Áine Lawlor graduated from Mary Immaculate College in 1969. She holds a B.A. from University College Dublin and was awarded a H.Dip.Ed., Dip.Ed.Admin. and M.A. (1st hons) from NUI Maynooth where she is currently undertaking a Ph.D. on continuing professional development for teachers.
Áine was appointed Chief Executive of the Teaching Council in 2004. The Council is a self-financing, statutory body established under the Teaching Council Act, 2001 to promote and regulate the teaching profession in Ireland. The Act provides for the establishment of standards, policies, and procedures for the education and training of teachers and, to this end, the Council has responsibility for the review and accreditation of programmes of teacher education together with the maintenance of a register of teachers, codes of professional conduct for teachers, and the holding of fitness to teach inquiries.
Áine’s career in education includes her role as teacher, school principal and national co-ordinator of an in-service programme. Her current role involves working closely with the partners in education at national level, with teacher educators in colleges and universities and with professional bodies and networks. She is currently an Irish representative on the Teacher Education for Inclusion Project under the European Agency for the Development of Special Needs Education.
Seomra Ranga would like to thank Áine for unreservedly accepting the request to be the first interviewee in a new series on the website. Áine accepted the invitation without hesitation or equivocation and did not request any subject area to be out of bounds for the interview. She has taken great time to give comprehensive responses to the questions put to her. I hope her responses will generate lots of talk, discussion and debate. DQ
Seomra Ranga: Why was it necessary or advisable to set up the Teaching Council in the first place?
Áine Lawlor: Having a self-regulating body for any profession signifies the maturity of that profession and indicates that it is trusted to manage its professional affairs in the interest of the public good. It is also the case that, nationally and internationally, there is a strong focus on setting standards and regulating professions with professionalism, trust and integrity being key elements.
The Teaching Council was established on a statutory basis in March 2006, under The Teaching Council Act, 2001 as the regulatory body for the teaching profession in Ireland. Unlike other professions, until the establishment of the Council, there was no professional body for teaching in this country, e.g., The Medical Council for Doctors and An Bord Altranais for nurses. The establishment of a teaching council was actively sought by the profession from the 70s onwards and was advocated in major national and international reports on education in Ireland in the 90s. The Report of the Steering Committee on the Establishment of a Teaching Council (1998), set up by the government and representative of all the partners in education, provided the context and rationale for establishing a teaching council and this, subsequently, informed the legislation.
The Teaching Council has 37 members, of whom 22 are registered teachers, and the composition is indicative of the trust that is placed in teachers to regulate their profession with honour and integrity, marking a milestone in the development of the profession of teaching. The Council is entrusted with the right and the responsibility to be the gatekeeper of the profession: reviewing standards of entry to the profession; reviewing the standards of knowledge, skill and competence required for the practice of teaching; establishing codes of professional conduct for teachers; regulating standards in the profession; promoting the professional development of teachers and promoting teaching as a profession at primary and post-primary levels. The work being undertaken by the Council for the profession is being done in cooperation with the members of the profession and as such, it is an inclusive method of regulating the profession.
Seomra Ranga: What is the main remit of the Teaching Council?
Áine Lawlor: The role of the Council is confined to matters pertaining to the professional life of teachers and is different to that of other bodies that engage with teachers, i.e., Teacher Unions negotiate teachers’ pay, pensions and conditions of service, the management bodies look after the running of schools and the Department of Education and Skills and VECs look after the payroll.
In broad terms, the functions of The Teaching Council as set out in the Act are:
• To establish and maintain a register of teachers: a Register of Teachers, the first in the State, has been established and currently over 70,000 teachers in the Primary, Post-primary and Further Education sectors are registered.
• To regulate the teaching profession: Registration Regulations were published in 2009 and these set standards and bring greater uniformity to the qualifications required for registration as a teacher.
• To establish, publish, review and maintain Codes of Professional Conduct for Teachers to include standards of teaching knowledge, skill and competence: The Teaching Council Codes were published in 2007 and, like those of other professional bodies, they make explicit the core values underpinning teaching, the practice of teaching and the professional conduct of teachers.
• To deal with complaints regarding the fitness to teach of registered teachers: The Council will exercise its role in these matters under the disciplinary process in Part 5, Fitness to Teach, of the Act.
• To maintain and improve standards of teaching, knowledge, skill and competence: The Teaching Council has a statutory role in relation to standards of entry to programmes of teacher education and in the review and accreditation of these programmes..
• To promote the continuing professional development of teachers: A draft policy paper on the continuum of teacher education has been published and it emphasises the importance of induction for newly qualified teachers and continuing professional development as a life-long learning process for all teachers.
