03 March 2021


The ABC reports that Neil Lennie (age 72 and characterised as an outstanding teacher) has pleaded guilty in Victoria's County Court to four deception charges after 'swindling' some of the state's leading schools into thinking that he was a qualified teacher. He taught at Mount Scopus Memorial College, Haileybury College and Caulfield Grammar School between 1976 and 2000 before becoming headmaster at Caulfield Grammar. 

"All of the schools now say they would not have employed Mr Lennie had they known". 

Lennie's identity crime began in 1976, when he applied for a teaching job at Mount Scopus using his father's registration number on the application and falsely claiming a degree from RMIT alongside experience as a teacher at a number of public schools.

The ABC somewhat dourly comments "had the school taken a closer look at his claims, they would have found that Mr Lennie would have been just 16 when he claimed to have his first teaching job". 

 Lennie moved on to Haileybury College as the director of music after 12 years, this time claiming a degree from the University of Melbourne. In 1988 he moved to Caulfield Grammar School. He moved to Overnewton Anglican Community College in 1997 and at the time of his arrest, Lennie was running the Imperial College of Melbourne – a private tutoring school

The deception was uncovered in 2008, when the Victorian Institute of Teaching uncovered discrepancies in his records and asked for evidence of his qualifications. The institute charged him and took him to court where he was convicted and fined. The case was then referred to Victoria Police. 

At various times he had claimed a teaching certificate from the Melbourne Teaching College, a Bachelor of Education from the University of Melbourne, a Bachelor of Applied Science from the University of Melbourne and RMIT, and an Associate Diploma of Business from Box Hill TAFE. He reportedly also claimed to be Victoria’s Chief Examiner in Physics, Head of the Science Teachers’ Association, and a Life Member of the Australian College of Educators.

In DPP v Lennie [2021] VCC 268 Riddell J states 

Neil Stuart Lennie in 1976, after six years of valid teaching as an undergraduate student, you spun a lie, claiming qualifications you did not possess. You did so in an application to obtain a job in an independent College as a teacher. Having obtained that role you then set about performing it, and doing so exceptionally well. Ironically, it was likely your excellent performance which made that lie very difficult to un-tell, the web spun difficult to untangle. 

You went on three more times to claim qualifications you did not possess in the process of securing teaching roles at highly respected secondary colleges in Melbourne. You were entrusted to the position of Deputy Headmaster, and employed as Headmaster, and were duly remunerated for your services to each of those institutions. You accept by your pleas of guilty to four charges of Obtaining a Financial Advantage by Deception, that you would not have been employed by those four schools if they had known the falsity of your claimed qualifications. Deception in the context of obtaining employment on a false premise is a serious matter. Employers rely on trust and honesty. In most cases of deception in the context of employment there is a risk to consumers, to clients or patients or to other staff, and usually a significant loss occasioned to those deceived. There is a need to generally deter anyone from perpetuating such an untruth to obtain a financial advantage at the expense of others. 

However, yours is an unusual case in the context of deception cases. References written at the time and the bundle of references provided on your behalf from your former students – now highly qualified professionals – speak of you with one voice, as one of the most outstanding and influential teachers they were fortunate to have. Similarly the references from your former colleagues talk of an excellent teacher and administrator, a natural leader and person respected by students, parents and staff, dedicated to the betterment of the education in this State. The extraordinary nature of this case therefore lies in the fact that, not only has there been no loss caused to any of the schools involved, but you in fact enhanced the lives of persons in each of those school communities through your dedication to your chosen career. I can find no other case of obtaining financial advantage by deception where that can be said. As such, this presents as a unique sentencing task. 

Summary of Offending 

To summarise the offending. Neil Lennie, you have pleaded guilty to four charges of Obtaining a Financial Advantage by Deception[2]. Those four charges relate to your appointment as a teacher to four secondary schools between 1976 and 2000. You obtained those appointments in part by falsely representing that you were a registered teacher, and claimed that you had various tertiary qualifications. It is apparent that none of those institutions checked your qualifications, and you in turn accepted each position, knowing the falsity of that information. 

Before turning to the detail of each charge, and in order to understand your offending and to place it in context, I will turn to your personal background. 

You are now 72 years of age. You were born in May 1948, the fourth son of two teachers. Your early years were spent in a mission-like environment in Bahrain where your parents worked as educators. Your family enjoyed a wide circle of friends in an ex-patriot community. Your parents were loving and brought you up with a strong emphasis on their Christian faith. You attended an ex-patriate school in Bahrain for the early years of primary school. You were naturally academic, acquiring literacy and numeracy easily and progressing well. 

