Two out of three unions back public hearings for teachers
PUBLIC disciplinary hearings for teachers have been backed by two of the country's teaching unions.
However, the Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI) has expressed concerns about plans to have under-performing teachers face 'fitness-to-teach' style hearings, and is seeking urgent consultation on the matter.
Legislation being prepared by Education Minister Ruairi Quinn will empower the Teaching Council to hold public hearings which are similar to the Medical Council's fitness-to-practise investigations.
The initiative is aimed at giving parents an opportunity to have complaints about underperforming teachers heard by an independent body instead of by local school management.
A spokeswoman for the Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland (ASTI) said that the body has representatives on the Teaching Council that have been working on these new procedures, and, in principle, it is supportive of them.
She said that there are already procedures in relation to under-performing teachers, which are proving effective.
"It is another layer of accountability. All of the studies show parents have a high level of confidence in teachers," she said. "It will help provide assurance and keep up that confidence level."
However, the ASTI would seek that any process that involves investigating a teacher would be "fair and done in accordance with due process," the spokeswoman added.
Meanwhile, the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) also welcomed the move, stating it would bring transparency and confidence to regulation of the profession.
A spokesman added there may be certain instances where hearings are best held in private, but in other cases the idea of public hearings will help public confidence in the process of self-governing.
However, John MacGabhann, general secretary of the TUI, said that his body wanted discussion on the matter with the minister and the Teaching Council about its concerns.
"We want a highly competent, well-respected teaching profession. In the few cases, where people are not fit for the profession, for whatever reason, either for reasons of serious incompetence or for reasons of serious misconduct, what we want is a system that deals with such cases, but that in dealing with them also provides fair and due process."
Mr MacGabhann said that a teacher who has been through a public hearing and wants to appeal a decision because they feel wrong has been done to them in a disciplinary hearing, must appeal to the High Court.
"So the tariff in terms of the cost for a teacher of attempting to defend his or her professional reputation is extremely expensive," he said.
In addition, he believed it would be unfair if teachers were brought before a public hearing, except in serious cases.
Under the new plans, the disciplinary hearings will be in place by the end of the year,
Where a complaint is upheld, a teacher can be suspended or removed from the Teaching Council register, which means they will not be paid by the Department of Education.