Bills - Teacher Accreditation Amendment Bill 2021
I make a short contribution to debate on the Teacher Accreditation Amendment Bill 2021. I thank the many teachers who have contacted my office regarding the bill. The foremost purpose of the bill is to put in place statutory provisions that come from the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The bill steps beyond the recommendations and makes a series of additional amendments to the teacher accreditation scheme. The royal commission exposed institutions that failed children right across the State; the fallout of those failings have rippled through many in our society. It has taken far too long for this Government to address the findings of the royal commission and put in place the necessary laws to protect children, and to make our schools and institutions safe.
New South Wales is one of the last States to implement the recommendations from the royal commission. The royal commission's findings led to the national child safety framework, which underpins the approach to the bill and the accreditation requirements relating to child safety found in the bill. I will not go into the details of the bill, as they have been well covered by others in this place and in the other place. The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party supports, in principle, what the bill is trying to achieve. I note my colleague in the other place, a former schoolteacher himself, Mr Mark Banasiak, moved some amendments to provide clarity around some of the matters, particularly around when an accreditation can be suspended or revoked, what the reasons are, and who the fit or proper person is.
As I said, the bill is a long time coming. In 2004, when the accreditation process first came in, a lot of teachers were looking around and saying, "What do we do here?" In the absence of any sort of real guidance, they bombarded the NSW Education Standards Authority [NESA] with thousands and thousands of pages of paperwork because they did not know. The bill will refine and bring further improvements to that process. I note concerns raised in the other place by Mr David Shoebridge and supported by my colleague Mr Banasiak, which has also been the main issue that was raised with me: the publishing of a public register of teachers. The register is designed to enable interested members of the public, including parents and caregivers, to check the accreditation of any New South Wales teacher. As we said in the other place, the need for a public register might be like cracking a walnut with a sledgehammer.
The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party does not want to see the proposed register become a de facto "rate your teacher" website, which already exists. That is not to say that it will. But, as my colleague Mr Banasiak said, the accreditation status of schoolteachers is not an indication to parents of the teaching quality their kids are getting at that school. There are fantastic, proficient teachers who have no ambition to become "highly accomplished" or to move up the tree to leadership—they love being classroom teachers. We will watch that part of the bill closely to make sure those concerns do not eventuate.
My colleague Mr Banasiak raised some concerns around the suitability to teach assessments. I raise them in this place again. There is a fairly obscure and vague reference to a "fit and proper person" as an addendum to all the other criteria in the assessment of whether someone is suitable to teach or not. This "fit and proper person" concept is not necessarily unique to teaching; it is seen across a wide variety of departments. The next comments do not indicate that the NSW Education Standards Authority will necessarily abuse that "fit and proper person" concept, but I put on record that it has been abused by other government departments because of its vagueness. I call on the Minister to properly define that term.
I suggest that NESA could include considering the following when forming an opinion about whether an individual is a fit and proper person to teach: whether a relevant associate of the individual reasonably suspects the individual may engage in improper conduct in carrying out the person's vocational duties; whether the individual has provided false or misleading information; and whether the individual's accreditation has been revoked or suspended by the authority or by an equivalent entity in another jurisdiction, including outside Australia. Further, in forming an opinion about whether an individual is a fit and proper person to teach based on particular conduct of the individual, NESA could consider: whether the relevant conduct is relevant to the exercise of the individual's vocational duties; whether proceedings relating to relevant conduct are prevented from being instituted by a statute of limitations; whether the relevant conduct happened only once and is unlikely to happen again; whether the relevant conduct is of a minor nature; or whether the individual's overall conduct demonstrates the individual is highly unlikely to further engage in the relevant conduct.
Those comments go to the amendment proposed by my colleague in the other place, which was voted down—the amendment would have provided clarity and guidance to the authority as to how it can make a determination under the "fit and proper person" concept because without it, it is quite vague and is subject to inconsistent decision-making and perhaps abuse. I finish by passing on my sincere thanks to all the teachers right across Barwon. They have my backing every day of the week. They have my support in calling for recognition from the Minister and from the department that there is a teacher shortage crisis in New South Wales. They have my support when they say our time doing unnecessary paper work is taking them away from important face‑to‑face teaching time. I see them when they spend their lunch break supporting kids. I see them when they spend their evenings and weekends planning for our kids. I see their passion for teaching and educating our future generation. As I said, they have my backing every day of the week.