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The truth about teacher misconduct cases and so called ‘cutting corners’

Over the weekend an article appeared in the NZ Herald titled, ‘Teacher misconduct cases treble as teacher shortage forces schools to ‘cut corners’’. The only corner cutting was the reporting based on pure speculation. The article was an unjust and untruthful indictment of the teaching profession, poorly researched, and an attempt to deliberately mislead the reader into linking two issues; that of teacher supply and misconduct

The article makes a link between the increase in Tribunal referrals and the hiring of low-quality teachers. This is not correct and not backed up by evidence. What follows is the truth behind the numbers.

After law changes in 2015 the Council expected, and did indeed, receive a small increase in reporting of teacher conduct and competency cases (see table below), as principals and centre leaders became more familiar with what was required of them in terms of reporting conduct and competence issues.

Year Number of all received cases Percentage of all teachers Cases referred to Disciplinary Tribunal Percentage of all teachers
2016-2017 591 0.585% 45 0.044%
2017-2018 619 0.602% 51 0.049%
2018-2019 646 0.607% 155 0.145%

The tripling of referrals to the Disciplinary Tribunal in 2018/2019 on the other hand, comes down to two things. Firstly, there were changes to the threshold for matters having to be referred to the Disciplinary Tribunal, meaning more cases had to be referred. Secondly, the tripling relates to new staff working through a backlog of cases – some of which are complex and nuanced. The Council hired new investigators, lawyers, and panel chairs to process cases faster. We wholeheartedly apologise for not processing cases as quickly as we would have liked in the past and for the impact it has on the teachers involved.

It was unfair and disingenuous of the article to suggest principals and professional leaders are employing low quality teachers, or that the Teaching Council is registering and certificating low quality teachers. There is no evidence to suggest teachers referred to the Tribunal in 2018/2019 were all newly employed, quite the opposite: of the 155 cases referred to the Disciplinary Tribunal, more the three quarters held a full practising certificate. This clearly debunks the idea there is a link between the number of referrals and recent teacher shortage and supply issues.

Additionally, the assertions made in the article do not add up on another level, as issues around a teacher’s competency go to the Council’s Competence Authority, while the Disciplinary Tribunal is reserved for issues of serious misconduct.

The Council can assure parents and the public that the vast majority of teachers educating tamariki are of the highest quality and deserving of respect and appreciation. Only a tiny fraction of the country’s 105,000+ (0.001% in 2018/19) teachers are referred for serious misconduct and not, as suggested in the Herald story because “schools were being forced to accept teachers ‘at the margins’ of acceptable quality because there were just not enough teachers”.