A former Qld Senior Australian of the Year convicted of fraudulently claiming millions of taxpayers’ dollars for a school plans to find work in education.

The former principal of a top indigenous college plans to again work in education despite being convicted of multi-million dollar fraud.

Jean Illingworth this week pleaded guilty to claiming $3.4m in extra state and commonwealth funding for Djarragun College, near Cairns, by inflating student numbers at the school between 2010 and 2011.

All of the funds went to the school.

On Friday, the one-time Queensland Senior Australian of the Year appeared in the Cairns District Court where she was sentenced to three years’ jail on two fraud charges.

However, the 67-year-old walked free from court as she was eligible for immediate release when pre-sentence custody was taken into account.

Judge Terry Martin said her offending amounted to a gross breach of trust.

“The grant system relies very much on the honesty and integrity of persons in your position,” he said, noting that she had also breached her bail conditions three times.

“If any of your supporters believe that your offending is somehow justified in the interests of looking after the school they would be entirely mistaken.

“Let there be no doubt that you abandoned your fundamentals of honesty and integrity and committed blatant fraud.”

However, Judge Martin also noted the many years Illingworth had spent helping indigenous and disadvantaged students in Australia and Africa, and the fact all of the extra funding went to the school.

“This offending is a major stain on an enviable career of public service,” he said.

“You have lost your employment, your reputation has been badly savaged and you have been and will be further publicly shamed.”

He also said she failed to co-operate with auditors and investigators who began looking into fraud claims at the school in 2011, and also tried to cover up her offending.

Prosecutor Michael Cowan argued Illingworth should receive a custodial sentence as she had cost taxpayers millions that would never be recovered while receiving a $283,000 salary until at least July this year.

Defence lawyer Ken Fleming had argued his client shouldn’t spend anymore time behind bars.

He pointed to her “impressive” work history and said she’d worked up to 15 hours a day for the most part of a decade turning the once dysfunctional Djarragun College into a much admired model of success.

“The school has been an enormous success and principally because of the untiring work of Ms Illingworth,” he said.

Mr Fleming said although she was of retirement age she planned to return to work, although he didn’t specify the type of role.

“If Ms Illingworth is allowed to go free into the community she will be immediately looking to do something in the educational area,” he told Judge Martin.

A police investigation, which began in 2011, revealed hundreds of students who didn’t attend the school for a minimum period and others who had been expelled, were included on census enrolment forms despite not being eligible for funding.

When auditors arrived at the school Illingworth told teachers to fill out blank enrolments forms at random and she also falsified forms herself.

She pleaded guilty to fraud and obtaining financial advantage by deception last Monday – moments before her long-awaited five-week trial was due to begin.

Djarragun College is a private school that has two campuses – north and south of Cairns – and caters mainly to indigenous students from Cape York and the Torres Strait.

The school has since been taken over by Noel Pearson’s Cape York Partnerships organisation and both levels of government have since forgiven the debt for the sake of the students.

Mr Pearson once described her as a true social entrepreneur.