At age nine you were sent to Haileybury College in Melbourne as a boarder, commencing in Grade 6. You later repeated Grade 6 due to your young age, however your academic proficiency saw you promoted at the end of Form 2, effectively skipping Form 3. You first completed your final year of school at age 15. Again, you were considered too young to progress, and so you repeated Matriculation despite having obtained excellent results. In 1965 you formally Matriculated from Haileybury College. Your results were good enough to see you offered a place at the University of Melbourne in a Bachelor of Science Degree course. 

For all your successes at secondary school, tertiary study it seems was not for you. In your first year, you passed one subject and failed others resulting in your suspension from that course. You did not undertake or complete any further study at the University of Melbourne. Nor were you conferred any qualification from the University of Melbourne. 

In 1967, 1968 and 1971 you were enrolled in an Associateship Diploma of Mathematics at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (“RMIT”), a 3-year full-time course. You completed only six subjects over that time. In 1972 and 1975 you were enrolled in a Bachelor of Applied Science (Mathematics) at RMIT but did not complete any subjects. You have not been conferred any qualification from RMIT. 

You have never been validly registered as a teacher in Victoria. No evidence could be found of you obtaining any qualifications that might otherwise have made you potentially eligible for registration or employment as a teacher in Victoria. 

During the period when you were enrolled at RMIT in the late 1960s, recruiters from the Victorian Education Department approached undergraduate students spruiking for any person interested in taking up emergency teaching positions. You say at that time the Department was desperate for teachers in State High Schools, often in needy areas of metropolitan Melbourne. Those recruiters were aware that their target audience were undergraduate students who had not completed any degree, but qualifications were not required. 

Your brother too had a similar experience. While he was waiting to turn 21 so that he could take up a commission in the RAAF, he was appointed as a temporary teacher at Bayswater High School. Despite having failed Pure Mathematics at University he was asked to teach Form 2 maths, teaching the brightest grade and a remedial class. He also names several of his teachers during his time at Haileybury College, including a Vice Principal, who did not have any teaching qualifications. 

Parallels from that era can be seen even in the Law, where persons who acted as Clerks of Courts could progress to the position of Magistrate, despite having no legal qualifications. One such man became Chief Magistrate of Victoria. 

You put your hand up straight away. As a result you took up a position at Newlands High School in Coburg where you remained for a year. That was followed by teaching at Lakeside High School in Reservoir and then at Norwood College in Ringwood, for a total of six years teaching. ... 

In March 1976 at age 27, you applied for a teaching position at Mount Scopus Memorial College in Burwood (“Mt Scopus”). In your application, you used your father’s teaching registration number and stated that you had obtained a Trained Secondary Teacher’s Certificate from Melbourne Teachers’ College in 1968, and a Bachelor of Applied Science from RMIT in 1969. 

You also told a half-truth about your teaching experience, stating that you worked at Newlands High in 1964, at Lakeside High in 1965 and at Norwood High School between 1966 and 1975 as a qualified teacher. It was a rather unsophisticated lie in that you would have been 16 years old in 1964, and you did not matriculate until 1965. No one apparently picked up the obvious anomalies. 

On the basis of your application, and what you describe as a perfunctory interview, you were offered a teaching appointment. You were subsequently employed at Mount Scopus and remained there from 22 March 1976 to 31 January 1988. 

You have pleaded guilty to obtaining financial advantage by deception in relation to your work at Mount Scopus. That is, you accept that Mount Scopus would not have employed you had it been aware that you did not have the qualifications you falsely claimed. 

It seems you did make an attempt to return to study during the period you were working full time at Mt Scopus. In 1979 you enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts (Humanities) Degree at Deakin University. This was a 3-year full-time course normally involving four units per semester. You enrolled in one subject in each of your first two semesters. You did not pass either or complete any further studies at Deakin University and were not conferred any degree or qualification from Deakin university. 

You were married with a child, teaching full time. You told Clinical and Forensic Psychologist Patrick Newton that studying was difficult so you let the course drop. “Honestly I just couldn’t see the point. / never went back [to that course], but I kept improving my skills because I felt I had a calling to teach and I wanted to be true to my vocation.” 

In that assessment you were correct. Your natural talent for teaching is reflected in your rise through the ranks at Mount Scopus, a highly regarded school with approximately 1200 students, including 200 in Year 12, and with approximately 120 teaching staff at the Burwood campus. ... From 1 February 1986 you were promoted to the position of Deputy Headmaster for Student Services. 