• To promote teaching as a profession: The Council promotes teaching through its website, newsletters, media and journal articles, careers fairs and wide-ranging information and consultation meetings.
Seomra Ranga: Teachers in the UK pay a registration fee to the General Teaching Council for England (GTCE) of £36.50; teachers in Northern Ireland pay a registration fee to the General Teaching Council of Northern Ireland (GTCNI) of £44. Why is the registration fee of €90 in the Republic of Ireland so high in comparison with both the UK and NI?
Áine Lawlor: The registration and renewal fee of €90 was set by Council to ensure adequate funding for the performance of its functions under legislation. Its functions are broader than those of the General Teaching Councils in Northern Ireland, Wales and England, and similar to those of the General Teaching Council in Scotland, the oldest known teaching council in the world.
Income tax relief is applied as a tax credit to a teacher’s flat rate expense allowance and, in effect, this means that the fee in real terms is closer to €53 per annum for those paying the higher rate of tax. When one takes into account exchange rates and tax relief at the higher rate, the fees are broadly comparable, e.g., the GTCNI fee of £44 equates to approximately €52; €1 less than the Teaching Council’s fee following tax relief (€53).
The current registration fee has been in place for 2008/09, 2009/10 and is being maintained for 2010/11. The fee is lower than fees being charged by most other professional bodies.
Seomra Ranga: How is the €90 registration fee spent? Considering that teachers’ salaries have been reduced in recent times, are there any plans to reduce the registration fee accordingly?
Áine Lawlor: To answer the first part of the question, the €90 fee is spent on running the Council’s business and the audited accounts are available in the Annual Reports and on the Council’s website, www.teachingcouncil.ie
In relation to the second question, both the Finance Committee of the Council and the full Council itself has considered and discussed the issue of whether or not the annual fee should be reduced. It was decided that it would be prudent to leave the fee at its current level and hold it at that for a number of years rather than implement a short-term reduction and have to increase it again in the near future.
The fee is based on projected expenditure levels rather than on teachers’ income. As the Council grows and takes on more functions, the costs of running the Council increase. It is hoped that the fee will be maintained at its current level for several years yet.
Seomra Ranga: The Secretary of State for Education in the UK, Michael Gove, said recently of the General Teaching Council for England (GTCE), “I believe this organisation does little to raise teaching standards or professionalism. Instead it simply acts as a further layer of bureaucracy while taking money away from teachers”. Could the same not be said of the Irish Teaching Council?
Áine Lawlor: While the raison d’être of professional bodies for teaching are similar across the world, the functions and powers of teaching councils differ. Ireland is fortunate in having a Teaching Council with more extensive powers than some of its counterparts in other countries. In addition, most of the work carried out by the Council to ensure standards are maintained and improved has never before been undertaken in Ireland. Some of the ways in which The Teaching Council protects standards is by:
• Reviewing and accrediting the programmes of initial teacher education (Bachelors of Education, Postgraduate Diplomas in Education) in Ireland to ensure that they are appropriate for entry to the profession. Currently, there are forty two such programmes between concurrent and consecutive models, for primary and post-primary teaching.
• Assessing the qualifications of applicants for registration who qualify outside of Ireland to make sure they are comparable and equivalent to qualifications awarded in Ireland.
• Arranging the Garda vetting of teachers applying for registration.
• Establishing procedures for the induction of teachers into the profession and promoting the continuing professional development of teachers.
• Publishing and reviewing Codes of Professional Conduct for Teachers, bringing teaching into line with other professions in Ireland which have had written codes of conduct or ethical standards for many years.
• Planning for its role in relation to matters of professional conduct. Once the legislation is commenced, the Council may hold an inquiry into the professional conduct of a registered teacher and impose sanctions, where appropriate.
The majority of the areas of work listed above are not within the remit of the GTCE, for example, and it is seen as a privilege to have a self-regulatory body, The Teaching Council, given these responsibilities in Ireland. Rather than policy being dictated to the teaching profession, the Council decides policy. This important role is acknowledged and supported by the Department of Education and Skills in its recent report on numeracy and literacy as it states that “The establishment of the Teaching Council in recent years and the work that it has begun on the review and accreditation of initial teacher education programmes are very worthwhile developments with potential to bring about significant improvement in the profession.”
It is worth noting that the GTCE is not being closed down for another year as legislation is needed to transfer its functions to other bodies which indicates that these are considered to be necessary functions.
