For any principal, leading a culture of transparency and integrity is critical in avoiding serious scandals that can put their school’s name on the front pages of newspapers.
While most school leaders understand the implications of covering up serious allegations, it is not always the case that schools are equipped with the right systems and policies to handle reports of misconduct.
Prevention is better than cure
Your Call – Australia’s leading independent provider of whistleblowing programs – works with a number of educational institutions to help develop whistleblowing policies and disclosure pathways, and to embed ‘speak up’ cultures among students and staff.
Nathan Luker, Your Call’s CEO, has expert knowledge of schools’ duty of care to their students and staff. He says that in today’s high-risk and complex education sector, it is incumbent on schools to have a whistleblowing policy in place.
“Recent events at in the education sector are a timely reminder of what can happen when a robust policy, and subsequent procedures, are lacking or not properly acted on,” Luker told The Educator.
“On the other hand, when a comprehensive whistleblowing policy is in place – as well as the necessary procedures and training to support it – reports of misconduct can set off an immediate chain of events that ensure the complainant is supported and their privacy protected”.
Luker said this includes undertaking the investigation, removing immediate threats and contacting the appropriate authorities, as well as fulfilling mandatory reporting.
Beware of conflicting motives
A complex situation that can arise when navigating allegations of misconduct is that staff can experience false and/or unfair reporting.
Luker pointed to the “conflicting priorities and motives” of the many different groups that schools have a duty of care towards – namely parents, students and teachers.
“Schools’ whistleblowing or speak up programs need to be rigorous enough to ensure that all complaints are heard and appropriately handled, but also that students and staff don’t fall victim to false reporting which may arise because of personal grievances,” he explained.
“Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all response that schools can roll out”.
The key to getting whistleblower programs right, says Luker, is to make sure that the reporting policy or initiative is accompanied by practical, detailed and compliant procedures that are developed in consultation with all groups and external advisors.
“These procedures need to account for penalties for false reporting and procedural fairness,” he said.
“They also need to work alongside any adjacent policies such as the Child Safety Act”.
A robust policy can avoid a crisis
Luker pointed out that when schools don’t create speak up cultures, individuals, including students, teachers, contractors, and parents, don’t feel safe or heard reporting misconduct.
Originally posted by by Brett Henebery on 03 Mar 2020 – https://www.theeducatoronline.com/k12/news/does-your-school-have-a-whistleblowing-policy/270249