Thursday, 28 March 2019

Ceisteanna (80)

Thomas Pringle

Ceist:

80. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Education and Skills if the Teaching Council can investigate and make a decision against a registered teacher under existing complaints procedures if it receives notification of an historic alleged complaint of sexual abuse by a student against a former teacher (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14559/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

Under the Teaching Council Act 2001, the Teaching Council was established in March 2006 as the body with statutory authority for the regulation of the teaching profession.

In July 2016 Part 5 of the Teaching Council Act, as amended by the Teaching Council (Amendment) Act 2015, was commenced. From that date the Teaching Council has power to investigate a complaint about a teacher and to conduct fitness to teach inquiries.

Any person, including a member of the public, an employer or a teacher may make a complaint about a registered teacher. In addition, the Teaching Council can itself make a complaint about a registered teacher. Grounds for complaint are set out in the legislation and can relate to such issues as alleged professional misconduct or poor professional performance.

The Teaching Council’s fitness to teach processes are not intended to replace the procedures that are already in place in schools to deal with issues of professional conduct and competence. Underperformance or misconduct will continue to be dealt with first at school level and while generally school procedures should be exhausted before any inquiry by the Teaching Council takes place the Council can proceed where there are good and sufficient reasons.

In general, the Teaching Council’s Investigating Committee has authority to consider complaints where the matters complained about took place on or after 25 July 2016. For complaints relating to professional misconduct and where the events took place before 25 July 2016, the Investigating Committee may decide to proceed to consider and investigate the complaint in exceptional circumstances, as follows:

(a) The conduct complained of is conduct that, if proven, would have constituted a criminal offence at the time that it occurred,

and

(b) The conduct complained of is of such a nature as to reasonably give rise to a bona fide concern that a child or vulnerable person may be physically, sexually or emotionally exploited or abused.

The Council will tell the registered teacher if it receives a complaint about them. The Council will send the teacher a copy of the complaint, all documents enclosed with it and any further information it receives about the complaint during the complaint process. The teacher will have an opportunity to respond to the complaint.

It is a matter for the Investigating Committee to decide whether or not to refer all or part of a complaint to the Disciplinary Committee for an inquiry before a panel of the Disciplinary Committee.

An inquiry takes place in public unless the teacher or a witness about whom personal matters may be disclosed requests the panel to hold the hearing or part of the hearing in private, and the panel is satisfied that it would be appropriate to do so.

At the conclusion of an inquiry the Council may find that there is no case to answer. Alternatively there is a range of sanctions available ranging from the teacher’s removal from the register (and consequently removing the ability to be paid in a state funded teaching post) to the provision of advice to the teacher.

Other than where the lowest level of sanction has been applied, the teacher may apply to the High Court for an annulment of the Council’s decision.

If, as a result of the Council’s investigation and disciplinary process, a teacher is removed from the register of teachers, then the inquiry panel can make a decision that the teacher is not eligible to apply to be restored to the register before the expiration of a period of time specified by the panel.

When the specified period of time set by the inquiry panel has elapsed, the teacher may apply to be registered again. Registration includes a requirement for the applicant teacher to satisfy the Council that he/she is a fit and proper person to be a teacher.

Further information on the Teaching Council’s process for considering complaints about registered teachers is available on their website at https://www.teachingcouncil.ie/en/Fitness-to-Teach/.