Tuesday, 7 February 2012
Ciarán Cannon (Galway East, Fine Gael)
I am taking this Topical Issue Debate on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn.
The Minister sees the Teaching Council as key to implementing the Department’s strategic objectives on the quality of teaching and learning in schools. Much work has been done by the council to develop education, in particular, in maintaining and improving teaching standards. When the Act is fully commenced, the State will have a comprehensive regulatory framework in place for the teaching profession.
The Teaching Council was established on a statutory basis in March 2006 under the Teaching Council Act 2001. Its functions and objects are set out clearly in the Act and cover matters such as the promotion of teaching as a profession, the promotion of the professional development of teachers, the improvement of the quality of teaching in the State and the registration and regulation of teachers.
The Teaching Council Act includes provisions governing membership, funding, accountability and the council’s relationship with the Department. The legislation provides for the appointment of a 37 member council, of which 22 members are either directly elected teachers or nominated by teacher trade unions. The term of each council is limited to a maximum of four years. The council has responsibility for operationalising the provisions of the Act and the development of the necessary organisational and collaborative strategies and structures for the effective regulation of the teaching profession. It is responsible for the conduct of its affairs and meeting any obligations arising in this regard.
As a public body, the Teaching Council complies with a range of Government policies and requirements applicable to public bodies generally, including policies on employee numbers and remuneration and corporate governance. Under the Act, the council is a self-funding body but is subject to independent audit and required to publish its accounts, together with its annual report, which are lodged in the Houses each year.
A number of other obligations fall on the Teaching Council which enhance its accountability. It is required to implement the Department’s policies on teacher education, probation, qualifications, professional conduct and so on. The approval of the Department is required for the drawing up of regulations in areas such as the election of members, the charging of fees and the registration of teachers. The council is required to provide the Minister with information and advice on matters relating to its functions having regard to resource implications and other relevant matters. In certain circumstances, members of the council may be removed.
Aside from the formal provisions, there is ongoing contact and communication between my Department and the Teaching Council at official level. The Minister meets the council from time to time. He is satisfied that the accountability of the council is in order, both in terms of regulation and in practice.
The matters raised by the Deputy stray into the operational day-to-day functioning of the Teaching Council, particularly how it interacts with those who seek to avail of its services. I share his concerns regarding the instances he referenced. I will work closely with him in addressing these concerns if he wishes to raise them with me later.