A new Bill on teacher accreditation has recently passed both Houses of the New South Wales Parliament. The Bill, which will commence when it receives Royal Assent, provides for a 12-month transition period. Created largely in response to recommendations made by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, the law forms part of the Government’s ongoing commitment to implementing Australia’s National Child Safe Principles. Assessment of the full impact on schools will need to await further details about implementation, including the new accreditation policies and procedures that will be put in place.
The Changes to the Teacher Accreditation Act 2004 (NSW)
The Teacher Accreditation Amendment Bill 2021 (NSW) was introduced by the NSW Minister for Education, The Hon Sarah Mitchell, into the Upper House of the NSW Parliament on 16 November 2021 and passed on 23 November 2021. It passed the Lower House on 24 November 2021. As the Bill will take effect upon the date of assent by the Governor of NSW, it will soon become law.
The long title of the Bill indicates that its key purpose is to enhance child protection requirements for teacher accreditation, as well as the overall effectiveness of the teacher accreditation scheme in NSW. Based substantially on recommendations made by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, key changes it will make to the Teacher Accreditation Act 2004 (NSW) and the Act that governs the NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) in NSW include:
- child protection being a paramount consideration in all teacher accreditation decisions – schedule 1
- decisions for all types and levels of teacher accreditation being made by NESA, instead of teacher accreditation authorities – schedule 1-
- NESA being able to make assessments of suitability to teach as a condition of initial and ongoing accreditation, looking at criminal and disciplinary history for non-child-related offences and other information – schedule 1
- NESA being able to access information from, and share information with, the Children’s Guardian, the Commissioner of Police, schools and early childhood centres, including schools that are interstate or overseas – schedule 1
- expanding the requirements for employers to advise NESA of decisions that they make about an accredited teacher and for them to provide information to NESA about misconduct that may lead to a teacher’s accreditation being suspended or revoked – schedule 1
- NESA publishing a register of accredited teachers on their website – schedule 1
- the time limit for a conditionally accredited person to complete their teaching qualification and become eligible for provisional accreditation being removed – schedule 1
- NESA being able to suspend or revoke a person’s accreditation without giving written notice if the person is subject to an interim bar or their Working with Children Check clearance is cancelled – schedule 1.
Impact on Schools
According to the Minister’s Second Reading Speech (Legislative Council Hansard), NESA will consult with the Department of Education, Catholic Schools NSW and the Association of Independent Schools, in developing the new accreditation policies and procedures to implement these changes. The NSW Minister for Education stated that it would be “an opportunity to align new streamlined school registration processes with NESA's oversight of the school accreditation practices, leading to recommendations for accreditation,” with NESA being empowered to directly work with schools and sector authorities to help ensure that the regulatory requirements can be satisfied. In working with schools to ensure that appropriate accreditation decisions are made, NESA would also base these on advice from schools, as they “are uniquely placed to make an appropriate recommendation...about whether a teacher continues to meet the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers”. The Minister also asserted that privacy concerns would remain a priority, with personal information about teachers being managed in accordance with existing privacy laws and “strict” confidentiality obligations.
In removing the oversight of the Teacher Accreditation Authorities scheme and centralising their responsibilities with NESA, the law is intended to help to reduce compliance burdens and ensure that accreditation standards are more consistently applied, while also enhancing child safety at schools.Schools will need to await further advice from NESA about the new accreditation policies and procedures. NESA also recently released new versions of the non-government school registration manuals, the Registered and Accredited Individual Non-government Schools (NSW) Manual and the Registration Systems and Member Non-government Schools (NSW) Manual. Schools should note that these revised versions still refer to the current requirements regarding teacher accreditation.