Teachers Registration and Standards (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill- Second Reading- 16/10/2018


I would like to take some time to talk about some of the activities of the board and also to thank the people who are so significant in its ongoing success and hard work. For members who may not be aware, the Teachers Registration Board is a statutory authority, hence an amendment bill to its act, that is responsible primarily for the registration of teachers but also for promoting the teaching profession and the professional standards of teachers.

Members may or may not be aware that a teacher is required to have 60 hours of recognised professional development every year in order to maintain their registration. The Teachers Registration Board confers and collaborates with teacher education institutions with respect to the appropriateness for registration purposes of teacher education courses. That is, they work with the universities who train our teachers so that we make sure that the teachers who are coming into our schools are equipped with the very best knowledge, skills and capacity to teach our young people well.

They also work with other regulatory authorities and, of course, that is particularly important in a federation like Australia, where teachers frequently move from state to state and need to ensure that they are able to carry their education, training and registration from one to another. The board is responsible for constantly keeping the standards of the teaching profession and the regulation of the profession under review and to give advice to the minister from time to time, as appropriate, on necessary changes that might need to be made.

Clearly, this bill has come from advice that has come from the board, previously to me as the previous minister and then again to the minister in the incoming government, about the way in which the act can operate to best support our teachers, our schools and our students. The board of this organisation is a very well respected board. The registrar is Dr Peter Lind, who has done an extraordinary job for a number of years as the registrar and commands a high degree of respect across the teaching profession and across the three sectors of schooling and individual schools.

Jane Lomax-Smith is now the chair of the board and I was delighted to appoint her to that role a couple of years ago. She, of course, shares with me and the current minister the experience of having been education minister, and I think made a profound change to the quality of our education system in the time that she had that role. She was responsible for the superschools that have been so successful that they are almost immediately full. The majority of those superschools were squarely targeted at low SES areas, where schools were not supported sufficiently by their community and from which many students were turning away to find places in other sectors.

The fact that a school such as, for example, Mark Oliphant College immediately became a roaring success is due to the vision and the investment that Jane Lomax-Smith led as minister. She was also responsible in large part for the instigation and perhaps not quite the implementation of the SACE review, which led to a new SACE which has been an unmitigated success. The first year of the new SACE was 2011 and since then we have seen a more than doubling of the number of Aboriginal students who complete high school and we have seen a steady climb, some 13 per cent increase between 2011 and last year, in the proportion of students overall who are completing secondary school and graduating.

We have seen a SACE that has been able to balance the demands of ensuring that students are literate and numerate, making sure that they pass English and maths in year 11; that they meet the highest standards in their final exams in year 12; and, for those who go on to university, that they receive the merits that they have earned and deserve. We have seen that steady increase over time in the number of merits being given, but at the same time this great broadening of the number of students who feel that they can complete high school, that that is something that their education will culminate with at school and that they will not leave early.

We have seen a steady increase in the number of students undertaking VET over that period as part of their SACE, weaving it in, regardless of whether they choose to go to university or not. I would like to pay tribute to Jane Lomax-Smith. I was a little hesitant in asking her to take on this role because she has done so much already and was very busy. She is chair of the board of the Museum and, no doubt, many other activities. Yet, immediately she said yes and immediately she could see that she could contribute, and she grabbed the opportunity to be part of the education world yet again. So I am grateful to her. She came to me a little before the election with the substance of the bill that is before us today. I gave my in-principle support, and I am pleased to see that it has culminated now in the bill before us.

I would like to turn to some of the other members of the board before I look at the bill itself. They are: Mardi Barry, Susan Miels, Robert Woodbury, Colleen Tomalin, David Coulter, Patricia Cavanagh, Joanne Hill, Lynda Macleod, Bruno Vieceli, David Freeman, Bernadine Bourne, Judy Clark, Helen Doyle, Kate Cameron and Fiona Brady—the last two being appointments of and by the minister. They are very worthy people to be on this board and they have really made a serious contribution to making sure that we regulate our teaching profession well.

What we have in this bill is the culmination of a first tranche of work, and there may indeed be others. With the breadth of the ambition that Jane and Peter Lind came to me with for making sure that the act was sufficiently modern and responsive to our contemporary needs, I know that there may well be other elements to that. However, I am pleased that they have come with these sections. In my own mind, and when describing it to my colleagues on this side of the house in order to secure their support, I divide that into three major activities.

One is the importance of having an acting registrar. That seems a fairly straightforward matter, and in some ways it is surprising that no-one had done it before we got to this bill. When poor old Peter Lind goes on holiday, he has to time it very carefully in order to make sure that there is not work that is required to be done by the registrar of the act, because he will not be there and there is no provision for an acting registrar. So this is a small but extremely useful and effective clause. There is nothing we like more in legislation than something that will actually make a little bit of a difference.

