Inquiries may see educators lose right to teach

Powers for misbehaving and bad teachers to face inquiries and possibly lose the right to teach come into effect from today — 15 years after the relevant law first passed.

By commencing the fitness-to-teach provisions of law governing the Teaching Council, Education Minister Richard Bruton gives it authority to investigate complaints and conduct inquiries against any of the 93,000 people on its register.

Like its counterparts in the Medical Council, it can hold these inquiries in public, and it will have powers to issue sanctions that include the removal of a teacher from its register. This would remove a person’s ability to teach in State-funded primary or second-level schools, and a teacher could also be suspended for up to two years as a result of a fitness-to-teach inquiry.

The grounds on which complaints can be brought by a parent, school, another teacher, or member of the public are varied. They include medical fitness, or professional misconduct and poor professional performance, on which standards have been defined by the council since its establishment a decade ago.

The first Teaching Council Act was passed in 2001, but the main delay in bringing fitness-to-teach provisions into effect was the need to ensure all working teachers were on the council’s register. This came into effect almost three years ago and further amendments to the Act were finalised a year ago.

While it will be open to anyone to initiate a complaint, the Teaching Council will generally not investigate whether it should hold an inquiry unless school complaint or grievance procedures have already been exhausted. There may be exceptions where a crime has been committed or where children are considered to be at risk, or possible risk, of harm.

School grievance procedures allowed under the 1998 Education Act have yet to be prescribed by Mr Bruton. He said last week that the Government will support a bill proposed by fellow Fine Gael TD Jim Daly to improve information and complaint procedures for parents relating to schools and boards of management.

Mr Bruton said the introduction of the fitness-to-teach measures will be good for the profession.

“Part of being a member of any modern profession is that the public can be assured that when these high professional standards are not upheld, it is possible for a citizen to seek redress by bringing their complaint forward and see it dealt with in a proper way,” he said.

“Fitness-to-teach will allow parents and others who have a concern about a registered teacher to bring that concern to the Teaching Council for adjudication for the first time.

“This will give parents confidence that the high quality and standards of the teaching profession will be maintained.”

Teaching Council director Tomás Ó Ruairc said the complaints process is about improving teaching rather than punishing teachers.

“The fitness-to-teach process will be about reassuring the public and the profession as to the quality of teaching and learning that all learners can expect in our schools,” he said.

The sanctions open to the Teaching Council in the event of a finding against a teacher include placing of restrictions on their continued registration, and requirements to undergo professional development.

Written reprimands can also be made.

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