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New rules mean anyone will be able to make a complaint about poor teacher performance

The new mechanism will be introduced later this morning.

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Shutterstock

A NEW MECHANISM came into force today to deal with teachers who are accused of misconduct.

The Fitness To Teach provisions of the Teaching Council Acts were commenced this morning by Education Minister Richard Bruton.

Under the provisions, any person will be able to make a complaint about a registered teacher to the Teaching Council for the first time. This includes members of the public, employers and other teachers.

The mechanism is similar to one in place for doctors by the Medical Council.

The Teaching Council will be able to consider complaints on a number of grounds, including professional misconduct, poor professional performance, convictions and being medically unfit to teach.

Usually, the Teaching Council will not look into a complaint unless the specific school’s complaints or grievances procedure have already been exhausted.

Speaking at the commencement announcement this morning, Bruton said that the introduction of the provisions would make the teaching profession “more open and more accountable”.

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

Bruton called the passing of the regulations a “very important milestone”.

“Fitness to Teach will allow parents and others who have a concern about a registered teacher to bring that concern to the Teaching Council for adjudication for the first time,” he said.

This will give parents confidence that the high quality and standards of the teaching profession will be maintained.

Investigative Committee

The Teaching Council’s Investigative Committee will investigate the complaint and decide based on the evidence whether or not the case should be brought to the Disciplinary Committee for an official inquiry.

Under the provision, the Investigative Committee will be made up of either three or five people, the majority of whom will be teachers.

“That is the structure that has been in place for many years,” said Bruton on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland this morning.

You need to have someone who understands the codes and the expectations of teachers, but also you need someone who isn’t a teacher there to balance that hearing.

The Teaching Council states that only “sufficiently serious cases” will be referred to the Disciplinary Committee.

The teacher being investigated could face written warnings, suspension from the teaching register, or expulsion should the complaint be deemed serious enough.

The Ombudsman for Children’s Office has welcomed the commencement of the provision saying that almost half of the complaints it deals with come from the education sector.

“For several years, education has been the largest category of complaints dealt with by the Ombudsman for Children’s Office, with 47% of complaints in 2014 relating to the education sector,” the ombudsman office’s Dr Karen McAuley.

McAuley also says that the “prolonged absence” of the provision until now has been “frustrating for both students and parents”.

The office also notes that only very serious cases of improper misconduct will be investigated but that it will be keeping an eye on how this is implemented.

“The Ombudsman for Children’s Office will monitor closely the threshold set by the Teaching Council for a very serious complaint. It is important that parents, and advocates on behalf of children, are clear about how they can have their concerns addressed,” McAuley said.

- With reporting by Rónán Duffy

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Cormac Fitzgerald

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