Minister for Education and Skills, Jan O’Sullivan announces Government approval of the Teaching Council Amendment Bill
The Minister for Education and Skills, Jan O’Sullivan T.D., today announced that Government has, this week, approved the Teaching Council Amendment Bill. The Bill will be published by the Oireachtas in the coming days.
The Bill caters for two main overarching aims: underpinning the central role of the Teaching Council in the forthcoming statutory vetting arrangements for registered teachers and amending and strengthening the statutory provisions relating to the Teaching Council’s fitness to teach function.
The Minister said that “This legislation will underpin the Teaching Council’s central role in the vetting arrangements for registered teachers. The Council plays a vital part in the state’s overall child protection infrastructure for schools. This is because of the Teaching Council’s capacity to ensure that any person that it deems not suitable to teach will not be registered as a teacher. This Bill underpins and strengthens this capacity and in doing so ensures that garda vetting is an integral part of the Council’s statutory teacher registration process.
It will also make it more efficient for schools to meet the vetting requirements of the National Vetting Bureau Act 2012 when it is commenced.”
In addition to garda vetting for initial teacher registration, the Bill makes provision for the retrospective vetting and periodic re-vetting of all registered teachers.. The Minister stated that: “This Bill provides a straightforward approach to vetting those teachers who have not been vetted previously. I have spoken with the Teaching Council about the need to ensure that all registered teachers are vetted, and I am aware that it is their intention to prioritise this work in the year after enactment of this legislation. The statutory vetting arrangements under the National Vetting Bureau Act (NVB Act) will, in addition to the existing check for criminal offences, also include a check for any relevant "soft information”. This is an important new aspect of the vetting arrangements. "Soft information" referred to as "specified information" in the NVB Act, is information other than criminal convictions held by the Garda Síochána that leads to a bona-fide belief that a person poses a threat to children or vulnerable persons.”
The Minister added: “Importantly, this Bill provides that renewal of a teacher’s registration will be linked to compliance with the Bill’s retrospective and re-vetting requirements. The Bill also ensures that there will be a robust statutory basis for the Teaching Council to consider, in the case of any teacher who is the subject of an adverse vetting disclosure, whether or not the teacher’s registration should be renewed.”
The Bill also includes some amendments which will strengthen and clarify the fitness to teach provisions of the Teaching Council Act, before their commencement. These amendments include:
- Setting out a number of matters about which a complaint may be made such as professional misconduct, poor professional performance or medical unfitness
- Expanding the list of parties from which evidence can be required as part of a fitness to teach inquiry,
- Making clear that conduct which raises child protection concerns and which occurred prior to the enactment of this Bill can be examined in a fitness to teach inquiry provided the conduct concerned would have constituted a criminal offence when it occurred.
- Improving the capacity of the Teaching Council to deal with complaints which indicate a risk of harm to a child or vulnerable adult by empowering it to seek a vetting disclosure in respect of the teacher concerned as part of a fitness to teach inquiry.
- Enabling a fitness to teach inquiry to be undertaken if information in a vetting disclosure which has been received by the Council in its role as conduit for schools indicates a risk of harm or a potential risk of harm to a child or vulnerable adult
- Removing the requirement for a finding of ‘unfitness to teach’ to be made before any sanction can be imposed, adding a new sanction of ‘advice, admonishment or censure’, as well a number of technical and wording amendments.
The Minister stated that: “The purpose of the Council’s fitness to teach role is to uphold standards and protect children. Robust procedures, which are transparent and fair, will underpin the Council’s work. When these provisions are commenced, any person, including members of the public, employers, other teachers or the Teaching Council will be able to make a complaint about a registered teacher. Issues of sufficient gravity will result in an inquiry. The Council will have the capacity to remove a teacher from the register where it deems the person unfit to teach, including where this is for child protection reasons. However, it is important to bear in mind that the fitness to teach function will also serve to identify areas where teachers can take action to address underperformance or conduct issues. I intend to commence the fitness to teach provisions as early as possible after the enactment of this Bill.
“During the passage of the Bill through the Oireachtas I intend to introduce an amendment to provide for fitness to teach hearings to be held in public as the default position, while providing for exceptions where necessary to protect the rights of individuals. I will be seeking the Teaching Council's advice on the factors that could be considered in such cases. This will ensure that the new fitness to teach framework will mirror best practice as regards disciplinary hearings for other professional bodies.”
The Minister concluded by saying: “Overall, I consider that the changes now being brought forward will make a very significant contribution to safeguarding children in our schools and to upholding the high standards of teaching that students, and society, expect and deserve.”
The Teaching Council Amendment Bill, 2014 is available on the Departments website:
Teaching Council (Amendment) Bill 2014: http://www.education.ie/en/The-Education-System/Legislation/Teaching-Council-Amendment-Bill-2014.pdf
Teaching Council (Amendment) Bill 2014 Regulatory Impact Analysis (RIA) http://www.education.ie/en/The-Education-System/Legislation/Teaching-Council-Amendment-Bill-2014-RIA.pdf
Teaching Council (Amendment) Bill 2014 Explanatory Memorandum http://www.education.ie/en/The-Education-System/Legislation/Teaching-Council-Amendment-Bill-2014-Explanatory-Memorandum.pdf