Teacher Accreditation Shake-up: NESA Publishes Revamped TAA Guidelines

Teacher Accreditation

To balance out an increase in regulatory activity for child protection over the last few months, schools in NSW have recently received a short reprieve from the NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA). Following a reminder to schools on 25 January that amendments to the NSW Registration Manuals took effect in December 2017, it has been all quiet on the registration front.

But regulatory silence is always temporary. And sure enough, on 27 April, NESA announced that amendments to the Guidelines for the Regulation of Teacher Accreditation Authorities for Non-Government Schools and Early Childhood Education Centres (TAA Guidelines) were now in effect. It is a requirement of registration for a school to document its arrangements for having a TAA that has been approved under the TAA Guidelines.

While the date for non-government school and TAA registration applications for 2018 has passed, schools and their TAAs are expected to demonstrate immediate compliance with the updated Guidelines.

Background to the Updated TAA Guidelines

Over the course of 2017, there were four separate updates to the Registration Manuals. These were as follows:

  • January – substantial overhaul of the Registration Manuals took effect, introducing obligations in relation to:
    • Quality of teaching and student learning
    • Responsible persons ‘fit and proper person’ status
    • Financial viability
  • March – further guidance provided to schools in relation to financial viability obligations
  • July – clarification of new obligations relating to quality of student learning, including compliance with standard of teaching requirements
  • December – further refinement of quality of student learning requirements and introducing provisions for imposing registration conditions.

An update to the TAA Guidelines also took effect in January 2017, which reflected legislative changes to the Teacher Accreditation Act 2004 (NSW) (TA Act) which made NESA the only body authorised to suspend or revoke a teacher’s accreditation. The update included new requirements for TAAs to notify NESA if certain events occur, and also introduced the concept of the ‘prime authorised delegate’, with delegated authority to act on a TAA’s behalf.

Revised Teacher Accreditation Processes

While there were no further changes to the TAA Guidelines over the course of 2017, NESA prepared and approved extensive procedural changes to the processes for gaining and maintaining teacher accreditation. These processes were reflected in the following Teacher Accreditation Policies which took effect from 1 January 2018:

Updated wording in these Teacher Accreditation Policies states that they form part of the professional teaching standards approved under the TA Act and constitute NESA rules. When the Teacher Accreditation Policies were first published, this wording indicated that schools needed to demonstrate compliance with them as part of their school-wide policies and practices implementing the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers (Teaching Standards) and as part of their TAA documentation.

Key Changes to the TAA Guidelines

As detailed in NESA’s latest Official Notice, the amendments to the TAA Guidelines are intended to reflect the revised Teacher Accreditation Policies. As these revised policies have been significantly adjusted from their previous iteration, this has precipitated substantial changes to the TAA Guidelines, mostly concerning the requirements for approval of TAAs for Proficient Teacher level.

A summary of these changes is provided below:

Stricter Requirements for Authorised Persons

Under the TAA Guidelines, a TAA may delegate all or part of its functions to one or more authorised delegates. Previously, these authorised persons needed to be either an accredited teacher, eligible to be accredited, or currently employed as a teacher in a non-government school or early childhood education centre.

Under the April 2018 changes, this last option has been removed, consistent with the requirement for all teachers (including pre-2004 teachers) to be accredited to teach in NSW schools. This means that any authorised person or person involved in making a teacher accreditation decision must currently be, or eligible to be, an accredited teacher.

Broader Professional Teaching Standards

A key inclusion in the updated TAA Guidelines is a clarification that ‘accreditation’ means that a teacher has met the professional teaching standards required by the TA Act, including the Teaching Standards at one of the key career stages. Previously, accreditation only meant that a teacher needed to comply with the Teaching Standards. There are also multiple instances in which the evidence of compliance requires a TAA to demonstrate it meets its obligations under NESA rules and policies rather than just NESA rules.

These changes confirm the speculated impact of the wording inclusion in the new Teacher Accreditation Policies – it is a requirement for schools and their TAAs to maintain evidence that they comply with all NESA policies relating to teacher accreditation.

Simplified Evidence of Compliance

Significant adjustments to the evidence of compliance have occurred for the majority of the requirements, suggesting that NESA is attempting to clarify and streamline the expectations for TAAs. These changes include a terminology change from ‘refusal or failure to accredit’ to ‘not accredit’, and removing references to obligations being ‘specific to the TAA’s authority’ in certain instances.

However, questions do arise from NESA’s simplification process, particularly around why certain kinds of evidence have been changed or removed. For example, most of the evidence of compliance for a TAA sharing information with other TAAs and teacher employers has been removed. Additionally, TAAs that are not the proprietor or employer of teachers now also need to have formal processes for communication with other employers. Previously this was an optional process for TAAs that are the proprietor and employer, and it is unclear why this obligation has been swapped.

Shifting Notification Obligations

Wording adjustments have occurred to the required policies and procedures for reporting and decision-making in relation to teacher accreditation, largely due to the Proficient Teacher Accreditation Policy. These have attempted to clarify when a TAA needs to notify a teacher, and NESA, about an accreditation decision, but in doing so may have introduced additional uncertainty.

For example, it is now a requirement for a TAA to have in place and implement certain policies and procedures in relation to deciding to not accredit a teacher, including that if such a decision is made, the written notice of the decision needs to include a statement that the teacher concerned can request an internal review. Previously, this written notice was given when the teacher was informed of the TAA’s intention to not accredit.

While this is a small wording change, its application is ambiguous in practice, potentially introducing:

  • an additional notification step which extends the process by which a teacher is not accredited by at least one month
  • another TAA ‘decision’ which is legislatively required to be reported to the TAA and for which the teacher likely has a right to apply for administrative review.

How Should Schools Respond?

At the time of publishing this article, NESA has provided links to draft TAA Guidelines with tracked changes for February and March, but has not released tracked changes comparing the previous version of the TAA Guidelines with the April updates. While these documents are helpful for demonstrating how NESA has progressively drafted changes to the TAA Guidelines, because the February tracked amendments are not ‘marked up’ in the March draft and further amendments are reflected in the final version, the documents provide little assistance in terms of highlighting the key procedural and evidentiary adjustments.

This effectively means that all schools and their TAAs are required to read the updated TAA Guidelines in their entirety, and manually compare them against their internal policies and procedures, to determine gaps in their compliance. This should be done immediately, regardless of whether your school is due for registration renewal, as NESA can request a school inspection with limited notice.

Schools should also keep in mind that NESA has been releasing updated registration requirements every few months since January 2017, meaning that an update to the Registration Manuals which aligns with the revised TAA Guidelines and incorporates further child protection obligations may not be far off.

About the Author

Kieran Seed is a Legal Research Consultant and School Governance reporter. He can be contacted here.

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