First fitness-to-teach public hearing to start in November

Teachers may be removed for serious misconduct or poor performance

Fitness to practise: most of the complaints the Teaching Council is investigating involve primary teachers. Photograph: Getty

Fitness to practise: most of the complaints the Teaching Council is investigating involve primary teachers. Photograph: Getty

 

The first public inquiry into a teacher accused of misconduct is due to be held next month.

While fitness to teach measures have been provided for in legislation enacted 15 years ago, the relevant sections were only formally commenced by Minister for Education Richard Bruton last year.

If a finding is made against the teacher, sanctions available range from a written warning to a ban on teaching.

The first inquiry is scheduled to be heard at the offices of the Teaching Council - the regulatory body for the profession - in Maynooth on November 8th and 9th.

The council declined to comment in advance on the nature of the allegations or the teachers involved.

Sources say it has been examining at least 20 complaints relating to teaching staff ranging, from relatively minor allegations to more serious ones. Most are understood to relate to primary teachers.

The process broadly mirrors disciplinary procedures in place for the nursing and medical profession.

Any member of the public may make a complaint about teachers to the 37-member council. Sixteen of these members are registered teachers who were elected by teachers.

Others include representatives from school management, parents’ group and the third-level sector.

Among the grounds under which the council may examine complaints include poor professional performance, being medically unfit to teach and having court convictions for certain offences.

All complaints are reviewed by the council’s director and, if accepted, are referred to an investigating committee.

This committee may then refer the complaint to an inquiry or a disciplinary committee.

Complaints which are referred disciplinary committees must be of a serious nature.

In cases which go before an inquiry, the panel must decide whether the complaint is proven and on what ground, such as professional misconduct, poor professional performance and being medically unfit to teach.

Unions such as the ASTI, TUI and INTO - which are represented on the Teaching Council - say they will work to ensure any investigations into teachers are conducted fairly and with due process.

Some teachers’ union, while supportive of the overall aims , had fought a rearguard action to limit the scope of inquiries to ensure they were held largely in private.

However, under regulations, complaints which progress to a hearing must be held in public by default.

Disciplinary committees may opt, however, to hold them in private where there is “reasonable and sufficient cause” to do so.

In public inquiries, the panel involved in the hearing may keep the identity of the people involved, including the teacher, confidential.

Mr Bruton has insisted the measures will help the teaching profession to become more open and accountable.

“It will support high professional standards among teachers in the interests of children and parents, and will enhance the reputation and status of the teaching profession,” he said last year.

The council has also said the measures are about “improving teaching, not punishing teachers”.