The next section is really a replacement, modernisation, clarification and elucidation of the way in which the obligations that are conferred on a teacher to make sure that they are properly registered under the law and that employers of a teacher do not ask someone who is not a teacher to undertake teaching activities. The way in which that is clarified in these subclauses makes a lot of sense and is probably far more workable than the existing provisions.

However, it is the third section that I think is of most importance, usefulness and significance; that is, we need to come to grips with the way in which we protect our children and our schools in circumstances where someone may not yet have been found guilty of a serious charge but has been found sufficiently suspect to be charged with an offence of a serious nature.

I think that, within an individual school, there is a fair degree of certainty that a principal and other teachers will be aware of someone being charged with a serious offence and that they will move to make sure that that teacher is no longer able to teach during the period in which they are on bail and under charge prior to any conviction or acquittal.

The concern is when a teacher who may wish to continue to teach in some form or another is able to move to a different school—perhaps a different school in a different sector—that may not have a clear line of sight as to what has occurred with that individual. This was the matter which was brought to me as being of most seriousness by Peter Lind and Dr Jane Lomax-Smith. It was the concern that, in making sure that they balance all due fairness and procedure, they are able to nonetheless warn other schools—all schools—and any potential employer of the person as a teacher that there is a now question mark.

The way that this has been laid out in the final bill is very sensible. Obviously, it allows for prescription of which offences, and I think we can have faith in the government to choose the appropriate offences that would trigger this. Having had that trigger, it is extremely important that the Teachers Registration Board is able to then have that as part of their register of the teacher so that future employers are able to see that that has occurred.

The bill also pays attention to due process and to the capacity for appeal and for review by the Teachers Registration Board. I know that, while the union was slightly noncommittal in its initial comments, not having seen the bill, it was broadly supportive and needed to be assured that there would be these provisions. As I understand it, it remains broadly supportive of the effort that has been gone to here. With that, I would like to say that this side of the house supports this bill and wishes it a speedy passage.

Ms LUETHEN (King) (20:45): I rise to support this bill on behalf of parents and teachers in King. The Teachers Registration and Standards (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill 2018 will amend the Teachers Registration and Standards Act 2004 to address issues with the ability of the Teachers Registration Board to suspend the registration of a teacher charged with serious offences and to improve administrative arrangements for the appointment of an acting registrar for the board.

Our educators 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 community. I am sure that most people here, and most adults at home, can remember the teachers who impacted their lives. I certainly can remember the teachers from my primary school years who made a lasting impact on me for good, and sometimes not so good, reasons.

I remember the teacher who taught us our multiplication tables by guitar, which was great. I remember the teachers who acted very quickly when I had my asthma attacks. I remember the physics teacher who only wanted to answer the boys' questions, and so my parents employed a tutor because I wanted to learn and I had plenty of questions. I remember the teacher who used to stroke my back in circles when I asked him a question, and it made me feel uncomfortable. Now, knowing what I can remember about my childhood, it probably made me feel even more uncomfortable and unable to speak up because of other things in that space that were happening at home.

Because teachers can make such an important impact on our children's lives and they spend six hours a day with our children five days a week, the good teachers and the majority of the teaching profession deserve 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 spend that amount of time caring for our 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, amongst 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 act immediately to 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 wait for the outcome of related court action before it can even commence a disciplinary process.

Currently, a teacher's registration remains valid while any court proceedings and subsequent disciplinary inquiries are underway. This means that a teacher can potentially hold themselves out to be a fit and proper person to work as a teacher or tutor, despite being the subject of serious criminal charges relevant to the safety of children. Herein lies today's risk to the wellbeing of our children. A teacher facing serious criminal charges related to offences against children remains on the public register while these matters are finalised, and they have the potential to negatively impact on the safety of children. This risk undermines the integrity of the register of teachers.

Clause 7 of the 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 a proper cause for disciplinary action against the teacher. The clause also provides for the registrar to vary the conditions of a teacher's registration by imposing new conditions if they are charged with a prescribed offence. 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 of the variation of conditions. A suspension would continue until the board has determined whether there is proper cause for disciplinary action against the teacher, or 120 days after the day on which the last charge to which the 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.

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. 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.

All children have the right to be protected from violence inflicted on them by anyone in their lives—whether it be by parents, teachers, friends, family or strangers—and all forms of violence experienced by children, regardless of the nature or severity of the act, are harmful. Beyond the unnecessary hurt and pain it causes, violence undermines a child's sense of self-worth and hinders their development. The adverse effects of child abuse can be lifelong.

I remember when it was reported in South Australia that there had been a critical incident report filed on sexual abuse in South Australian schools every two days in 2013. In just 74 school days to the end of May 2013, 35 critical incident reports concerning sexual abuse had been filed in SA schools. The year before, in 2012 there were 47 critical sexual abuse incidents recorded in SA schools. At the same time that Justice Debelle was inquiring into the Labor government's handling of child sex abuse cases, sexual assault critical incidents were being recorded at a rate of one every two school days in South Australian schools.

