Teacher Registration Boards – Are they helping to keep our children safe at school?

According to The Age, the Victorian Education Minister has ordered a sweeping review of the Victorian Institute of Teaching (VIT) after it gave the green light for a teacher who told incest stories and another who pleaded guilty to a sex crime to keep their registration.  Pressure has been mounting on the VIT by the Victorian Education Minister and via parental concerns about a series of rulings that allow teachers who have been accused of misconduct to continue working in Victorian schools.

In the first instance, the teacher was dismissed by the Victorian Department of Education but his ongoing registration means that he can still teach in Catholic or other non-government schools. The Age notes that the review will look at the VIT’s role in light of government policies aimed at protecting children, including the new Child Safe Standards, which were a response to the Betrayal of Trust Inquiry.

The Age article raises interesting questions about the role of the Victorian Institute of Teaching and the equivalent boards around Australia. Every school in Australia would be aware of their obligations towards the teacher registration board in their own state or territory. But are all of the registration boards working to keep our children safe at school?

In a nutshell, the answer has to be yes. The people who make up the boards of these registration bodies do not want teachers who fail to meet professional and ethical standards to remain in our schools. They are charged with applying the standards in a fair and equitable manner whilst ensuring that teachers who fail to meet the standards have their registration placed in doubt or cancelled. However, to do this they need assistance.

The registration boards rely heavily on the information provided to them by schools and specifically by school principals when they are collecting information to ascertain the ongoing registration of a teacher. For example, the Teacher Registration Board of the Northern Territory notes the following on their webpage regarding employer notifications to the Board. This is similar to most other jurisdictions across the country.

The notice must specify full details of the event and the circumstances involved. Ideally there should be enough information provided to allow the Board to decide whether any of the following are warranted:

  • preliminary investigation or inquiry;
  • suspension of registration or authorisation;
  • imposition or varying of conditions.

Ideally the notice should also specify the subsection of the Act under which the notice is being lodged:

  • 67A(1)(a) – employer dismissal of teacher;
  • 67A(1)(b) – teacher resignation; or
  • 67A(1)(c) – other action against teacher.

Employers should be aware that sometimes more than one notice in relation to a teacher is necessary.

If a teacher conducts him or herself in a manner that is in clear breach of the standards as set by the school, the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) and by the jurisdictional registration body, then the school principal is directly accountable to ensure that the information regarding the behaviour is documented thoroughly and passed on as per the requirements of each of the Acts in each state or territory. In many cases, fines can be levied against the school if the principal fails in his or her duty to notify the relevant board within the prescribed time frame.

This being said, most principals take this role very seriously. They lead the culture in their schools, they have the highest level of duty of care for the children and they do not, under any circumstances, want any teachers who fail to meet their professional standards.

AITSL Standard 7.1 states: Meet professional ethics and responsibilities – Understand and apply the key principles described in codes of ethics and conduct for the teaching profession. This standard is reflected in teacher standards or codes across the country and each registering body is given authority through state or territory legislation to ensure that teachers meet the standards or risk losing their registration and hence their ability to teach.

For example, in the ACT, the ACT Teacher Quality Institute (TQI) is an independent statutory authority established by the ACT Quality Teacher Institute Act (2010). In Queensland, they have the Queensland College of Teachers which is established under the Education (Queensland College of Teachers) Act (2005). In WA, it is the Teacher Registration Board of WA (TRBWA) and they reflect similar standards to AITSL. The TRBWA was established under the Teacher Registration Act (2012). Interestingly, Section 5 notes: ‘Best interests of children paramount-  A person or body with functions under this Act must, in the performance of those functions, regard the best interests of children as the paramount consideration.’

This raises yet another issue regarding the registration bodies. The Age noted that the VIT Chairperson Ms Lesley Lamb, said the VIT had been asked to review its legislation for some time and it had been nine years since the last review. It is, therefore, very possible that the legislation that gives the VIT its authority to register or deregister teachers is quite out of date. Given the massive paradigm shift in Child Safe Standards in Victoria over the last 12-18 months, it is no wonder that legislation that is nine years old, is in need of review!

The massive changes in child protection standards and/or requirements in each state and territory must be taken into account when statutory bodies are involved in any review of their authorising legislation. It can be argued that those bodies should be held responsible and accountable to ensure that their governing legislation is kept up to date and that their role and their authority is not diminished over time or by being considered to be obsolete. Just as teaching and learning standards have changed and improved over the years, so has the understanding of upholding the duty of care for children.

Following the outcomes of the hearings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and in line with broad sweeping legislative changes in nearly every state and territory of the country, schools are ensuring that they are making children safe through the early identification of child abuse and through the development of a culture of awareness. However, if they are making notifications to their respective teacher registration boards and the boards are relying on powers conferred upon them by Acts that do not reflect current thinking and standards, then we have a true conundrum.

Ms Lamb was quoted in The Age as saying; “VIT needs a strong, contemporary legislative framework which aligns with the expectations of the community and the profession to ensure the highest quality teachers for Victorian children.” She notes that VIT welcomes a review and that the Education, Training and Reform Act (2006) is also clearly due for a review (noting that its related Regulations 2017 were just released, refer to our article).

If the teacher registration bodies are perceived by the public as being ‘toothless tigers’ (and perception is a very strong argument) then will the parents trust our schools to truly keep their children safe or will it be deemed as ‘lip service’ when they can see that the few teachers who clearly breach AITSL and state/territory standards can continue to exert influence over their children?

About the author

Craig D’cruz is the National Education Consultant at CompliSpace. He can be contacted here.

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