Thursday, 4 February 2010

Of teachers and their Council and how resignations don't make troubles go away

There has been some kerfuffle, in the wake of charges being laid against a teacher, alleging serious sexual misconduct with children, about how teachers can just resign and move on and away from such accusations with no repercussions. This myth seems to come up everytime a teacher is charged in such a situation (by my rough estimate this seems to happen about three times a year).

Actually, it's been some years now since a quiet resignation could make it all go away.

In my day job I used to (somewhat rarely) assist teachers with Teachers Council. This is the body that all primary and secondary teachers (and principals) must be registered with in order to legally teach for more than a few days a year. Increasingly ECE teachers are also registered with Teachers Council, and one day they probably all will be too.

One of the reasons for compulsory registration of teachers, and for the existence of the Teachers Council, is to be able to ensure any conduct or competency concerns about an individual teacher, which would potentially make them unsuitable to teach, are picked up and dealt with. In fact the system was changed in the 2000s specifically to tighten up this accountability, but more on that in a moment.

Anyone can make a complaint about a teacher directly to the Teachers Council, about matters of competency (ability to teach) or conduct (behaviour befitting a teacher, including outside the school environment). I once dealt with a complaint made by a complete stranger who had no relationship with the school or teacher who was disgruntled about the operation of the school crossing. I've heard about a case where a member of the community complained about a teacher in their neighbourhood who the neighbour suspected had had a stripper visit their house in a professional capacity. While these might seem spurious they give an indication of the breadth of relationships and issues that Teachers Council will deal with in regard to registered teachers.

Generally Teachers Council will first seek information from the school or ECE service, to ask them if they were aware of the concern, and to seek information about how they dealt with it. If they're unsatisfied with the employer's decision or process they will investigate further.

Complaints are usually divided into conduct or competency (and often they do actually neatly fall into one or the other). Competency ones go to a competency assessor; someone steeped in best practice and with a high level of knowledge about how to teach, who will assess the evidence and come up with a pathway forward for that teacher. That could be anything from taking no further action; a so-called "voluntary undertaking" that the teacher will do xyz and report back to Teachers Council on it; an instruction that they are to inform every principal who employs them of the competency concerns; a restriction of who/what/where they can teach (e.g. only allowed to relieve); right up to de-registration.

The teaching profession as a whole has a strong interest in maintaining high levels of competence. Good teachers*, which are the vast majority of them, want those in their profession who need assistance to do their jobs right to get it. And in my experience they want those who simply can't teach, despite training and support and the best will in the world, to work that out and do something else instead.

Allegations of sexual crimes against children fall into the conduct part of Teachers Council's authority. While the police will obviously deal with the criminal aspects of any conduct concerns, Teachers Council has a role in determining the registration status of accused teachers, which has a massive impact on their future employment. As I mentioned above - no registration, no teach.

Teachers Council will usually wait until the police investigation and court processes are complete before making a decision. But there is now a pretty well established precedent that someone facing serious allegations of that kind will be suspended from their position (and expected to not teach elsewhere) until there is a verdict. As I've never dealt with a case of that magnitude (thankfully) I'm not sure if there is anything Teachers Council does to enforce that, however I'm certain others teachers, and principals, would make sure it was honoured and report the breach.

And that brings me to the role of employers (schools and ECE services) in regard to reporting concerns about conduct and competence. Historically there were occasionally cases where teachers were able to resign and move on and no one outside the senior management team of the school or service would know about the concerns. The teaching profession, and the broader community, weren't happy about this, and so it was changed, effective in September 2004.

The new(ish) system requires that all employers must report to Teachers Council:
  • if they sack a teacher,

  • if a teacher resigns within 12 months of a concern being raised about their conduct or competency (including if they receive a complaint in the year after they resign),

  • or if they suspect a teacher has engaged in serious misconduct.

To make it really really clear this is called Mandatory Reporting. It is taken very seriously by the Teachers Council.

The mandatory reporting system means you cannot just resign when an issue is raised and the problem will simply disappear. I dealt with a situation once where a school wrote a one line letter to Teachers Council alerting them to a competency concern about a teacher who resigned. Even though Teachers Council received no other information, no detail at all, their competency assessor chased the school for evidence for months (and rightly so). As I say, they take this stuff very seriously.

Ultimately those working in education are by and large in it because they care about children. They want schools and early childhood services to be safe places to learn in. If you think you get mad about abuse of children, as a parent or as a citizen, you wait until you hear those who work in our education system on the topic. Phrases like "compulsory castration," "lock them up and throw away the key" and "never ever teach again" come to mind. They care about children and they care about education, and they care passionately. Why would they want to protect those who undermine the safety of children?

* This is not a post about National Standards. I can't write about that because of my work. Kindly respect that and don't take this post as an invitation to open debate on National Standards, because I won't be able to respond. In fact if someone does try to go there on this post I will probably delete the comment because I've given fair warning that I can't talk about that. This doesn't stop any other blogger here from writing and commenting about National Standards on their own posts of course, and I hope one of them will.


Jem said...


I have a question. Let's say a teacher has a Facebook account or a Twitter page. Should that teacher be 'friending' current students and / or using inappropriate language online?

Just wondered. Cheers, thanks for the great read! Will look for your answer.

Lucy said...

I know that a friend of mine who is a professor at an American university has a strict no-current-students rule for her facebook (including students who are no longer in her classes but are still at university).

I'd expect most teachers would want to stick to something like that - waaaaaaay too much potential for personal/professional mixups otherwise. Unless they *only* use their Facebook for professional things, but that'd be pretty rare.

Apathy Jack said...

I have several dozen former students on my facebook friends list. I don't, however, allow current students to 'friend' me (and some have asked) because, while there is nothing inappropriate on my page, I would be annoying to police myself and the comments of my friends (many of whom, because it's, y'know, facebook, I hardly know)and such forth to ensure that it was 'clean'. (I do, though, know some teachers who don't have that rule.)

That having been said, I don't think I should be under an obligation to monitor (to use the example raised by Jem) my language. I swear like a sailor in my private life. I also teach at a Decile One school and get the same sort of pass-rates you don't usually see outside of Decile 8-10 schools. The two things aren't connected, and I don't think people should connect them. They certainly shouldn't say that I am a bad teacher because I use swear words in most every day sentences. (They should probably say I'm quite boorish and not particularly cultured, but that's another conversation entirely...)

Julie said...

Friending issues aren't something I've ever had to deal with, probably partly because I have not dealt with secondary teachers at all, and I don't think there's much social networking space that adults and pre-teens have in common.

Plus I haven't even done primary teacher cases since the end of 2007, and there definitely isn't an issue for pre-schoolers! I haven't heard any of any cases my colleagues have dealt with around this issue though either, so I guess it is an age thing.

My personal opinion is that anyone in a position of responsibility has some possibly difficult choices to make about their online existence. Particularly those as vulnerable to complaint as teachers. Every person will find their own balance.

For myself, I generally avoid friending union members, unless I am also actually friends with them (usually in another context apart from work). Same with colleagues. But that's just me and the choice I've made. I find it easier to censor myself at the point of friending, rather than everytime I post something.

smplcv said...

The social media is for communication and collaboration! To educate children school and college should be the best! Education is not simple matter..make's things worst in future..if people start learning education with social media

Teacher CV