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The first teacher in Ireland to face a public fitness-to-practise hearing is to remain anonymous after a decision by the Teaching Council’s disciplinary committee.
The two-day hearing is scheduled to begin at the offices of the council, the regulatory body for the profession, in Maynooth on Wednesday, November 8th. In a private preliminary session the committee decided that the hearing will be held in public but that the teacher’s name, school and other identifying details will remain anonymous.
Inquiries that reach this stage are held in public unless the disciplinary panel agrees to a request from witnesses. The panel may also decide to anonymise details to prevent the identification of children or for other public-interest reasons.
The three-person panel, which will be made up of two teachers and another individual drawn from school management, parents or the third-level sector, has powers similar to those of the High Court and can compel witnesses and evidence. It is currently investigating about 25 complaints, ranging from relatively minor to more serious allegations. Most involve primary teachers. A further 25 complaints have been dismissed as there was no clear case to warrant further action.
The process broadly mirrors disciplinary procedures for the nursing and medical professions. If a finding is ultimately made against a teacher, sanctions range from a written warning to an indefinite ban from the classroom.
Although fitness-to-teach legislation was enacted 15 years ago, the relevant sections were only formally commenced by Minister for Education Richard Bruton last year.
Anybody may complain about a teacher to the Teaching Council, 16 of whose 37 members are registered teachers who were elected by teachers. Among the grounds under which the council may examine complaints are poor professional performance, being medically unfit to teach and having certain convictions.
All complaints are reviewed by the council’s director and, if accepted, referred to an investigating committee. This committee may then refer the complaint to an inquiry or a disciplinary committee. Complaints that are referred to disciplinary committees must be of a serious nature.
The ASTI, TUI and INTO teaching unions, which are represented on the council, say they will work to ensure any investigations are fair. The council has also said the measures are about “improving teaching, not punishing teachers”.
“It will support high professional standards among teachers in the interests of children and parents, and will enhance the reputation and status of the teaching profession,” Mr Bruton said last year.