Alanah Eriksen

Alanah Eriksen is the New Zealand Herald's property reporter, and assistant chief reporter.

Abolish teacher-name secrecy, MPs demand

The Teachers Council put a warning on its website last year saying it was illegal to publish details of complaints. Photo / Getty Images
The Teachers Council put a warning on its website last year saying it was illegal to publish details of complaints. Photo / Getty Images

Teachers appearing before a disciplinary tribunal should be named, a parliamentary select committee has ruled.

The Teachers Council's practice of automatically suppressing the names of school staff complained about is not in accordance with the Education Act, the MPs panel said.

Communities are not being told about teachers found guilty of physically or sexually abusing students - some of whom have been allowed to return to the classroom.

The Teachers Council put a warning on its website last year saying it was illegal to publish details of complaints. The little-known rules have been in place since 2004.

The Herald on Sunday and Wellington barrister Graeme Edgeler complained to Parliament's regulations review committee that the rules were suddenly being enforced.

In a decision issued this week, chairwoman Maryan Street and member Lianne Dalziel did not consider the council's rules were in accordance with the Education Act.

They said the act "clearly intends the Disciplinary Tribunal's proceeding to generally be open, and information relating to proceedings to generally be publicly available".

The committee said the council - which has made 29 decisions this year - had the ability to change its own rules and recommended it did so to ensure proceedings were open.

It also recommended the Government consider amending the Education Act to specify explicitly that the proceedings be open to the public.

Herald On Sunday editor Bryce Johns said the decision was long overdue. "The council has effectively been protecting misbehaving teachers the way it has interpreted its rules. Parents should feel very relieved they will now be forced to let the public in.

"They need to move very quickly on it ... If they don't do it, the Government's going to make them.

"We'd like to see actions speak louder than words. They need to deliver ... and then finally parents will be able to believe that they will know who the bad teachers are out there. Currently they don't."

The Teachers Council will discuss its next steps at a meeting in two weeks, director Peter Lind said.

"The council will seriously consider the recommendations to review and revise its rules ... The only reason it hasn't been changed is we've also been aware that in doing anything like this, we want to make sure we are still able to bring teachers to account when we need."

Dr Lind said the council would not want its efforts defeated by parents who refused on privacy grounds to allow children to provide witness statements. "If we change the rules for openness' sake and in the end we find we can't pursue cases that we need to, then that's a problem."

Dr Lind acknowledged the council had probably been breaking its own rules when it came to suppression.

Mr Edgeler said that in some cases, it was important for the community to know who the misbehaving teachers were.

"If there are particular instances where the names of victims or particular complaints need to be suppressed, that's just something that happens. But the fact that all of them were banned, even ones where there aren't any victims really at all - drunken teacher escapades on Facebook or something like that - there wasn't a reason to have them banned. And I'm quite a fan of open justice and free speech and I thought, 'This just seems wrong'."

- NZ Herald

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