Thursday 27 October 2016

'Fitness to teach' probes will improve educators - we're not out to punish them

Tomás Ó Ruairc

Published 25/07/2016 | 02:30

Minister for Education and Skills Richard Bruton Photo: Tony Gavin
Minister for Education and Skills Richard Bruton Photo: Tony Gavin

The announcement by the Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton, that the Teaching Council will be able to investigate 'fitness to teach' complaints against registered teachers from today is very significant for the profession of teaching - and the wider public.

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Under the new 'fitness to teach' complaints process, a complaint relating to professional matters can be made against a registered teacher to the Council. An investigatory process will then take place to establish if the complaint should be the subject of a disciplinary hearing.

The commencement of the 'fitness to teach' complaints process marks an important milestone on the journey of enhanced teaching and learning that the profession is leading through the Teaching Council.

It forms another part of a standards framework for teaching that the Council has been building over the last decade, including a fully qualified teaching profession; a Code of Professional Conduct; standards for registration as a teacher; accreditation of programmes to qualify as a teacher (e.g. B Ed and Professional Master in Education); induction and teachers' learning (Continuing Professional Development).

Teaching impacts on the lives of every single person in our society in a way that no other profession does. That's why professional standards matter so much and why it's vital that a formal mechanism exists to allow for the investigation of complaints.

People become teachers for the best of reasons. However, a small number of teachers experience professional difficulties from time to time.

There can be any number of reasons for this. In many cases, these difficulties are not long-term and can be addressed. What is important is that appropriate action is taken and the quality of teaching is improved.

The 'fitness to teach' complaints process, therefore, is about improving teaching, not punishing teachers. The legislation has provided for a number of options where findings have been made against a teacher - ranging from advising, admonishing or censuring the teacher to requiring the teacher to comply with conditions as part of their registration (for example, attending a professional learning programme). In the most serious cases, the sanction of suspension or removal from the register will be available to the Council's disciplinary panels, which means the teacher cannot teach in a State-funded teaching position. These provisions are in line with those of other regulators such as the Medical Council and the Nursing and Midwifery Board.

The Council is obliged to give due consideration to local school procedures when considering a complaint. The Council's investigating committee will normally look to see if the issue has been dealt with in the school before it decides on its own course of action.

If these processes are going to work as intended, teachers and parents should be open to honest and constructive conversations with each other, based on mutual respect, where they have concerns about the quality of their children's learning.

Processes of this nature are rooted in the principle that the closer to the site of action that the issue is resolved, the better for all concerned.

In serious cases, this may be neither feasible nor appropriate, and the Council's 'fitness to teach' role is designed to deal with such cases. In exceptional cases - for example, if the matter relates to child protection - the matter should be brought to the attention of the Council without delay, in parallel with following the guidance in the school's child protection policy.

The Council's work is about enhancing the quality of teaching and learning through collaboration. The new 'fitness to teach' procedures give the profession the opportunity to show the public that through a robust, transparent and fair complaints process they can continue to be trusted with the position of professional leadership that society has placed in them through the establishment of the Teaching Council.

Equally, parents, students and the wider public need to make full use of all the pathways available to them to resolve the genuine concerns that may arise from time to time.

For its part, the Council will ensure that the 'fitness to teach' complaints process will be fair and balanced for all involved - those who make complaints, and teachers against whom complaints are made. Given the progress that teachers and other stakeholders have made in enhancing professional standards through the Teaching Council, we should all approach the 'fitness to teach' process in the same responsible spirit.

The Teaching Council has developed a series of information leaflets in plain English that explain the practical aspects of the 'fitness to teach' complaints process, for teachers, employers and members of the public. These are available for download from

Tomás Ó Ruairc is director of the Teaching Council

Irish Independent

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