Parents want better local procedures to deal with complaints about teachers.

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July 28, 2016 by johnston00

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National Parents’ Council Post-Primary president Paul Mooney welcomed the new powers given to the Teaching Council, from yesterday, to hold inquiries about teachers whose performance is called into question.

However, he said, there need to be firmer systems in place where parents can take a complaint and be confident it can be dealt with properly.

All procedures should be exhausted at school level before the Teaching Council can initiate a fitness-to-teach inquiry. Such inquiries may relate to professional performance, medical fitness, or teachers’ behaviour, with potential sanctions ranging from written admonishment to striking a teacher off the council’s register.

Mr Mooney said parents mostly want strong grievance procedures for local use in schools.

“There are voluntary ones there at the moment, but they should be statutory. I’d like to see them enacted, and I don’t know why they haven’t been,” he said.

Provision was made in the 1998 Education Act for ministerial regulations to introduce procedures that schools should follow to deal with parents’ complaints.

Although they have never been introduced, Education Minister Richard Bruton has committed to introduce a parents’ charter, first promised by previous education minister Ruairi Quinn more than two years ago.

“Early in the next Dáil term, the minister plans to seek Government approval for the drafting of principles which will form the framework of a parents’ and learners’ charter in every school,” said the Department of Education last night.

Announcing activation of the fitness-to-teach powers yesterday, Mr Bruton referred to his bill to regulate school admissions and Government support last week of Fine Gael TD Jim Daly’s bill to improve complaints procedures for parents.

Mr Mooney said a forum held for second-level parents last November was dominated by problems faced by families trying to resolve difficulties with their children’s teachers.

“The quality of teaching is very important, and parents are delighted with teachers in the majority of cases, but when it becomes an issue, it’s a big problem for children, because you’re talking about very formative years in their lives,” he said.

“I’m very pleased that there’s now a fitness-to-teach system, but it would be better to deal with things locally in the first case. There should be good procedures in place for parents, who need to know the pathway for dealing with these issues.”

Where the Teaching Council decides that a complaint merits a fitness-to-teach inquiry, the ultimate sanction will be to strike a teacher off the council’s register. This will, effectively, disbar them from teaching in a publicly-funded school, as anyone not on the register cannot be paid for teaching work.

This latter stipulation has only taken effect in the past three years. There are 93,000 teachers on the register. While legislation facilitating fitness-to-teach inquiries was passed in 2001, the delay in making registration mandatory held up its introduction until now.

Teacher unions have generally welcomed the fitness-to-teach system, but have some concerns about public hearings. An inquiry can lead to a teacher being required to undergo professional development, or to receive a written censure, but sanctions affecting a teacher’s registration can be appealed to the High Court.

Niall Murray- Irish Examiner

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