Children's Ombudsman welcomes fitness-to-teach provision

The Ombudsman for Children’s Office has this week welcomed the commencement of Part 5 of the Teaching Council Act, also known as the fitness-to-teach provision, which will allow the Teaching Council to investigate teachers in relation to professional misconduct.

Up until now, there has been no appropriate avenue of redress for complaints about allegations of inappropriate professional conduct of teachers and school staff. This is an issue that the Ombudsman for Children’s Office has been highlighting for some time, including in a report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2015 and before the Oireachtas.

“For several years, education has been the largest category of complaints dealt with by the Ombudsman for Children’s Office, with 47 per cent of complaints in 2014 relating to the education sector," said Dr Karen McAuley, head of participation and education at the Ombudsman for Children’s Office. “The prolonged absences of Part 5 of the Teaching Council Act, the fitness-to-teach provision, has been frustrating for students and for parents. A comprehensive and consistent complaints handling structure to deal with these types of complaints is badly needed and must be welcomed.

“The Teaching Council has indicated that under the new rules it will consider complaints on a number of grounds, including professional misconduct, poor professional performance, convictions, and being medically unfit to teach.

“It is expected that only very serious cases of improper professional conduct will be considered for investigation. 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.

“The commencement of the fitness-to-teach provision will have a positive impact on complaints handling in the education sector. However, a significant gap still exists as Section 28, the grievance procedures element of the Education Act 1998, has not yet been fully implemented.

“As part of the Education Act, it was expected that procedures would be laid out to guide schools in their complaints-handling practices. This never happened and with hundreds of complaints to the Ombudsman for Children’s Office directly related to the way in which complaints were handled at a school level, it is clear that urgent action is needed in this area.

“The Government has plans to address this issue by creating a parent and student charter but the details of this charter are not yet known. We will be monitoring developments to ensure that the charter supports improvements in local complaints procedures in schools.

“Promoting good complaints-handling practice in schools is a key objective for the Ombudsman for Children’s Office as laid out in our Strategic Plan 2016-2018, which we launched last week. We want to see effective complaint handling practices affecting children and young people so that any issues can be dealt with as quickly as possible in the best interests of the child.”

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