Friday 15 February 2019

'Fitness to teach' hearings to be held in public

Jan O'Sullivan
Jan O'Sullivan
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Hearings into complaints about serious misconduct and underperformance by teachers will be heard in public, Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan has decided.

Draft legislation paves the way for the first 'Fitness to teach' investigations in Irish education, similar to those conducted by the Medical Council or the nurses' professional body, An Bord Altranais.

And the minister has rejected a recommendation from the Teaching Council that decisions about whether they will be held in public or private should be made on a case-by-case basis.

Ms O'Sullivan received legal advice that the "default" position for such hearings should be that they be either in private or in public - and she is going for a default public option, unless there is very good reason why not, such as child protection.

The 'Fitness to teach' hearings are among a range of measures being introduced to uphold standards in the profession and to ensure the protection of children in schools.

Alongside moves to strengthen the role of the Teaching Council, new teacher vetting arrangements, arising from the National Vetting Bureau Act 2012, are coming.

At the moment, newly- appointed teachers are subject to Garda vetting, but the legislation means that about 36,000 who were in the system before 2006 will be subject to the same scrutiny.

In the past, capacity constraints at the Garda Central Vetting Unit did not allow for teachers appointed pre-2006 to be vetted, but that is no longer an issue.

In the future, gardai will be able to check out any "soft information" that they hold - information other than a criminal conviction - that may be relevant when considering whether an individual poses a threat to children or vulnerable persons.

The measures are provided for in the Teaching Council Amendment Bill, which is expected to be enacted before the summer break.

Once the new law is in place, any person may apply to the Teaching Council for an inquiry into a teacher's fitness to teach, where there are serious grounds for concern.

Generally, the Teaching Council will not investigate a complaint unless existing school procedures have been exhausted.

A hearing committee will have a range of sanctions available to it including expulsion from the teachers' register.

Irish Independent

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