Teacher accreditation: NESA must get this right

Key points

  • Develop nationally consistent provisions for information sharing between jurisdictions when determining a person’s suitability to teach, as recommended by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse
  • NESA to become the sole accrediting authority – employer Teacher Accreditation Authorities (TAAs) to go
  • NESA to maintain a public register of accredited teachers on its website
  • NESA can require teachers to undertake a health assessment to determine their suitability to teach.

The IEU cautiously supports the Teacher Accreditation Amendment Bill currently before the NSW Parliament.

The IEU also supports the NSW government adopting the recommendation from the Royal Commission about nationally consistent provisions for determining a person’s suitability to teach – albeit belatedly. This will ensure minimum requirements for assessing a teacher’s suitability and the seamless flow of information related to child safety between jurisdictions.

There is an important and welcome intention to make NESA the sole accrediting authority. The current system, which empowers employers as the Teacher Accreditation Authority (TAA), has proven problematic. There have been frequent disparities around the interpretation and application of the professional teaching standards commonly occurring. Some employers have also elected to use teacher accreditation as a de facto performance management process, which further complicates the process.

The NSW Minister for Skills and Tertiary Education, Geoff Lee, said the Bill would streamline the cumbersome teacher accreditation process, ensuring “that accreditation requirements are communicated and applied consistently for all teachers across NSW, and there will be a reduced administrative burden on schools and school systems”.

Relieving school principals of this administrative burden would allow them to focus on increasing their support for supervising and mentoring beginner teachers. The union has been calling for this for many years.

However, if NESA is to become the sole accrediting authority, it will need adequate resourcing to ensure a timely and equitable process. A funding failure will once again see NESA resort to outsourcing this important function to various employer bodies, with each applying differing expectations and complicated layers of compliance.

Lee advised parliament that NESA would consult with the teaching profession, “in developing the new accreditation policies and procedures to implement this important change”.

So the IEU, as a representative of the profession, looks forward to being included in this consultation process. The union will closely monitor any NESA policies or guidelines to ensure employers are not tempted to reassert themselves unnecessarily into the new accreditation process.

There are several concerning aspects of the Bill that will require closer scrutiny once it reaches the committee stage. One of these is the requirement that the accreditation authority maintain a public register of accredited teachers on its website. This would include the name and accreditation level of every accredited teacher in NSW.

Given there is already a statutory requirement on schools to employ accredited teachers only, this provision appears unnecessary. The union is concerned about how this will operate in practice, with the potential for the data to be misused to create league tables purporting to compare the staffing experience or expertise between schools.

Another concern is the provision allowing the accreditation authority (NESA) to require a teacher to undergo a health assessment. In determining a teacher’s suitability to teach, the authority is empowered to consider a wide range of information, including a “relevant complaint” made by another party. However, there is no indication as to what constitutes a “relevant complaint”, or what would be the threshold for triggering a health assessment, and who would bear the cost.

The union’s experience is that employers have struggled to deal with child safeguarding issues in a timely fashion in recent years and this is an area that would require significant and ongoing consultation.

This proposed legislation is significant and NESA must consult closely with the unions that represent the teaching profession to ensure any emerging processes and guidelines reflect the outcomes NESA is trying to achieve.