Most professions – doctors, nurses and lawyers etc – are subject to strict regulatory oversight of their work and they face sanctions for non-performance of their duties, or for acts of professional misconduct. So why are teachers not held accountable in a similar way? This regulatory anomaly is one Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn is now set to remove.
Shortly, he will present the Oireachtas with proposals to give the Teaching Council, the regulatory body for teachers, more disciplinary powers. The proposed legislation will enable the council tackle the problem of under-performing teachers – about whom too little has been done for far too long. And the council will be given authority to impose a range of sanctions, which will be proportionate to the findings made against any under-performing or incompetent teachers.
Last year the Department of Education’s chief inspector of schools, Dr Harold Hislop, admitted that under current procedures only two cases had been taken to deal with underperforming teachers. And Dr Hislop readily acknowledged that Ireland was unusual in not having some form of regular appraisal of teacher performance. In some schools the presence of incompetent teachers – and those that are clearly unfit to teach – can have a hugely negative effect. Their presence only serves to lower school teaching standards, and weaken staff morale. But, most importantly, they deny pupils the education they deserve and entitled to expect.
Mr Quinn has recognised that most teachers perform well. But for those teachers who for whatever reason do not, the Minister is giving the Teaching Council the legal powers to deal with. And for parents too, the proposed legislation, which will also give the council powers to examine allegations of teacher misconduct and under-performance, also represents a welcome development. These overdue legislative changes are, as Mr Quinn has said, “a positive step in the full professionalisation of teaching.”