Shocking double life of disgraced fake principal exposed
A fake headmaster has been exposed as a mastermind behind a plan to open a 4000-student, multi-campus elite private school.
Neil Lennie, 72, was convicted last month of four counts of obtaining financial advantage by deception after he was busted for teaching at some of Melbourne's most prestigious schools from 1976 to 2000 without a licence.
An investigation by the Herald Sun can now reveal the staggering extent of his scams, which stretched well beyond his teaching qualification cons at Mount Scopus Memorial and Overnewton colleges, Haileybury College and Caulfield Grammar.
Minutes from a 2019 planning meeting obtained by the Herald Sun reveal Lennie was driving an ambitious bid for a massive new school, which was to be called Imperial Grammar.
Class Act podcast: Listen to episode one below.
At the time of the meeting, Lennie was being investigated by police over criminal offences he ultimately pleaded guilty to, and had admitted to teaching without a licence four years earlier.
A school he had been the foundation principal of - New Generation College, later renamed Melbourne Senior Secondary - had also been shut down in 2015 by the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority over child welfare fears.
An Imperial Grammar website, said to be "under construction", and a LinkedIn page remain visible online.
The schools regulator on Tuesday refused to provide any detail, but on Wednesday night the government said the Imperial Grammar application "did not proceed".
It would give no further details.
The revelations about Lennie's involvement in a proposed new school have raised concerns regarding the oversight of private education in Victoria.
Opposition education spokesman David Hodgett questioned how a man with no teaching qualifications, who was principal of a now-defunct school, went on to launch a tutoring business before planning another private college.
"If people can keep getting away with this for so long, there's got to be something wrong," Mr Hodgett said.
Meeting minutes detail how "Dr Neil Lennie" - who has no doctorate - outlined the vision for "a top 20 school" that would be "highly academic focused" with "no religion classes or sporting classes".
The school, initially slated to open in 2021, planned to provide accommodation services and make students sit entrance tests.
Lennie told the meeting Imperial Grammar would predominantly target local Chinese students as well as "tap into" a sister school in Nanjing in China, and his own private tutoring business, Imperial College in Box Hill.
The Herald Sun understands the VRQA - the education authority responsible for regulating schools - was well aware of the grand plans.
But it is unclear whether the authority knew of Lennie's key role in the project.
A former headmaster of Melbourne Grammar was asked to be the inaugural principal of the venture.
Roy Kelley, who retired as headmaster of the elite South Yarra school in 2019, was approached in his final year but declined a request made by Lennie's business partner, Yana Wu.
Mr Kelley had no dealings or contact with Lennie, and said his involvement was "very brief before I ended the discussions".
There is no suggestion Mr Kelley had any knowledge of Lennie's conduct or his role in the project.
Two months after the planning meeting, detectives from the fraud squad knocked on the front door of Lennie's home and arrested the disgraced principal.
It would be another year before he was charged with four counts of obtaining financial advantage by deception, after he was busted for teaching at Melbourne's most prestigious schools for almost 30 years without one qualification. The crime, prosecutors argued, netted him $850,000 in unentitled pay between 1976 and 2000.
Imperial Grammar was planned in partnership with Ms Wu, with whom Lennie set up the tutoring business in 2015. The proposed new school bore the same emblem and motto as the tutoring college: A Posse Ad Esse, or " from possibility to actuality".
A former colleague of Lennie's said the convicted fraudster's "fingers were all over the application" for the new school.
The VRQA received information in August 2020 raising concerns about Lennie's involvement in the new school plans. But the regulator said it "does not release details of applications for school registrations".
Lennie and his lawyers were contacted for comment but did not respond to questions.
In this six-part podcast series, reporters Ashley Argoon and Genevieve Alison uncover the truth behind Neil Lennie's carefully curated facade which he used to fool his colleagues for decades.
Listen to a new episode each Thursday and Sunday, accompanied by a companion story exposing one of Victoria's biggest frauds.
Originally published as Shocking double life of disgraced fake principal exposed