Teachers are vital to the strong development of our children. The best teachers improve the lives of students and contribute to a well-educated and engaged citizenry. For this reason, the teaching profession deserves the trust and respect of our community. To engender this trust, the state must maintain high professional standards for its teachers and ensure that those teachers registered in South Australia are not only competent educators but fit and proper persons to have the care of children.
The Teachers Registration and Standards Act 2004 sets out provision for the registration and oversight of the teaching profession in South Australia. It establishes the Teachers Registration Board and provides the board with, among other things, functions of regulating the teaching profession and promoting professional standards for teachers. The bill specifically aims to improve the ability of the board to deal with unprofessional conduct of teachers. It will provide the registrar of the board with the ability to immediately suspend the registration of a teacher or impose or vary conditions on a teacher's registration where a teacher is charged with a prescribed offence.
Current provisions for the suspension of a teacher's registration limit the board's ability to address any immediate concerns with regard to a teacher's conduct. If the board becomes aware of serious charges laid against a teacher, it cannot take action to suspend that teacher's registration until it has held an inquiry into the matter and determined there is proper cause for disciplinary action. The board may also need to await the outcome of related court action before it can even commence a disciplinary process.
Currently, a teacher's registration will remain valid while any court proceedings and subsequent disciplinary inquiries are underway. This means a teacher can potentially hold themselves out to be a fit and proper person to work as a teacher despite being the subject of serious criminal charges relevant to the safety of children. A teacher facing serious criminal charges related to offences against children to remain on the public register while these matters are finalised has the potential to negatively impact on the safety of children and undermines the integrity of the register of teachers.
Clause 7 of this bill sets out provision for the registrar of the board to immediately suspend the registration of a teacher who is charged with a prescribed offence pending an inquiry as to whether there is proper cause for disciplinary action against the teacher. The clause also provides for the registrar to vary the conditions of a teacher's registration, including by imposing new conditions, if they are charged with a prescribed offence. Prescribed offences will be set out in regulations under the Teachers Registration and Standards Act and will replicate the prescribed offences under the Child Safety (Prohibited Persons) Act 2016 as well as other serious offences.
The bill provides for three members of the board to review a decision of the registrar to suspend a registration or impose or vary conditions on a registration within 60 days. On review, these board members could continue the suspension or the variation of conditions or cancel the suspension or the variation of conditions. A suspension would continue until the board has determined whether there is proper cause for disciplinary against the teacher, or 120 days after the day on which the last charge to which suspension or variation relates has been withdrawn or finally determined, or until the suspension is otherwise cancelled under the provisions.
The board can determine to cancel a suspension or variation of conditions at any time. A teacher whose registration is suspended, or whose registration has conditions imposed or varied, would have a right to appeal to the Administrative and Disciplinary Division of the District Court under current section 49 of the act.
Clause 6 of the bill includes amendments to section 20 of the act that are consequential to the new provisions for the immediate suspension of a teacher. The amendments ensure that an employer does not commit an offence by continuing to employ a person whose registration as a teacher has been suspended but prohibits that employer from requiring or allowing the person to continue to teach or hold a leadership position within a school or preschool.
Clause 5 of the bill provides the board with the ability to appoint a person to act as the registrar to cover any short-term absence of the registrar or a temporary vacancy in the position. Currently, all appointments for the registrar, including short-term acting arrangements, are made by the Governor. The process for appointment by the Governor is unnecessarily onerous for the purposes of appointing an acting registrar to cover a short-term or emergency absence of the registrar. Appointment of the position of the registrar itself will remain with the Governor.
The board undertook consultation with a range of stakeholders about these proposed changes, including representative organisations for the education sectors, principals, unions, parent groups, and the providers of initial teacher education. Stakeholders broadly supported the proposal and their feedback has helped shape the final form of the bill.
I seek leave to have the explanation of clauses inserted in Hansard without my reading it.
Explanation of Clauses
These clauses are formal.
Part 2—Amendment of Teachers Registration and Standards Act 2004
4—Amendment of section 15—Registrar of Teachers Registration Board
This clause inserts new paragraph (c) into section 15(4) of the principal Act, enabling the Registrar to perform the functions contained in this measure.
5—Insertion of section 15A
This clause inserts new section 15A into the principal Act which allows the Teachers Registration Board to appoint an acting Registrar.
6—Substitution of section 20
This clause substitutes section 20 of the principal Act, prescribing the functions for which a person must be a registered teacher to perform or be employed to perform. In part, the need for clarification arises from the inclusion of the ability for registration to be suspended under proposed section 34A.
7—Insertion of section 34A
This clause inserts new section 34A into the principal Act, which confers on the Registrar the ability to suspend the registration of a teacher, or alter the conditions of their registration, where the teacher is charged with certain offences, and pending dealing with the matter under the provisions of the principal Act relating to disciplinary proceedings. The new section also makes procedural provision in relation to such suspension etc.
8—Amendment of section 41—Application
This clause inserts new subsection (1a) into section 41 of the principal Act, disapplying the provisions of that section in respect of proceedings under new section 34A.