First 'fitness to practise' case against teacher heard in the High Court

The first "fitness to practise" case affecting a teacher has come before the President of the High Court.

The case, brought by the Teaching Council, the regulatory body for teachers, cannot be reported as it involves an application for suspension pending an investigation.

Mr Justice Peter Kelly has made orders, in line with provisions of the Teaching Council Acts 2001-2015, for it to be heard entirely in private with the media excluded.

The judge noted this was the first case under the relevant Teaching Council legislation to come before him.

As President of the High Court, the judge also deals with applications by regulatory bodies for a range of other professions, including solicitors, doctors, nurses and pharmacists.

The Teaching Council is the professional standards body for teaching and describes itself as acting in the interests of the public good while upholding and enhancing the reputation of the teaching profession.

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One of its functions is to investigate complaints and, where necessary, hold inquiries about registered teachers.

The Teaching Council application is the first to come before the High Court since the Minister for Education and Skills formally commenced Part 5 of the Teaching Council Acts, 2001-2015, in July 2016. That allows the Council to receive complaints about registered teachers and to conduct investigations and hold inquiries, where deemed appropriate.

Any person including members of the public, employers and other teachers may make a complaint about a registered teacher. The Teaching Council can itself make a complaint about a registered teacher.

The hold-up in enacting the necessary legislation for fitness to teach hearings was for reasons including legal advice such hearings could not begin without laws on Garda vetting of people working with children and vulnerable people.

Because a potential conflict was found between the National Vetting Bureau Act and the Spent Convictions Bill, intended to give people convicted of certain offences in the past a clean sheet when applying for jobs, amendments had to be drawn up to clarify there were no concessions for prosecutions or offences against children.

The Children’s Ombudsman previously said almost half the complaints he receives relate to education and fitness hearings were needed to improve accountability in schools.

The teachers unions have said, while they accepted the fitness to teach procedure, teachers can already be disciplined, suspended or dismissed under procedures in place in individual schools and pupils and parents should not feel their complaints would not be taken seriously if they raised them locally.

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