An attack on one's reputation is an assault on everything they have ever worked for and can cast a shadow of doubt over everything they do. Being an incompetent teacher is a serious charge with lasting career implications. Over one year ago, my wife Zalina, after investing her life savings, graduated from Charles Darwin University with a teaching degree. In her first job at Alekarenge School in Central Australia, she was deemed so seriously deficient that she was unfit to teach at any remote Territory school:
- without any written evidence;
- having never been formally observed;
- without being informed for the first 8-months;
- without her Group Principal being told;
- and not being given the chance to respond because DET refuses to disclose what these incompetences are for over one year.
Paul Newman, then General Manager of Schools in Central Australia, and then Alekarenge principal Darrell Fowler, claim that my wife had "a range of performance issues" that they raised with her. This is not true. They never raised a single performance issue with my wife. We challenge Mr Newman and Mr Fowler to produce a single piece of written evidence where they informed my wife of these claims. For one entire year, despite repeated attempts – DET refused to disclose what these issues are – except in the most vague possible terms. How is this possible?
If my wife Zalina applies for other teaching jobs and is asked on the application or in an interview if she has ever had serious performance/competency issues – she is forced to say yes, yet she has never had the opportunity to answer these charges. How is this possible?
We are not out to defame Paul Newman or Darrell Fowler. We have no choice but to present these facts publicly to protect our careers. Since DET refuses to reveal this information – and we have been unable to get a response from them on this issue, we are publicly asking Paul Newman and Darrell Fowler to show us the written documentation where it was determined that my wife had these issues – that I was deemed incompetent to work with Aboriginal children in remote Territory schools, why we were not informed until 8-months later when DET was forced to do so in writing – and why our Group Principal, Peter Jenkins, was not told?
Here’s another charge:
Dr Bartholomew used inappropriate teaching materials “which related to adverse comments about the community.”
After one year DET has yet to produce a single document to support their claim or tell me what these materials were. Doesn’t DET have to back up these claims in a timely manner? Apparently not. We are told there is nothing we can do about it. I thought that if you are accused of something (especially if it could damage your teaching career), that you would have the opportunity to respond? I have little choice but to publicly address these claims to protect my career. If on a job application someone asks if I have been deemed to have had competency issues and what they were, I will be forced to say yes – without having had a chance to respond. How is this possible?
You would think that if I had been using offensive materials, the community would have been upset with me. When word got out that my wife and I were suddenly being removed from the school, eighty residents of this tiny community including the Council President and the Head Elder, signed a petition trying to keep us.
No less than seven members of the Indigenous teaching staff signed a second petition stating that we “were good teachers who acted in the best interests and welfare of the Indigenous and non-Indigenous students and staff at Ali-Curung School, treating them with respect and dignity.”
A third petition in support of Zalina and I, was signed by seven members of the School Council.
The Indigenous staff were happy with our teaching, and supported the health and safety issues that we were addressing. When they heard that we were being removed, they stood with us in front of the school, holding hands in solidarity.
After learning they were being removed from the School, the Indigenous teaching staff at Alekarenge and then Aboriginal Police Officer Gwen Brown hold hands in solidarity Dr Bartholomew and his wife Zalina. Left to Right, Leonie Walker, Dorothy Dickson, Z. Abd Rahman, G. Brown, R. Bartholomew, Arana Rice, Lucy Tanami [For cultural reasons, Indigenous male staff members could not be in the photo].
Here’s a third charge:
Dr Bartholomew had serious behavioural management issues, unrealistic expectations of Indigenous students, and had agreed with this assessment.
For one year, DET has failed to provide a single specific example or written evidence, so I have not been able to refute these charges. How is this possible? I challenge DET to show me in writing where I had agreed to this assessment! Supposedly this happened at the same meeting that my wife also agreed that she was an unsuitable remote teacher (18 March 2008). If we had agreed, why did we apply for numerous remote jobs just one week later? If we had agreed, why did another person at this meeting, our Group principal, Peter Jenkins, write us references to teach at one of the most challenging remote schools in Australia (Wadeye) after we left Alekarenge school? How is it that Mr Jenkins – who oversaw Alekarenge School – was not informed that DET had deemed Zalina unfit to teach in any remote Territory school, and I had behavioural management issues so serious that I should not be allowed to teach Aboriginal children in remote schools? Indeed, at this meeting, a DET executive insisted that my wife and I leave the school but promised to transfer us -- explicitly telling us not to look for work and that they would personally take care of everything. The following week, just before our work visas were expiring, we were told: 'What transfer? I never promised you a transfer.'
DET implies in writing that our Group Principal had to discuss with me on numerous occasions, my behavioural management deficiencies. This is not true. We challenge DET to produce written evidence. Not only did this never happen, Mr Jenkins, upon learning of my serious behavioural management concerns at the school, agreed with them and acted to institute a conventional behavioural management program.
