Teachers could be banned from the classroom for serious misconduct or poor performance under fitness-to-teach measures due to come into force from today.
The first hearings, likely to be held with the next nine to 12 months, will be held in public by default.
However, disciplinary committees, on which teachers will have a majority, may opt to hold them in private where there is “reasonable and sufficient cause” to do so.
Parents, students or other teachers may bring their concerns about any registered teachers to the regulatory body for the teachers, the Teaching Council, from today.
Speaking ahead of the official announcement, Minister for Education Richard Bruton said the measures would help the 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,” Mr Bruton said.
Some teachers’ union, while supportive of the overall aims , have fought a rearguard action to limit the scope of inquiries to ensure they are held largely in private.
Fitness-to-teach measures have been in place in neighbouring jurisdictions such as Scotland for decades and have been provided for here in legislation which was enacted 15 years ago. The process broadly mirrors disciplinary procedures in place for the nursing and medical profession.
Underperformance or misconduct will continue to be dealt with first at school level.
It is intended these school procedures should be exhausted before any inquiry by the Teaching Council takes place, though the council can proceed where there are “good and sufficient reasons”.
An investigating committee will exam complaints and decide if there is merit in referring the case to a disciplinary committee for hearing. These inquiries will involve the hearing of sworn oral evidence.
If a finding is made against a teacher, sanctions will be available ranging from a written warning to removal from the teachers' register for up to two years. Teachers may appeal more serious sanctions to the High Court.
Tomás Ó Ruairc, director of the Teaching Council, said the measures were about “improving teaching, not punishing teachers”. Teaching, he said, affected the lives of every person in our society in a way that no other profession does.
“That’s why professional standards matter so much and why it’s vital that a formal mechanism exists to allow for the investigation of complaints,” Mr Ó Ruairc said.
Today’s announcement follows a series of developments aimed at improving accountability of schools and giving parents and students greater access to information.
The Government last week announced it would support a Bill by Fine Gael TD Jim Daly to improve information and complaints procedures for parents relating to schools and boards of management.