Thursday 22 August 2019

At least 25 more cases in the pipeline after this milestone event in Irish education

Stock photo
Stock photo
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

It will be several weeks before we have the verdict in the first fitness-to-teach case in Ireland. Whatever the outcome, yesterday's hearing was a milestone event.

For the first time, the teaching profession sat to hear evidence and adjudicate on what is deemed a legitimate complaint, or complaints, against a colleague.

Fitness-to-teach is not about punishing teachers - although the sanctions do include the removal or suspension of a teacher from the Teaching Council register, and with that goes the opportunity to work in a State-funded school.

The new provision is about ensuring that standards are maintained in the profession. In so doing, the aim is to ensure that children get the education they deserve and are not subject to any misconduct on a teacher's part.

Lesser sanctions include an admonishment.

Anyone can make a complaint, although the Teaching Council would expect that internal school processes are exhausted before any such complaint lands on its desk.

The council will eliminate anything it considers vexatious or frivolous and the remainder then continue through various stages, with some complaints going all the way to a hearing.

At the end of the process, the panel appointed from the ranks of the council's disciplinary committee, which always has a majority of teachers, will decide on the fate of the teacher.

After yesterday's hearing, it is now up to the three-person panel, on which the 'lay' representative was Áine Lynch, director of the National Parents Council Primary, to come to a conclusion.

The teacher in question did not turn up, nor was she represented.

The panel heard direct evidence from the five fifth-class pupils, who allegedly had their mouths taped, either by the teacher or under instruction from her, because they were "messing". It also heard from the principal, who acted immediately and said she no longer required the teacher's services.

Although the teacher had engaged with the process up to about the middle of September, when there was a preliminary hearing, in more recent weeks the inquiry team had encountered difficulty in maintaining contact with her.

She sent the inquiry team details of her medical condition and said that holding a public hearing would further compromise her health.

In correspondence with the inquiry, the teacher described the allegations as "untrue" "unfounded" and "historic".

She also claimed that there was a bias against her and challenged the right of the council to hold an oral hearing.

More cases are in the pipeline, with about 25 currently under consideration by the Teaching Council.

Irish Independent

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