VAGO – Department of Education & Training: Strategic Planning

The Auditor-General provides assurance to
Parliament on the accountability and performance of the Victorian Public Sector.
The Auditor-General conducts financial audits and performance audits, and reports
on the results of these audits to Parliament.
On 21 October 2015, the Auditor-General tabled his performance audit report,
Department of Education &Training: Strategic Planning. The impetus for this audit was the Department of Education & Training’s, or DET’s, continuous poor performance demonstrated in 27 audits of DET from 2009–2014.
These audits suggested that there were fundamental problems with DET’s
governance, leadership and planning activities. This audit found that there are significant
weaknesses with DET’s governance and leadership, and the way it implements its
plans and learns from its actions. DET is currently working towards addressing
its leadership, governance and structural failings. This work shows promise
but in order to succeed it will require DET’s leaders to adopt a new and positive
culture. In 2014–15 DET managed a budget of $12 065.6
million, and owned or operated 1528 government schools.
DET’s 2014–18 Strategic Plan presents data showing that its performance for 15 of
its 26, or 57.7 per cent, of its long-term outcome indicators has deteriorated or
shown no significant change over recent years. This is consistent across all four of
DET’s long-term outcomes of achievement, engagement, wellbeing and
productivity. Between 2009 to 2014, VAGO undertook 27 audits
that identified five areas in which DET has continually underperformed:
• information management • guidelines, standards and performance
indicators • integrated services
• oversight and monitoring, and • consistent support to education providers. This audit examined how effectively DET plans
to achieve its objectives. To do this we assessed whether:
• DET has an effective planning framework which supports the development of
strategic and operational plans • DET’s plans are effectively implemented
• And whether planning is effectively monitored to assess the achievement of
outcomes and objectives. The focus of the audit was on DET’s strategic
planning, and the operational plans and other work plan actions that support this.
This includes business plans within DET’s business units and regions. Activities
since 2009–10 were included. Good governance requires strong leadership,
a culture of communication, and cohesive and collaborative work practices.
Despite a reliance on committees, DET has poor oversight of its committees’
functions, responsibilities and performance. This has led to unclear decision making
and diffused accountability. Decisions made by leadership and committees
are not clearly and consistently communicated and there is no shared understanding
of the decision-making framework across DET. Accountability is diminished as work plan
actions do not align with responsible executive officer performance development
plans, even though they are required to do so. The governance framework that supports DET’s
strategic planning is deficient. It lacks strong leadership, has a poor culture
of communication and is siloed. This weakens DET’s capacity to make informed
strategic decisions, implement work plan actions successfully and monitor performance.
DET has known about its governance weaknesses since 2011 but has only taken
limited action to address them until 2015. A strategic planning framework outlines an
organisation’s direction. To achieve its objectives, an agency requires effective implementation
of its actions. We found that DET’s strategic planning framework
is generally sound. However, there are weaknesses in the application of
the framework. DET’s strategic decision-making processes
are not transparent, and resources and budgets of divisional and group plans are
only partially aligned. Further, implementation of work plan actions
lack consistent planning and oversight. Key elements of good implementation planning
are often missing as DET does not have a consistent format upon which it creates
plans or a project management framework to ensure work plan actions are
adequately implemented and overseen. Weaknesses in the application of DET’s planning
framework have resulted in unclear roles and responsibilities for work
plan actions, and have reduced accountability for the achievement of strategic
priorities. This increases the risk of unreasonable delays, increased costs and failure
to deliver products and services. Monitoring and evaluating performance provides
crucial information about an agency’s capabilities, use of resources and
achievement of outcomes. We found that DET’s evaluation governance
structure is unnecessarily complex, and decision-making and accountability roles
are difficult to determine. While work plan actions are evaluated, findings are not
centrally aggregated to inform strategic planning. DET has a sound performance measurement framework,
however, a lack of targets weakens its value.
DET’s unnecessarily complicated evaluation structure limits its ability to plan to
meet its strategic priorities and efficiently allocate resources. We made six recommendations that DET:
• reduces or streamlines its committee structure • modifies the executive officer performance
and development process • introduces greater transparency around
decision-making processes into its corporate management framework
• introduces a planning implementation framework that reflects better practice And that DET:
• develops targets for the Education and Training Outcomes Framework, where
applicable • and, establishes a central repository
for strategic program evaluations and applies the lessons learned from evaluations
to current and future programs. DET has accepted all recommendations and has
provided a detailed outline of how it intends to address each recommendation
and by when it intends to achieve these actions. This is contained in Appendix A of
the report. The Auditor-General will monitor this progress over time. To summarise, our key messages from the audit
are that: • DET is working towards addressing governance
failings. In order to succeed it will require leaders to adopt a new and positive
culture. • DET requires greater transparency in its
decision-making processes and to implement best practice on project planning,
monitoring and oversight. • And, DET needs to develop targets for
its Outcomes Framework and to develop a central repository for strategic program
evaluations to apply learnings to current and future programs. Our overall message is that the achievement
of DET’s outcomes is significantly undermined by ineffective department-wide
governance and poor implementation of plans. Relevant audits are listed on the next three
slides. All our reports are available on our website.
If you have any questions about this or other reports, or if you have anything else
you would like to discuss with us including ideas for future audit topics, please call
us on 03 8601 7000 or contact us via our website.

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