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Is this the end of EPAC?

The NSW Employee Performance and Conduct unit (EPAC) was under siege this week with critics of the government unit calling it “opaque”, “slow” and “lacking procedural fairness”.

The unit, which investigates misconduct in schools, has also been accused of using children to gather evidence about their teachers – sometimes without their parents knowing or granting permission.

Dr Tim Bailey only discovered that an EPAC investigator interviewed his child when an EPAC report, including a written statement from his child, anonymously arrived in his letterbox, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

In the letter, which related to a teacher accused of physically and verbally abusing her students, Dr Bailey’s child described what her “favourite teacher” was doing prior to a child climbing on to a desk and falling off.

“I would have been happy enough with [her writing a statement] if there were some procedures put in place to ensure the statement was unbiased, not coerced, properly witnessed, and if it had the support of the parents to write it,” Dr Bailey said.

After he complained to the department, a departmental staff member replied in an email, stating that school executives could take written statements from students and do “not require parental permission to do so”.

Parents, teachers and principals are calling for an independent body to replace EPAC, similar to what exists in Victoria.

Academics such as Dr David Roy agree, arguing that a real conflict of interest exists.

“EPAC staff are department staff, even if they claim they work independently,” the University of Newcastle education expert said.

“There should be an independent investigations body. It should cover all sectors, it shouldn’t just be for government or independent or religious schools. It should look at them all and be independent, reporting to the minister.”

The President of the NSW Teachers Federation, Maurie Mulheron, said the main problem with EPAC was a lack of resourcing and that the unit should be kept within the department.

“The department has … massively lost the capacity to give advice and support to schools and principals,” he said.

“That has left schools very isolated and without support, which often leads to people making poor decisions because they don’t have places to get advice and support.”

EPAC critics led a blistering attack on Mr Mulheron and the NSW Teachers Federation, with some arguing the Union had deserted them.

Education Review requested an interview with Mr Mulheron but he declined.

A review of the controversial unit is underway, with former senior crown prosecutor Mark Tedeschi QC examining three key areas, including its investigation practices and procedural fairness.

The report is due by the end of June.

A spokesman for the NSW Department of Education told the Herald that the protection of children was “paramount” and the review would help to ensure high standards were met when investigating misconduct allegations.

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