Saturday 17 August 2019

Teachers face being struck off in 'fitness to practise' hearings

Teachers will be subject to the first fitness to practise-style hearings in the new year. (picture posed)
Teachers will be subject to the first fitness to practise-style hearings in the new year. (picture posed)
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Teachers will be subject to the first fitness to practise-style hearings in the new year.

A number of teachers have already been the subject of complaints to their own professional standards body, under legislation enacted last summer.

For the first time, there is a law allowing the Teaching Council to investigate allegations of underperformance and serious misconduct by members of the profession.

Where there were grounds for complaint, a teacher would face a public disciplinary hearing similar to those conducted for doctors and nurses.

In extreme cases, teachers could be 'struck off' the professional register, losing their licence to work in a State-funded position in Ireland.

The disciplinary panel could also apply lesser penalties, such as suspension, admonishment or an offer of support to improve performance.

Since the law was brought in last July, Teaching Council director Tomás Ó Ruairc said it had received a "small number of complaints".

As with other Irish regulators, the investigating committee stage of the process is conducted completely in private. As well as the complaints received since July, the council is also processing a number of historic complaints.

The first public hearing of a complaint is expected to take place later next year.

If Ireland follows the pattern established in Scotland and Wales, which have had similar legislation for many years, about 30 teachers could face public hearings each year.

Last year, 18pc of the cases heard by the Education Workforce Council (EWC) in Wales involved inappropriate relationships between teachers and students.

Any person may apply to the Teaching Council for an inquiry into a teacher's fitness to practice, where there are serious grounds for concern.

They would be expected to have exhausted school grievance procedures before bringing a complaint to the council.

Under the procedures, once a complaint is made to the council, it appoints an investigation committee to decide whether it merits being put forward to a disciplinary hearing.

Complaints that are considered frivolous or vexatious would not progress to a formal hearing. The disciplinary committee would establish a panel, made up mainly of teachers, to conduct the hearings.

Parents and, in some cases, pupils may be called as witnesses - although children's evidence would be given in private.

There are about 93,000 teachers currently on the Teaching Council register, and they must be on that to get a job in a State-funded position.

The fitness to teach provisions are being introduced as a quality assurance measure and a way of showing the public that the profession takes responsibility for maintaining high standards.

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News