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Fitness to practice hearings

  • Ireland
  • General

05-02-2018

In July 2016, the Minister for Education, Richard Bruton, commenced the fitness-to-teach provisions of the Teaching Council Acts 2001-2015. Under this legislation, any person can complain to the Teaching Council (the “Council”) about a teacher’s under-performance or professional misconduct.

All complaints are then reviewed by the Council’s director who will decide whether to refer it to an Investigation Committee, which, decides whether the complaint is of a serious nature that warrants the matter being forwarded to a Disciplinary Committee. If the Investigation Committee is of the opinion that the complaints are frivolous or vexatious, it will not progress the matter to a formal hearing. It is important to note that internal disciplinary procedures should generally be exhausted before any inquiry by the Council takes place.

The first ever public hearing into a teacher’s fitness-topractice was heard over two days, 8 and 9 of November 2017. Following a decision by the Council’s Disciplinary Committee, it was decided that while the case was held in public, the teacher’s name, school and details of witnesses remained confidential. The hearing examined allegations that a teacher applied sellotape, or caused it to be applied to the mouths of five students. The alleged professional misconduct is believed to have occurred in or around 7 March 2012, during which time the accused was working as a substitute teacher. The teacher is reported to have not attended the first day of the hearing, had no representation present, and was suffering from a medical condition, which would only be made worse by attending a public hearing.

The hearing was conducted by a three-person panel from a Committee of Inquiry, made up of two teachers and the CEO of the National Parents Council. The panel have powers akin to those of the High Court and so can compel witnesses and evidence.

To date, an estimated 50 complaints have been made under the legislation, 25 of which are currently being investigated by the Council. The complaints vary in severity, ranging from minor incidents to more serious allegations involving teachers’ misconduct. In January 2018, a Teaching Council Fitness to Practice Inquiry refused to uphold allegations of professional misconduct against a teacher who had been accused of spending an evening drinking in his home with a student.

This process is relatively new to the education sector, however, fitness-to-practice has been part of the disciplinary procedures for the nursing and medical professions for the past several years.

If a complaint is upheld, the panel of the Disciplinary Committee can decide to:

  • Admonish or censure the teacher; 
  • Offer support to improve performance;
  • Place conditions on the teacher’s registration;
  • Suspend the teacher from the register for up to two years; and
  • Remove the teacher from the professional register indefinitely.

Employers will have to address the following issues as the Teaching Council flexes its regulatory muscles:

  1. What or when to report complaints of teacher misconduct to the Teaching Council;
  2. What to do if an issue arises on a retrospective vetting application; or
  3. What to do if a teacher is subject to a Teaching Council investigation.

We are currently advising Boards of Management/ ETBs on a range of similar issues.

For more information contact:

Margaret Gorman
Partner & Head of Education
+353 1 6644325
margaretgorman@eversheds-sutherland.ie

Bernard Martin
Solicitor
+353 1 6644234
bernardmartin@eversheds-sutherland.ie

Disclaimer

This information is for guidance purposes only and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. Please refer to the full terms and conditions on our website.

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