Seomra Ranga: Does the Teaching Council have any policy with regard to drug/substance abuse by teachers and should it consider drug testing measures as part of its vetting of teachers?
Áine Lawlor: Published in 2007, The Codes of Professional Conduct for Teachers set out the standards of teaching, knowledge, skill and competence required of registered teachers and they confirm the integrity and status of the profession. The Codes state that “Teachers should not practise the profession while under the influence of any substance which impairs their ability or medical fitness.” All registered teachers must adhere to the Codes. When the legislation relating to Fitness to Teach is commenced (Part 5 of The Teaching Council Act), the Council will have powers to investigate matters in relation to professional misconduct and, in this context, drugs/substance abuse affecting a teacher’s practice could be the subject of an investigation which could lead to a disciplinary enquiry.
In the context of registration, the Council is the authorised body to seek the vetting of teachers by the Garda Central Vetting Unit (GCVU). In this role, the Council acts as the conduit for the vetting of teachers, receiving the vetting application from the teacher, processing it and forwarding it to the GCVU, receiving the result of the vet from the GCVU and furnishing this information to the applicant teacher in a Vetting Letter. As employers, it is the responsibility of the relevant school authorities (Board of Management or VEC as appropriate) to ensure that any proposed new teacher appointee is vetted by the Gardaí through The Teaching Council. The Teaching Council, in the context of registration, decides on the relevance of a conviction to the teacher’s suitability for registration. The Council does not have any other role in relation to vetting.
Seomra Ranga: In view of the fact that many teachers perceive a negative bias towards the profession in the media, should the Teaching Council consider launching a media campaign promoting teaching as a respected profession and focussing on the positive contribution the teaching profession makes to the country?
Áine Lawlor: The promotion of teaching as a profession is central to all of the Council’s work. With regard to promoting the profession in the media, many articles have appeared in the national and regional press and on news/educational websites. In addition, many interviews have taken place on various radio stations across the country. In late 2009, the Council commissioned an attitudinal survey on attitudes to the teaching profession which was carried out by independent market research company, iReach Market Research. Interestingly, despite perceptions of a negative bias to the profession in the media, the results of this survey have shown that, overall, there are positive attitudes to the teaching profession with the majority of respondents satisfied with the way teachers do their jobs and having a high level of trust in teachers. There was also a strong endorsement of the valuable role that teachers play in our society and a good level of understanding of the complexity of the role and the skill level required. The results of this survey were featured widely in the media.
To increase efforts in promoting teaching as a profession, a dedicated website, www.teach.ie, is currently being developed by the Council. This website will aim to:
• foster a positive attitude to the teaching profession and publicly acknowledge the valuable role teachers play in society
• raise awareness of the attractiveness of teaching as a career option and of the challenges, opportunities and rewards which are presented by a career in teaching, for men and women
• inform persons interested in becoming a teacher, and those providing career advice, about entry routes into the profession.
It will be aimed at potential teachers (second and third level students, mature entrants), parents, guidance counsellors, careers advisers, the media and the general public. The website will provide a much needed counterbalance to the often ill-informed commentary on the profession in the national media. When the site is ready for launch, the Council will actively pursue national media coverage in relation to it.
Seomra Ranga: Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT Teachers’ Union in the UK recently commented, “I have frequently said that if the GTCE was abolished tomorrow, few would notice and even less would care.” Could the same be said of the Irish Teaching Council?
Áine Lawlor: This may be the sentiment of some people, but not all…following a recent information meeting for Teaching Council Contact Persons, a teacher who attended emailed the Council and said “The Teaching Council is doing excellent work… building links with the schools through Contact People will gradually bring about a change in attitude but these things take time…please be assured that there are plenty of teachers out there who are positive and supportive of your work. I thought it was important that you were aware of that.”
As the work of the Teaching Council progresses, its role in the professional lives of teachers will become more obvious and, hopefully, will be appreciated as a valuable professional asset in their lives.
Seomra Ranga: Section 30 of The Teaching Council Act 2001, which requires that all teachers in State recognised schools whose salary is funded by the Department of Education & Skills, must be registered with The Teaching Council. When can this section of the Act be expected to be implemented in full, thus declaring that all persons teaching in Irish classrooms are qualified personnel and fully registered with the Teaching Council?
Áine Lawlor: It is expected that Section 30 will be commenced in the coming months.
Seomra Ranga: In the recently published Draft Policy on the Continuum of Teacher Education, the Teaching Council notes that the “problem of fragmentation of the continuum has remained significant in Ireland with insufficient linkages being made between the stages of the continuum”. How can this problem be addressed by the Teaching Council?
