There has been a lot of commentary about Fitness to Teach since the announcement by the Department of Education and Skills that it will give the Teaching Council a wider range of sanctions which it can apply when dealing with a complaint against a teacher. Understandably, many people are now wondering what Fitness to Teach will mean in practice.
The Teaching Council is the professional standards body for teaching. We work with other stakeholders to maintain and enhance the quality of teaching and learning in our schools. Fitness to Teach will be about reassuring the public and the profession, by dealing with cases where professional misconduct or medical fitness impact on a teacher's ability to teach. It will do this in the cases of teachers who are found to be falling short of the required standard by finding ways of helping them to address difficulties which they may be experiencing in their professional practice. This will be done with the aim of improving the quality of teaching and learning for pupils and teachers alike.
Teachers value the high standards in their profession just as much as the public does. A clear example is the Code of Professional Conduct which the council, including members elected by the profession, approved in 2012. This code is a clear statement of the values and professional standards that inform every aspect of teachers' work. It also constitutes a benchmark for Fitness to Teach investigations.
A small number of teachers do experience professional difficulties from time to time. There could be any number of reasons for this. In most cases, these difficulties are not permanent and can be addressed.
The new sanctions are aimed at allowing the council to deal with complex situations in a nuanced and appropriate manner. If an adverse finding is made by the council, sanctions may include an opportunity for the teacher to improve their professional practice through a structured support or programme.
In very serious circumstances, suspension or removal of a teacher from the register will be available as a sanction.
If Fitness to Teach is to be effective in promoting standards, it must be fair to both the individual who makes a complaint and the teacher against whom a complaint is made.
Fitness to Teach will form one part of a standards framework for teaching that the council has been building for the last seven years, including the Code of Professional Conduct, standards for registration as a teacher, accreditation of programmes of Initial Teacher Education, standards of induction and probation and Continuing Professional Development.
Both teachers and the public should be reassured by this because we all seek to maintain and enhance professional standards in teaching. We in the council look forward to working with members of the profession and our partners in education in fulfilling the reality of this vision.
Tomás Ó Ruairc is director of the Teaching Council.