'Tolerance' of bad culture

Negative behaviour at a Milton training centre against which serious allegations were made last year appeared to be tolerated, and investigating government officials were surprised no formal complaints were laid with police, documents reveal.

Staff investigating the claims also said the facility was more like a drop-in centre instead of having the structure expected of an employment training centre. They also suggested senior management could have done more to stop matters escalating.

The Tertiary Education Commission report on complaints against the Tokomairiro Training Centre was prepared for the Tokomairiro High School board of trustees, which manages the centre.

The investigation was promoted by a series of allegations by former tutor Brian Crawford, who claimed there were serious assaults by one tutor against several trainees, financial mismanagement and a culture that encouraged alcohol consumption.

His claims were backed by several trainees at the time but no complaints were laid with police and the Tertiary Education Commission cleared the centre and school board of any wrongdoing, although the school was ordered to pay back about $20,000 in overpayments.

The commission has continued to visit the centre at least once a term this year.

But a copy of its report obtained by the Otago Daily Times said a visit by commission staff in August 2008 left them with the impression the facility was "more like a drop-in centre with more of a social welfare approach than providing the greater rigour and structure required and expected of an employment training centre".

While the complaints and allegations were not raised with the commission until well after they may have happened, the report said they did help create a picture of a working environment characterised by "strained and sometimes divisive relationships" between co-workers, some staff and management of the centre and school and between some staff and some trainees.

"From outside the school and training centre, and with the benefit of hindsight, it does seem surprising that, given some of the allegations, formal complaints were not laid with the police."

There was also "a certain tolerance" of other negative behaviour, including poor trainee attendance, the report said.

The centre's manager received "limited" support from the school's former principal and other senior staff who had responsibility for the centre.

"Different action by senior management on a number of alleged serious issues in 2007 may have prevented matters from escalating in 2008."

But the report also said the school board acted appropriately when it came to disciplinary and employment matters.

Tertiary Education Commission staff investigated and cleared centre management of allegations they were falsifying attendance records to defraud the commission of money.

While staff spoken to by Tertiary Education Commission officials during the investigation were uneasy about the allegations, later visits revealed the appointment of three new tutors had given them "a new sense of optimism".

The school was also determined to make improvements to the way the facility is run, the report said.

But the commission will keep a close eye on the centre, with visits at least once a term for the rest of this year.

Its focus will be on trainee attendance, how the school resources the centres and the achievement of trainees.

Tokomairiro High School principal Wayne Edgar could not be contacted for comment.

glenn.conway@odt.co.nz

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