In addition, DET reports that Mr Fowler claims that my behaviour management and discipline strategies were causing students not to attend school. This is a serious charge. If this is so, why is there nothing in writing informing me of this? Since DET refuses to elaborate and allow me to clear my name and that of my wife, we are publicly asking Mr Fowler to respond to our questions. Perhaps Mr Fowler is unaware that DET is making these claims in his name, so we are informing him now and giving him the opportunity to respond and we'll even publish his response – unedited for all to see. Mr Fowler claims that I had exceptionally high and unrealistic expectations regarding student performance and outcomes at the school. How can he conclude this without having ever observed me? I challenge Mr Fowler to produce the relevant observation record and why I wasn’t informed in writing? Furthermore, Mr Fowler never saw my outcomes as he abruptly left the school before they were submitted. Again, where is the written evidence informing me of this? DET says Mr Fowler claims that he sought the assistance of the Group Principal about the abovementioned performance issues – and that Mr Jenkins discussed them with me. I challenge Mr Fowler to produce written evidence of my being informed of this by Mr Jenkins – a man who we have the greatest respect for. This is not intended to defame Darrell Fowler, but since the Education Department has not provided a single specific example, I cannot refute these claims. What behaviour management and discipline strategies? What unrealistic expectations? What student performance and outcomes? After over one year, why hasn't DET been able to produce a single specific charge or document to support these claims?
I have taught at seven previous schools and three universities without ever having had a single performance issue or complaint of any kind. Yet, if I now apply for a teaching job and someone asks me on an application or during an interview if I have ever had competency issues, I am forced to answer yes, without ever having had the opportunity to refute these charges as not one specific example has been cited and there’s nothing in writing – for an entire year. How is this fair?
Even if I were to answer ‘no’ as I know these claims are not true (which I wouldn’t because I would not lie on an application form or in an interview), these charges would hang over me like a black cloud as I would work in fear for the rest of my career that someone may learn of these charges – or the information could be sent anonymously to the school, and I would face dismissal for lying on an application or during an interview. The only way to protect our careers is to make this information public and call for a federal investigation.
Is this the Education Department’s way to keep us silent, thinking that we will quietly fade away, least people may hear of the competency and performance claims against us? What plausible explanation could there be for DET refusing to answer these charges after one full year, knowing that it can damage our careers? This is our livelihood and we have invested years of our lives to obtain teaching degrees. If this is the price we pay for keeping our promise to the Indigenous community of Ali-Curung to get answers and for ensuring that the our students were safe while under our duty of care, so be it. Nothing is more important than the health and welfare of our students – be them black or white.
Character Assassination in the Media
It is common knowledge that some employers routinely conduct Google searches of prospective employees as a background check. Schools are particularly careful about who they hire as they will be working with students. In my case, as a school teacher, any employer typing in the words “Robert Bartholomew” and “Education” will get the article, “Whistleblower Loses Job” that appeared in The Weekend Australian, 19-20 April 2008. Does it not unfairly impede my potential to get another job when an unnamed DET spokesman implies in the country’s national newspaper that I have character issues or am dishonest? Here is what journalist Natasha Robinson wrote:
“It was the discovery of a 2005 report that identified an asbestos risk to children and teachers within the playground and inside the school that particularly alarmed the community. According to Dr Bartholomew, the asbestos report and all of its recommendations were ignored by the Education Department. This has been strenuously denied by the department, which said all of the recommendations had been implemented.
The NT Education Department has been unable to confirm that any of the recommendations were implemented as key documents are missing, and the relevant information about asbestos at Alekarenge School has been wiped from the government computer system. We are not out to defame DET by raising this matter publicly; we have no choice but to do so to protect our teaching careers. Remember, we informed both the former DET CEO Margaret Banks and Education Minister Marion Scrymgour of serious health and saftey issues at the school, and they never bothered to look at our evidence including witnesses and documents. Less than a week after contacting Marion Scrymgour and asking her to investigate health issues at the school, and even before an investigation could be undertaken, we learned that the Education Department had written a letter to Immigration. Here is what an Immigration officer wrote to us:
“I have received notification today (15 April 2008) from Sheila Day of the Department of Education that they won't be offering you any teaching placement within the DEET.”
Question for Sheila Day:
my wife and I want to know who directed you to write this letter? Did you know that at nearly the same time, DET HR was pretending to hire me at Sanderson Middle School? Since DET won't tell us, could you clairfy this issue and we will publish it unedited on this website.
Question for Paul Henderson, then NT Chief Minister:
On 9 July 2009, you proclaimed: “Delivering quality education for students across the Territory is the highest priority of this Government – and what needs to be done, will be done.”
How can this happen so long as DET punishes teachers who attempt to maintain minimal standards of health, safety and education – standards that they have a duty to uphold? The proof lies in deeds not words. Our treatment by DET illustrates that the system is incapable of self-correction, requiring nothing less than a federal investigation from outside the Territory.
This mess may not have happened on the watch of Gary Barnes or Paul Henderson, but they are undoubtedly aware of it and have failed to clean it up.