Investigations – Leaders and the Law

SASSLA recently featured in The Sunday Mail and Advertiser over our concerns about the investigation process for school leaders. Being a school leader is one of the most vulnerable professions there is. Almost every policy and procedure that we have to adhere to has some legality attached to it. The preschool director or the principal is the senior finance officer, responsible for the expenditure of millions of dollars. If the preschool director, principal, or staff, do not strictly follow policy, they may fall foul of the law over conflict or misuse of funds.

The Disability Discrimination Act can be a legal minefield for school leaders as they try and provide for all with scarce resources. Parents, rightly, can be vocal in pushing for social justice and leaders are often caught in the middle of resulting litigation.

Occupational Health and Safety is another challenge as leaders become on-site managers under the Act, often in charge of major building works with complex building and safety regulations. Leaders can be sued for allowing an unsafe environment even when they have small capacity to do much about a fault or issue. Leaders are increasingly targets of litigation arising out of staff or student illness attributed to bullying or other health issues.

No wonder there is a poor applicant rate for leadership positions with an endless list of vulnerabilities in day to day work, little support and low pay differentials. When things go wrong, the department is often the first to desert you. Preschool directors, principals and other senior leaders are increasingly looking to SASSLA for support in dealing with these issues, to have the assurance of a lawyer on call when needed.

School leaders, particularly in their formative years, need to be aware of the legal issues they face. Adequate training from DECD would help. This training should help leaders put in place protective mitigation strategies that are achievable in day to day practice. Measures are needed which maximise protection against legal action, and they must be practical enough to be achievable in context of all the other things leaders are required to do. This is why SASSLA provides legal information in both our member magazines and monthly newsletters to assist leaders with the law, putting strategies in place for when the unexpected happens.

SASSLA has experienced an unprecedented number of members involved in misconduct investigations over the last year, including ICAC (Independent Commissioner Against Corruption). Did you know that their are eight DECD directorates, units and individuals that have powers to investigate school leaders, which even includes hiring private investigators? This does not include external sources such as SAPOL and ICAC.

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