Dispute over Durban school principal post comes to and end - for now

2018-10-18 18:56
School desks. (Duncan Alfreds, News24, file)

School desks. (Duncan Alfreds, News24, file)

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A bitter dispute over who should head up Austerville Primary School in Wentworth, Durban has come to an end - for now.

The interview process, which resulted in the appointment of "junior" member of staff Akesh Singh as the principal in 2016, has to be started afresh, thanks to a recent arbitration ruling by chairperson, advocate Anashrin Pillay.

The "people's" choice for the post was deputy principal Ethany Ogle, who had been at the school for 17 years at the time. Parents and lobby groups protested for weeks outside the school, barring Singh from entering the premises.

READ: Principal, 5 others face suspensions over suspected cash-for-posts scandal

Ogle, and another applicant for the job, took the matter to the Education Labour Relations Council and this week Pillay set aside Singh's appointment, agreeing that Ogle and the other candidate had been treated unfairly and declaring the selection process "irregular".

Pillay said the "role of the officials who participated in the process and the role of the union representative requires some investigation by the Department of Education because the school had to function for the past three years without a full-time principal".

"Moreover, it came to light that the fall-out spilled over into the community. The Constitution stipulates that a child's best interests are paramount. I find that the interests of the [pupils] were in all probability adversely affected by this dispute."

False claims and misrepresentations

While Singh was ranked first and Ogle second after the interview process, Ogle alleged that a South African Democratic Teachers Union representative intervened and "convinced the interview committee to reduce her score".

Her allegation was backed up by the National Professional Teachers Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa) representative, who observed the interview proceedings.

Pillay accepted this evidence but said he could not find that there had been "collusion" between those on the interview panel "despite any suspicions I have otherwise".

He also found that Singh had made false claims and misrepresentations on his CV which "were designed to bolster his qualifications, experience and credentials".

"The probabilities are that this resulted in him being shortlisted, interviewed and appointed to the post."

Singh's case, he said, had consisted of a "bare denial" of each allegation which was not supported by any other evidence.

"On the conspectus of evidence, the overwhelming probabilities are that the selection process was unfair. However, I am not in a position to determine who should be appointed."

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