Áine Lawlor: This can be addressed in a number of ways but perhaps, most significantly, it will require the providers of teacher education at all stages, to work more closely together in planning and delivering programmes. Ideally, future induction programmes will be designed through a consultative process involving schools, teacher educators and continuing professional development providers. They should be integrally related to, and build on, programmes of initial teacher education (ITE) and be based on a co-operative approach involving partnership between schools, colleges of education, universities, the education centres network and support services. Also significant is the concept of the professional portfolio. The Council believes that newly qualified teachers on induction programmes, should actively shape their own professional development, in the context of a portfolio commenced during initial teacher education and built on throughout the teaching career. The role of the school is key to integrating all stages of the continuum and this is evident in the Council’s draft policy paper, e.g., at initial teacher education stage colleges and schools should collaborate in the organisation of the practicum. At induction stage, the Council sees induction and mentoring as the professional responsibility of the whole community of teachers, in collaboration with ITE providers. Continuing Professional Development should see teachers in schools as professional learning communities, working through Colleges, Universities and the Education Centres, having a central role to play in prioritising their professional development needs. In this way, schools should provide a critical link between all three stages of the continuum.
Seomra Ranga: In the recently published Draft Policy on the Continuum of Teacher Education, the Teaching Council argues that Continuing Professional Development (CPD) is both “a right and a responsibility”. It is obvious that the current most popular model of CPD, the “summer course”, will be either abolished or reconfigured under Teaching Council proposals. What is your vision of how CPD for primary school teachers will evolve in the coming years?
Áine Lawlor: The Council has yet to devise a national framework for CPD which will identify ways in which professional development can be resourced and facilitated both within and outside school time, within a school and/or within a cluster of schools. A key challenge will be to take account of different categories of need and address current shortfalls while recognising the integrity of the school year and the need to minimise disruption to student learning. In advance of that framework being agreed, it is difficult to answer this question. In general terms, I believe that provision will need to be more closely linked with the other stages of the continuum, and will need to be flexible enough to take account of individual professional development needs, school needs and system needs, as well as formal and informal ways of learning. The detail has yet to be worked out, and I would encourage teachers and all the partners in education to share their views with us, as part of the consultation process which is on-going.
Seomra Ranga: If teachers are to engage in CPD “as a right and as a responsibility”, will credits be earned which can go towards a professional qualification at Certificate, Diploma or Degree level?
Áine Lawlor: The Draft Policy Paper states that “the National Framework of Qualifications should be utilised to facilitate recognition of the role of additional qualifications in teachers’ career structures.” In addition, it states that flexible modes of recognition of CPD need to be continually developed and reviewed.
Seomra Ranga: In relation to CPD and qualifications, at the moment a Masters qualification from a university in any subject area warrants an increased pay allowance, where other qualifications recognised at the same level on HETAC do not. Should this inequality be rectified?
Áine Lawlor: Similar to the previous answer, the draft Policy Paper states that flexible modes of recognition of CPD need to be continually developed and reviewed. It is too early at this stage to say what those modes of recognition might involve, although clearly they would not be limited to recognition in purely financial terms.
Seomra Ranga: Should the Teaching Council be more outspoken in relation to the exploitation of young teachers through the so called “FÁS Teacher’s Scheme” which, some would argue, will lead to a downgrading of the profession?
Áine Lawlor: Having regard to our role in regulating the profession, The Teaching Council is satisfied that only registered teachers may be employed as teachers in accordance with the FÁS Workplace Programme, so there will be no diminution of teaching standards. It should also be noted that the Council regularly receives representations from unemployed teachers who are deeply concerned by the situation in which they find themselves and who would willingly work on a voluntary basis in order to satisfy their probationary requirements. We have been contacted by many teachers who are pleased to have an option that will go towards meeting the probationary requirements. While it is not ideal, the scheme introduced by the Department would seem to represent an interim solution for teachers in such situations. It would not be desirable that newly qualified teachers would be precluded from satisfying their probationary requirements and thereby achieving full registration, as a result of an economic situation which is not of their making.
Seomra Ranga: What are the priorities for the work of the Teaching Council in the immediate future?
Áine Lawlor: The immediate priorities for the Council are the Policy on the Continuum of Teacher Education, the Review and Accreditation of Programmes of Teacher Education and the Review of Subject Criteria for Registration with Post-Primary Teacher Qualifications. There are sections of The Teaching Council Act that are due to be commenced in the near future such as fitness to teach, induction, probation and continual professional development. In advance of their commencement, the Council is working to prepare for its role in these areas.