This time seven years ago as executive director of the New Zealand Teachers Council I was selecting by tender a firm to carry out the ballot for the first teacher representatives. There were three positions, secondary, primary and early childhood. Trevor Mallard the Minister had appointed temporary people until the elections could be held. I was tempted by a digital ballot – it would be cheaper and innovative, indicative of the future. But I didn’t want to upset teachers and I was aware that people in the early childhood sector might have trouble getting access. So we settled for a postal ballot.
(I point out the lack of the apostrophe in the Council’s title is a reflection of the wording of the Act forming it. It was a political decision, not an educational one. I signed many a letter in the Council’s early days stating this fact).
In 1992 Lockwood Smith put me on the five-member Teacher Registration Board, (TRB). The Board had been formed during the Tomorrow Schools reforms to carry out two functions, to register and to deregister teachers. Most of the staff had been inherited from the old Department of Education. The board met eleven times a year, mainly to discuss deregistration for particular individuals.
Ian Leggat was chair of the Board. Ex-principal of Hagley Community College and Christchurch Boys’ High School, pro-chancellor of Canterbury University Ian was a humane educator and an extremely capable chair. As teachers being considered for deregistration had the right of appear before the Board meetings were often harrowing and fraught. People’s livelihood and careers were on the line. But the question had to be asked, what this person fit to be a teacher? Competence issues were the most difficult. The well-being of students was always our primary aim in reaching a decision.
After Ian left Lyall Perris replaced him. Lyall had been with me in the Curriculum Development Division of the old Ministry. He had been acting Chief Executive of the Ministry of Education before the permanent appointment of Howard Fancy. He continued with Ian’s sensitive style of chairmanship. I was pleased to have been a member of the Board under their leadership.
In 2000 my stint ended. But half-way through 2001 Lyall rang me. John Langley, director of the TRB had been appointed principal of Auckland College of Education. Would I be interested in being interviewed for a position as interim director to assist in the transition to the newly formed Teachers Council? ‘Be a three months’ job,’ he said.
I was appointed in September. It was to be a transitional job so I adopted a policy of as little change as possible. After all I knew the running of the Board very well. I quickly learnt the political sensitivity of the position. Cases involving teachers being prosecuted or having sexual relationships with students were right up the media’s alley.
An example – at a remote area school a young woman teacher had run away with a senior male student. This was on the radio in the morning. When I got to the office early a staff member was already on the ball. The teacher was not even registered. I rang the school – the principal besieged by the media was distraught. When she heard my news she was even more upset - foolishly she had not checked. “It is so difficult to get staff here.’
The media rang me. “Such cases almost invariably result in deregistration but in this case as the teacher was not registered the TRB can do nothing.’
‘So it was the school’s fault.’
‘Yes, they should have checked.’
‘What are you going to do to punish them?’
‘Nothing, the school has suffered enough with all the publicity and I’m sure the principal will not make this mistake again. I’m also confident that that teacher would have trouble getting a job as a teacher.’
I got pilloried all day for being soft. Pundits thundered about the lack of standards in the profession.
At the next Board meeting Lyall commended me on my compassionate remarks.
I shall write about the Teachers Council in tomorrow’s blog.
Words - Douglas McLennan
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