According to the Summary of Prosecution Opening for your 12 years of service to Mt Scopus you were paid $197,016. ... 

On 1 December 1987 you applied to Haileybury College in Keysborough for the position of Director of Music. In your application, you attached a resumé falsely asserting you had been conferred a number of qualifications from the University of Melbourne namely, a Bachelor of Applied Science (History and Philosophy of Science, Mathematics and Computer Science) in 1969; a Trained Secondary Teacher’s Certificate (Mathematics, Music and Drama) in 1970; and a Bachelor of Education (Administration) in 1975. 

The Prosecution Opening which you accept, states that on the basis of your application you were offered a teaching appointment at Haileybury College. It is difficult to imagine that the calibre of your work at Mount Scopus did not play a significant part in your appointment. In any event, you accepted the position of Director of Music on 22 December 1987. You were employed from 1 January 1988 to 30 March 1988. For your three months of service you obtained remuneration of about $6,189.20. 

Your plea of guilty is on the basis that Haileybury College would not have employed you had it been aware that you did not have the qualifications you falsely claimed. ... 

On 25 November 1987 you had also applied to Caulfield Grammar School for the position of Headmaster at the school’s Caulfield campus. In your application, you attached the same resumé. 

You were offered the position of Headmaster of Caulfield Grammar which was formally confirmed on 2 February 1988. You commenced in your role at the start of Term 2 in 1988, after giving notice at Haileybury College. At that time Caulfield Grammar had approximately 800 students at its Caulfield Campus, and 80 staff. 

You continued as Headmaster of Caulfield Grammar until 31 December 1993. For your six years in that role you obtained remuneration of about $383,882. 

You have pleaded guilty to obtaining that financial advantage by deception, namely you accept that Caulfield Grammar School would not have employed you had it been aware that you did not have the qualifications you falsely claimed. ... 

After leaving your position at Caulfield Grammar, you stepped out of classroom teaching, in essence continuing in the areas of administration and management as you had done in your roles as Deputy Headmaster and Headmaster, to commence work as a consultant in the field of education. In 1994 it seems you again tried tertiary education, enrolling in an Associate Diploma of Business (Accounting) course at Box Hill College of TAFE. You withdrew from the majority of units and did not complete the diploma. You have not been conferred any qualification from that TAFE. 

Sometime around 1996, a former colleague of yours, Mrs Lesley Bell, was appointed Principal of the reasonably new Overnewton Anglican Community College (“Overnewton College”). Late in that year she approached you and invited you to apply for the position of Deputy Principal. On 13 January 1997 you commenced in that role at the Keilor Campus of Overnewton College. You did not officially apply for the position until 20 March 1997, later signing an employment agreement on 27 April 1997. 

In the resumé you provided in support of your application, you falsely asserted you had a Bachelor of Applied Science (Mathematics, Computer Science, History and Philosophy of Science) from the University of Melbourne; a Bachelor of Education (Administration/Measurement) from Monash University; a Master of Arts (History and Philosophy of Science) from the University of Melbourne; and an Associate Diploma of Business (Accounting) from Box Hill College of TAFE. 

You remained employed as Deputy Principal of Overnewton College until May 2000. For your services over four years you were paid $256,479.78. You have pleaded guilty to obtaining a financial advantage by deception, namely by your plea you accept that Overnewton College would not have employed you in your role had it been aware that you did not have the qualifications you falsely claimed. 

The Prosecution opening on the plea recites that the financial advantage obtained by you by way of your wages over those 24 years was approximately $843,567. 

Discovery of offending 

It seems your offending was uncovered when changes were made to the governing body for teachers. On 1 January 2003 you were issued with a new teacher registration number by the new governing body the Victorian Institute of Teaching (“VIT”). 

On 22 May 2007 the VIT communicated the requirement of all teachers to renew their registration every five years. On 14 March 2008 officers at the VIT identified discrepancies in your records and requested evidence of your birth name and qualifications. These were not provided. On 28 May 2009 you withdrew your application to renew your recorded teacher’s registration. As a result, the registration was cancelled. 

In 2015, further anomalies were detected and on 10 November 2015 the VIT referred your non-registration and possible offending to Victoria Police for investigation. 

In 2019, police investigators conducted an investigation and in May 2019 Detectives executed a search warrant at your home, seizing various records concerning your employment. Charges were issued in May 2020.