Brett Henebery15 Feb 2017


As Catholic schools reel in the wake of the recent Senate inquiries into child abuse allegations, there are calls for a fundamental change in the monitoring and accountability of the public school system.

David Roy, a lecturer in Education and Creative Arts at the University of Newcastle, told The Educator that independent accountability and a separation of the education ministry form the Department of Education “is needed now, for everyone’s benefit”.

“There is a dichotomy in the systemic running of NSW education and schools through the separation of responsibility,” Roy said.

“NSW has three basic school systems, Public, Catholic and Independent. However the issue lies within the separation of government oversight and the public system.”

Roy said that both “are one and the same – the Department of Education”.

“NSW Education Standards Authority [NESA], whilst monitoring all three systems has direct responsibility to deal specifically with misconduct issues in the Independent and Catholic systems,” he explained.

“When recent abuse allegations were revealed in both public and independent schools by the ABC 7.30 Report, NESA immediately dealt with the Independent school, whilst the Department of Education was left to internally investigate itself.”

Roy pointed to recent Senate Inquiries into institutional responses to misconduct, as well as the current Royal Commission, which he said “show the dangers of systems that self-regulate and the potential for systemic cover-up”.

“Public schools investigate themselves and the concern is that too often they appear to find themselves at no fault,” he said.

“If you contact any outside authority such as Family and Community Services or even indeed the police, you are informed that the Department of Education investigates itself, usually through the internal section of EPAC – Employee performance & conduct.”

Roy said it is EPAC that decides if a complaint should be reportable and thus investigated or only a matter for local area management inquiry.

“In effect this usually means a principal of a school investigates her or his own school. It is therefore of little surprise to find that often a principal will find little to no fault over how they run their own school,” he said.

In August 2016 when former NSW Education Minister, Adrian Piccoli, released information on cases of reportable conduct, multiple families and teachers found their reports of serious abuse and assaults on children were not listed as reportable.

“If the internal investigative body, EPAC, does not find unexplained bleeding to faces and adult bruising of children reportable there is clearly a problem in accountability and potential systemic cover-up that needs to be challenged,” Roy said.

“Recent media reports of the treatment of children in schools have alluded to concerns of this being the case within the NSW public school system.”

Roy said that with the “long-desired change of Minister for Education”, the time is now prescient to have a fundamental change in the monitoring and accountability of the public school system.

“There is a valid argument that the Minister for Education should have a separation from the public school Department of Education,” he said.

“Currently if you have an issue with the public school system, the highest authority to whom you can complain is the Minister and thus there will be no independent body until there is a separation between the Ministry for Education and the Department of Education.”

Roy said that he has too often had allegations of the previous Minister referring complaints back to the very people in the Department of Education to whom the complaint was about.

“Mr Stokes, the new Minister for Education has an opportunity to break this cycle of internal collusion,” he said.

“The benefits of such a separation would be to parents, staff and management – as well as the Ministry itself. Through removing the conflict of self-interest, all parties involved in the complaints process could have a greater assurance of transparency and that the findings are valid.”


HAVE YOUR SAY: Would the separation of the education ministry from the Department of Education improve accountability?
 

COMMENTS

  • by Grant Balcombe 15/02/2017 5:08:11 PM

    David Roy makes a valid and timely point - we need to stand up for our children in the public system. They deserve protection and unbiased accountability- not monitored and/or investigations conducted by the Dept of Ed!!

  • by Tim BAILEY 16/02/2017 1:13:55 PM

    David Roy is completely correct. Armed with documentary evidence of the abuse of my daughter's legal rights to representation by her parents, on a number of separate occasions, my separate appeals to all levels of the DEC (including the Minister's Office) were fobbed off to the same officers within the DEC itself. They obviously had a vested interest in making no adverse findings - which they did.
    The only conclusion I can reach (one supported by multiple DEC employees on the basis of the strictest confidentiality) is that the review process for the DEC is completely corrupted. They ARE a law unto themselves.
    Pardon me for asking, but are we actually living in a democratic society which supports due process and application of legal and human rights for all, oris it just a sham?

  • by Paul MAatin 18/02/2017 5:23:54 PM

    The section charged with the responsibility of investigation with the DEC-EPAC -is a law unto itself deciding the fate of the people that comes before it both guilty and not guilty. It is not just a question of some people getting away with transgressions of any magnitude but the lack of consistency in investigation. There is no codification of penalty , no presumption of innocence and it appears at times they "go after" some people while letting others off scott free. I am not just talking about abuse issues but in terms of doing their job;following policy as stated by DEC-it appears that interpretation is a moving feast left to the hands of the head of EPAC who in public forum has stated two rather worrying comments
    there is no such thing as a vexatious complaint
    I only pursue those issues I am certain of winning -keeping the record in tact
    If any external review should be done it should start with EPAC and its leadership