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Victorian audit of private schools misses the big picture

By Stephen Elder - posted Thursday, 17 March 2016

The Victorian Auditor General has accused Catholic education of 'unworthy' behaviour in its response to an audit of non-government Victorian school grants.

After wrestling with the dilemma of whether to justify his comment with a response I have, perhaps against my better judgement, decided to do so. Why? Because recent activity has led me to question the very integrity of the Auditor General's investigation.

I would like to remind VAGO of what 'unworthy' behaviour actually looks like.


Just days after he announced this investigation in June last year, the then-Auditor-General John Doyle said in an interview with The Age that there is 'limited accountability' in non-government schools. One could conclude that anyone making such an utterance before they have visited a Catholic school or discussed Catholic education's financial models in any detail is unlikely to have a totally open mind when working through the audit process.

With this apparent eye for headlines rather than the full story, it came as no surprise when, some nine months later, VAGO this week provided a report that did back-up these pre-emptive assertions.

This matter goes to the heart of VAGO's capacity to undertake independent, clinical investigations. In other words, to do its job, without bias!

Catholic Education Commission Victoria's initial concern with the Grants to Non-Government Schools audit was an unfair, narrow scope.

Catholic education in Victoria receives 62% of its funding from the Commonwealth, 20% via parental contributions and only 18% from the Victorian Government. The VAGO report only investigated requirements relating to the state government component, the 18%.

Don't get me wrong, the Catholic school sector has no fear of scrutiny of its operations, but such an audit can only prove meaningful when consideration is given to the full range of ways organisations are held accountable to governments and the wider community.


I say to the Auditor-General again, how this report can give anyone the full picture is inconceivable. It's a bit like a motor mechanic assessing the safety of a car without looking at its engine. A flawed and dangerous exercise.

I also find it rather ironic that on the very day that new MySchool NAPLAN data on school performance was released, VAGO presents an audit into our reporting requirements that for some reason excluded the MySchool and ACARA requirements for individual schools to publically report on where its funds are allocated and the results that follow.

VAGO also appears ignorant of our substantial reporting and accountability requirements to our major funder, the Commonwealth Government, which shares these reports with the state government. Not to mention compliance requirements of Victoria's own school regulator, the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority.

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About the Author

Stephen Elder is the Executive Director of Catholic Education.

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All articles by Stephen Elder

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