Neil Lennie’s students considered him the best teacher they had. The only problem, he was lying and never actually qualified to teach.
The university dropout claimed various degrees he never obtained and used his father’s legitimate teacher registration over a 24-year career between 1976 and 2000.
This spanned Victoria’s Mount Scopus Memorial College, Haileybury College and Overnewton Anglican Community College. He also spent six years as principal of Caulfield Grammar School over the 1980s and 1990s.
Now 72, Lennie has admitted in Victoria’s County Court to four counts of obtaining a financial advantage by deception in the form of pay worth $843,567.
Former colleagues and students sang his praises in letters detailed to the court on Wednesday.
Leading infectious diseases expert and inaugural Doherty Institute director, Professor Sharon Lewin AO, recalled Lennie as one of the most outstanding teachers she had.
She credited him with her enduring and lifelong love of science and self-belief in her own capability.
Discrepancies were discovered with Lennie’s records held by the Victorian Institute of Teaching when he went to renew his registration. It was cancelled in 2009.
The institute in 2014 charged him over another role as headmaster at different school, again without qualification.
He was fined $8000 and in 2015 the institute referred him to police before criminal charges were laid in May 2020.
Notwithstanding his lies, Ian Hill QC said Lennie was an outstanding teacher who earned the respect of students and staff.
“We all remember that one teacher who is exceptional, and he’s remembered by many,” the barrister said.
Mr Hill also said Lennie was a teacher ahead of his time in encouraging girls to pursue mathematics and science.
He regarded them “not for their sex but for their talent,” Mr Hill said.
Lennie began his teaching career legitimately in the 1960s at various Melbourne state schools when formal qualifications were not required to teach, Mr Hill said.
The barrister added Lennie felt he’d found his calling and was driven by a misguided sense of vocation and Christian ideals instead of greed.
Lennie was sorry for lying, felt he’d been publicly disgraced and hoped “anyone I’ve harmed feels justice has been done”, the court was told.