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.
Work 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.
SASSLA has experienced a record number of members involved in misconduct investigations over the last year, including ICAC (Independent Commissioner Against Corruption). Last year we identified eight sources of investigation from a departmental organisational chart:
- Investigations Unit
- Education Complaint Unit
- Education Director (including the use of private investigators)
- Performance and Incapacity Unit
- Misconduct Disciplinary Unit
- Ethnical Conduct Unit
- Incident Management Directorate
We also have new registration procedures; extensive preschool regulations, reporting, accreditation and a Children’s Commissioner to work with along with external investigation authorities such as SAPOL and ICAC.