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Topical Issue Debate - Teaching Council

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 754 No. 3

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Deputy Joe McHugh: Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Ciarán Cannon.

I have been contacted by numerous teachers who have been trying to get accreditation for a long period of time from the Teaching Council. In one instance, a teacher with 17 years experience has been waiting for more than two years, while another teacher with specific qualifications in applied mathematics has been waiting for more than a year. It has gone beyond the point of frustration for these teachers. They want to get the proper accreditation and get on with their jobs. I raise this issue because I do not understand why it should take this long to do it. Why should a teacher be told, over the telephone, by a person in the Teaching Council that he or she will be dealt with within the following 16 to 18 weeks?

We politicians live in the real world. If someone rings us on a Monday morning, he or she expects us to get back to him or her by that afternoon and to have the issue sorted by the Tuesday morning. That is the world in which we and many people in the private sector live. Many within the public service live in that world also. I am not disparaging or making generalisations about the public sector. However, I would like to know why an official can recite over the telephone that it will take 16 to 18 weeks to sort out a problem that could be dealt with much more quickly. It sends a message about the lack of efficiency, due process and initiative on the part of officials in such positions.

We need to look at these instances in the context of the overall reform to which the Minister for Education and Skills and the Minister of State are aspiring. There will be considerable change and reform in the education system. We should emulate countries such as Finland that are spending minimal amounts of Exchequer funding on administration but pumping money into the classroom and the coalface of teaching. They are also empowering schools and devolving power to the local level. We have inherited a centralised education system. While checks and balances are needed in any system, our model which concentrates control at the centre needs to be examined closely when we go through the reform process.

When the public sees what is happening to the pupil-teacher ratio in primary schools and teachers’ jobs being threatened, the issue of fairness comes up. Members of the public are not considering fairness in relation to what is happening in their own backyard but in other places where savings could be made. I am not saying we should abolish the Teaching Council. I am saying we must send a strong signal that efficiencies are being made in the Teaching Council. Making a telephone message to say it will take 16 to 18 weeks to sort out a very simple problem does not augur well for the efficiencies towards which we aspire to make.

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills (Deputy Ciarán Cannon): Information on Ciaran Cannon Zoom on Ciaran Cannon I am taking this Topical Issue Debate on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn.

[307]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.

Deputy Joe McHugh: Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh I welcome the Minister of State’s response and appreciate his offer to work with me in addressing my concerns. I look forward to working with him on the matter.

On a broader level, the single biggest sickness in the country in the past 20 years has been the increase in bureaucracy and red tape. It will be difficult to grasp this nettle. We need to change to a culture in which efficiency and providing a response for the public will be priorities. In the first 12 months of the Government Ministers have gone about their business in a very efficient and proactive way. However, we must now tackle the bureaucracy and red tape that are holding back people in business and preventing decisions being taken in a reasonable period of time. This challenge faces both Opposition and Government Deputies. I do not [308]speak specifically about the Teaching Council; I am talking in general terms. The single biggest challenge for the Dáil is to tackle the sickness of bureaucracy and red tape. That responsibility rests on people on both the Opposition and Government sides of the House.

Deputy Ciarán Cannon: Information on Ciaran Cannon Zoom on Ciaran Cannon I concur wholeheartedly with the Deputy in the sentiments he expressed. Bureaucracy, properly administered, can be wonderful, but it can be a drag on job retention and creation. As the Deputy pointed out, we must be careful in the coming months and years to root out unnecessary bureaucracy. Internationally, there are many wonderful examples of how this has been done. Having worked closely with a number of public servants in the Department, I am adamant that there is a willingness to make this happen. Whether that willingness permeates all sections of the public service is questionable. A report published by the European Commission last May, which was carried out by Accenture and the department of economics at the University of Oxford, concluded that if our public service acted in the manner it should act, eliminating bureaucracy and encouraging job creation where it may happen, we could create up to 15 million new jobs across the EU by 2020. That is the challenge we are facing. We urgently need to engender an innovative and almost entrepreneurial culture in the management of the public service. The situation in which we find ourselves now, where those people are working with severely reduced resources, may actually cause that to happen, because it certainly has not happened in the past.

If the many silos in our public services were run as efficiently and creatively as some entities in the private sector, that cultural shift which needs to occur would actually occur. We need to have our public services essentially serving the public. It sounds very trite, but that is how simple it is. That is not happening at the moment, but it most certainly needs to happen in the future.

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