In King, a teacher was reported for serious offences against children and prosecuted last year. This goes on. The widespread silencing of sexual abuse in institutional settings has been so vividly revealed by the testimony given to the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (2013-17). State recognition of the potential for institutional abuse has been enshrined in Australian legislation from as early as the 1880s, when states enacted clauses criminalising teachers' sexual offences on their pupils.

Research and reports have shown that the longest delays in the reporting of child sexual abuse occur where the alleged perpetrators were authority figures such as teachers, priests or foster carers, with data showing that the majority of these reports were made at least 10 years after the incident.

The government will today introduce legislation into parliament to amend the Teachers Registration and Standards Act to enable the Teachers Registration Board to immediately suspend the registration of a teacher charged with serious criminal offences, including rape, murder and drug dealing. Existing provisions mean that if the board becomes aware of a serious charge laid against a teacher, it may need to await the outcome of related court action before it commences a disciplinary process.

A teacher's registration currently remains valid while any court proceedings and subsequent disciplinary inquiries are underway. This means that while a teacher charged with serious offences would be stood down from their current employment they could potentially seek employment in another school or as a private tutor. This is a risk to young people in our educational settings in South Australia. I commend our education minister for advocating and delivering the current provisions in our act that need to change. Our minister said:

Every day across South Australia our teachers work hard to improve the lives of students and contribute to a well educated and engaged society. They deserve the trust and respect of our community.

However, the Teachers Registration Board has brought to the government's attention that current provisions in the act potentially allow teachers to present themselves as suitable for employment in a school setting despite being the subject of serious criminal charges relevant to the safety of children. We believe that teachers facing such serious charges should not remain on the register while these matters are being finalised. Children could continue to be at risk. The new bill allows the board to immediately suspend the registration of a teacher or vary the conditions of a teacher's registration if they are charged with a prescribed offence.

We must do everything we can to keep our children and young people safe at school and to uphold the integrity of the teachers register. The legislation has been welcomed by the Teachers Registration Board, which seeks to close the loophole. 'The board undertook consultation with a range of stakeholders about the proposed changes, including representative organisations for the education sectors, principals, unions, parent groups and providers of initial teacher education,' said Dr Jane Lomax-Smith, the chair of the Teachers Registration Board.

I expect these changes to be welcomed by school communities, by the parents living in my electorate and by the overwhelming majority of teachers who dedicate their lives to giving our next generation the best possible start in life. I thank our minister of the Marshall Liberal government and commend this bill to the house.

The Hon. J.A.W. GARDNER (Morialta—Minister for Education) (20:57): I am very pleased to be concluding the debate on the Teachers—

The ACTING SPEAKER (Mr Treloar): Sorry, I need to say, minister, that if you speak you close the debate.

The Hon. J.A.W. GARDNER: I think everyone is comfortable with that at this point, but thank you, sir. I am very pleased to conclude the debate on the Teachers Registration and Standards (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill. I thank the member for Port Adelaide and the member for King for their contributions and for indicating their support for the bill. This is a bill that I have been very pleased to see has the support, as I understand it, of all members of this house, and I hope it will have a speedy passage through the Legislative Council in the coming weeks.

It is an important bill. It is important in that it deals with the safety of our children, which is of course an utterly critical priority, and indeed it is also a bill that ensures that the register of teachers kept by the Teachers Registration Board can be seen and understood to be an utterly reliable primary source. If a teacher is on the register, then they will be known, as a result of this bill, to be not facing such charges and it will become a document of utter reliability.

This is desirable because, of course, we have tens of thousands of teachers in South Australia and we have tens of thousands who are worthy of being on the register and who dedicate their lives to the education of our youngest South Australians. It is a worthy and a noble profession. It is a calling. Their reputation should not be sullied or tarnished by the despicable and disgraceful behaviours and acts and criminal offences of some people who, up until the passage of this bill, have remained on the register for far too long.

So it is important for teachers and it is valued, I think, by many teachers. The shadow minister indicated the support of the Education Union and, given the significant number of Education Union members on the Teachers Registration Board who indicated their support for this bill, I was hoping that those members would be able to speak on behalf of the profession through that role. Clearly, they have.

Even more important than that, though, is the protection of our children. The member for King articulated extraordinarily well in her contribution; in a very personal sense she conveyed the utter importance of this legislation. I am very pleased it has the support of the Labor Party, and I hope it will pass in the Legislative Council very quickly in the weeks ahead. I commend the bill to the house.

Bill read a second time.

Third Reading

The Hon. J.A.W. GARDNER (Morialta—Minister for Education) (21:01): I move:

That this bill be now read a third time.

Bill read a third time and passed.

 

At 21:01 the house adjourned until Wednesday 17 October 2018 at 10:30.