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Wednesday 21 February 2018

How bad teachers now face being struck off

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Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Up to 30 teachers a year are expected to face public disciplinary hearings getting under way in Ireland for the first time.

The inquiries, similar to those conducted for doctors and nurses, will investigate cases of underperformance and serious misconduct.

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

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

The first "fitness to teach" hearings are expected to take place early next year.

The hearings were envisaged in legislation that led to the establishment of the Teaching Council a decade ago.

Education Minister Richard Bruton Photo: Niall Carson
Education Minister Richard Bruton Photo: Niall Carson

However, the legal order giving effect to this provision comes into effect today, after being signed off by Education Minister Richard Bruton.

Hearings will be conducted by a panel appointed by the Teaching Council, which is the professional standards body.

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

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

Mr Bruton said the process would affirm confidence in the teaching profession in the long run.

"Part of being a member of any modern profession is that the public can be assured that when these high professional standards are not upheld, it is possible for a citizen to seek redress by bringing their complaint forward and see it dealt with in a proper way," he said.

The minister said that teachers would also be protected under the new arrangements - sanctions could be appealed to the High Court.

Teaching Council director Tomas O'Ruairc told the Irish Independent that the council had a number of complaints in hand and they would now deal with these.

Mr O'Ruairc said that, judging by the experience in Scotland and Wales, up to 30 cases a year could go to hearing.

Under the new procedures, once a complaint is made to the Teaching Council, it will appoint an Investigation Committee to decide whether it merits being put forward to a Disciplinary Committee.

Complaints that are considered frivolous or vexatious will not progress to a formal hearing. The Disciplinary Committee will establish a panel, made up mainly of teachers, to conduct the hearings. The Disciplinary Committee will have its own legal advice.

Teachers have to be registered with the Teaching Council to work in State-funded positions. There are about 91,000 currently on the register.

Irish Independent

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