I have been sceptical about the Teaching Council from its creation and seriously question its worth as do many teachers…some quotes from teachers and former colleagues of mine about the Teaching Council; – “useless regulatory body”, “jobs for the boys and jobs for the unions”, “expensive, pointless, self-serving bureaucracy”. The council has an awful lot of work to do to prove its worth to teachers before anyone will take it seriously.
I had some exchanges with the Minister’s predecessor, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, on the issue of the Teaching Council. With many of my teaching colleagues, I have been very critical of the idea of a Teaching Council, particularly the way in which it was set up. The first engagement we had with the Teaching Council in June 2009 was when we receiving letters threatening us that if we did not join, we would not be paid our salary for teaching. This was long before the council had any legal right to do this. The bullying approach in the early days certainly did not get it off to a good start with teachers.
There were other issues of concern which certainly had teachers very sceptical. They were issues on which the Teaching Council showed itself as being far from efficient. A point I brought up with the Minister’s predecessor, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, concerned the loan of €6 million the council had received to set itself up in the first place and if it would be repaid, as it had a healthy income from the yearly subscriptions teachers had to pay to it.
As a profession, teachers are very much maligned by various sections of society which only see the long holidays and shorter hours. Teachers are now even more maligned because of the stance they took on the junior certificate reforms. That comes from their loyalty to their students, what they think is best for them and their belief that the current fair, transparent and open correction of junior certificate examination papers is good for their students. Very often we do not hear about the commitment, dedication and sheer hard work of teachers at both primary and second level inside and outside the classroom. My experience in my own school and of the many teachers I know is of the time and energy given inside and outside the school in extracurricular activities such as sports, drama, concerts, debating, competitions such as the Young Scientist, the many field trips taken and history tours. Many of us found the clause in the Croke Park agreement on additional hours per week quite offensive, especially for those who were doing it on a voluntary basis.
I acknowledge teachers’ flexibility and adaptability in embracing the many changes and new initiatives introduced during the years. There is still a demand for careers in teaching, as seen in the numbers of applications to the Central Applications Office every year. There is also a high level of career satisfaction among teachers, unlike in other countries which are having difficulties in maintaining the status of the profession. This is notwithstanding the much lower salary on which incoming teachers start as opposed to in other times.
There was a major battle with the Teaching Council over the original registration fee of €90. It had to be paid, regardless of whether one was a full-time or a part-time teacher or even just going for an interview. This figure has come down to €65.
I have also been critical of the Teaching Council’s inability to collate accurate information on teachers, its lack of accessibility to teachers and the way it interacts with teachers at times. There have been negative engagements between the council and teachers. A particular case I am pursuing involves a teacher taken off the register by the council which claims it had made efforts to contact him in this regard. However, he can prove otherwise, apart from one occasion. The first he knew he had been taken off the register was when he discovered he had been deprived of eight days’ salary. The council originally claimed that it had made efforts to contact him by e-mail and text message, but it now acknowledges it had the wrong telephone number. Surely, with a major staff complement, it could have made a personal telephone call to identify why there was a problem with his registration. There could have been any reason such as an illness or a bereavement.
I am also sceptical about the Bill’s proposal that the Teaching Council be able to determine fitness to teach. Notwithstanding the work of the current director whom I have met and whose hard work and dynamism I recognise, the council still has to prove to teachers that the sum of €65 is worth paying. I have been struck by some quotes from teachers about the council – “useless regulatory body”, “jobs for the boys and jobs for the unions”, “absolutely no impact on the teaching profession” and “expensive, pointless, self-serving bureaucracy”.
There are 37 people on the Teaching Council, of whom 22 are registered teachers, six from the unions and 16 are elected. In the 2012 council elections, in one area 7,497 ballot papers were issued but only 613 returned. In another over 10,000 papers were issued but only 800 returned, while in another 9,939 papers were issued but only 751 returned. This shows that the council has an awful lot more work to do to prove its worth and the benefits to teachers and before teachers will take it seriously. The majority are not taking it seriously.
I acknowledge the Bill’s intentions. Everyone wants to protect students and ensure they have the best teachers with no issues regarding teachers’ standards, personalities or work. I was struck, however, by the Bill’s vagueness in certain provisions that were almost like the Salem witch trials. For example, the council shall not register a person who applies for registration unless it has sought and received a vetting disclosure. It also states, “the Council shall refuse to register a person where it is not satisfied that he or she is a fit and proper person to be admitted” and “any other requirements to be met for renewal of registration which may include requirements relating to completion of programmes of continuing education and training”. Teachers are consistently and continually involved in training programmes, many at their own expense and in their own time. I do not believe this is acknowledged in the Bill.
In spite of all my reservations about the entity that is the Teaching Council, I do hope what is being proposed in the legislation is in the best interests of students and their teachers.
I do not think the Bill is going to add to a person being a good teacher. There are also questions around whether there are enough resources for Garda vetting to be carried out.