On Monday 2 July, we will be publishing decisions that have been made by the New Zealand Teachers Disciplinary Tribunal; some of the cases won’t make for easy reading. The details of the cases heard might be upsetting, and there will be no doubt left in anyone's mind that these show examples of situations that should never have occurred.

Before you read on, it’s important to recognise that only a tiny percentage of teachers will ever go through a disciplinary process, the vast majority of teachers behave in a way that is beyond reproach. The sad fact is that society’s expectations of teachers are often deliberately contrasted with the salacious headlines the media choose to entice their readers – it’s called clickbait.

But why do we publish these decisions that provide these headlines, and what role does the Education Council play when it comes to conduct and compliance?

The first question is easy to answer: we are legally obligated to publish the decisions made about conduct. There are two important reasons for this, one is to hold those few teachers who misbehave to account, the other is to demonstrate that we are doing so to our communities.  To answer the second part of the question is more complex; this article is a simplified explanation of the process so there will be links available to click on to get a more detailed understanding.  

Managing concerns about teacher conduct or competence is one of the important roles we have and is defined in the Education Act and Council Rules. Concerns about teacher conduct or competence are reported to the Council in different ways, such as a criminal conviction report or a complaint from parents or caregivers – but, most commonly, the mandatory reports come from teachers and schools.

That shows the profession is working in a self-managing way and that teachers will hold their colleagues to account when they know something has happened that has or could potentially cause harm to a learner or bring the profession into disrepute.  

When a teacher is registered and then receives their practising certificate, they agree to work within the expectations of the Code and Standards: the Code sets out the high standards for ethical behaviour that are expected of every teacher. The Standards describe the expectations of effective teaching practice. Together they set out what it is and what it means, to be a teacher in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Among other things, the commitment made by the teacher in the Code of Professional Responsibility states that:

I will work in the best interests of learners by:

  • promoting the wellbeing of learners and protecting them from harm
  • engaging in ethical and professional relationships with learners that respect professional boundaries

When the Council receives a complaint or report about teacher conduct, our triage committee assesses the issue and what the appropriate process and next step should be. This can be more thoroughly explained here

If it is decided that the next step is to refer the case to the Council’s Complaints Assessment Committee (CAC), investigators working on behalf of the CAC will assess if there’s been misconduct. 

If the CAC concludes that serious misconduct may have occurred, it must refer the case on to the New Zealand Teachers Disciplinary Tribunal. Again, details explaining the Tribunal and its processes can be found here

Concerns about a teacher’s competence follow a different process. First this involves an assessment by one of our competence evaluators which can result in the teacher being referred to the Competence Authority for it to take action such as imposing conditions, and in the most serious cases, the Authority may cancel the teacher’s registration, practising certificate or limited authority to teach. To read about the process of dealing with competence issues, go here.

Sometimes it may become clear that a health issue or other problem is affecting the teacher’s ability to teach. This is referred to as an ‘impairment’. In these cases, there’s a special process for assessing how serious the problem is and what help the teacher might need in dealing with it. To read about the impairment process, click here.

In the end, the decisions that are made that impact on teachers under scrutiny are made by panels that have a majority of experienced teachers from the profession. At times the opportunity to join these panels arises, which we advertise for applicants. It’s a critically important part of what a profession does, holding its members accountable to the standards it sets.

Where possible, rehabilitation is always preferable. We want and need quality teachers in the profession, and sometimes teachers need help for whatever reason to perform to the standard expected of them.  The Council does not want to add to the headlines created by media, but transparency is important, and if after reading about disciplinary cases, we can be the reason a teacher chooses not to go down a path that can ultimately cause harm, then that has to be a good thing, right?