20 September 2023

'Poorly' worded teacher registration law leaves 900 educators with invalid licence

| Claire Fenwicke
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Students raising hands while teacher asking them questions in classroom

The government is acting quickly to rectify a law that has left hundreds of ACT educators on invalid registration licences. Photo: File.

It’s been discovered a misapplication of the law that allows for Canberra’s teachers to be registered means up to 900 educators are operating on invalid licences.

The issue was discovered by the Teacher Quality Institute (TQI), and the ACT Government has been scrambling to introduce an amendment to the legislation to solve the problem.

Normal standing orders had to be suspended on Tuesday (19 September) to allow the introduction of the ACT Teacher Quality Institute Amendment Bill 2023 and to allow debate on the legislation before it goes to a committee inquiry.

This suspension was agreed to by all parties given the “urgent” nature of the issue.

“This is a bill that needs passage pre-emptively to avoid any undue anxiety for our great ACT teachers and community,” Government Business Manager Mick Gentleman said.

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The TQI is the Territory’s teacher registration body, which has been in place since 2011.

A spokesperson said the institute had recently been made aware of a “technical issue” with the TQI Act 2010 around provisional registration eligibility and renewal of teacher registration.

“An unintended consequence of this means that some provisionally registered teachers are technically not currently eligible to teach under the Act,” they said.

“In the meantime, teachers operating in ACT schools across all sectors remain qualified, are doing so safely and are continuing to provide quality teaching in our schools. Teachers and schools don’t need to do anything differently at this time.”

Education Minister Yvette Berry further explained the body’s practice had been to allow educators who had taught for more than 180 days over the previous five years, but who were otherwise not eligible to be issued with full registration, to be granted provisional registration.

It’s been found this practice contravenes the law around teacher registration.

“The process for achieving full registration should be flexible to accommodate different contexts and experiences,” Ms Berry said.

“Our legislation was drafted in a way which doesn’t allow this level of flexibility.

“The unintended way of the way the Act was drafted was that a teacher who does not move to full registration of 180 days is not eligible for any kind of registration … and are therefore unable to be registered and unable to teach.”

She said this had created an “unintentional ceiling” of 180 teaching days within five years before someone must progress to full registration.

This can disadvantage people who may not have been able to gather and provide evidence of their previous experience, such as those who may have had poor health, or who have been overseas for a number of years.

There’s no option to remain at provisional registration, which means if they can’t progress to the next level, they aren’t legally allowed to teach.

The Nationally Consistent Registration Framework states the maximum period for meeting requirements for full registration is five years, with a “provision for extension on a case-by-case basis”.

While the TQI Act allows for a further one-year extension up to six years, it doesn’t allow for flexibility for the TQI to respond on a case-by-case basis.

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Ms Berry said the current ACT law’s clauses were drafted “poorly” and needed to be rectified quickly.

“TQI has interpreted the Act in the way the National Framework intended – allowing a case-by-case consideration of teachers’ circumstances if they need more years to move to full registration,” she said.

“[However this means] TQI has invalidly issued registration to approximately 900 teachers across our public, Catholic and independent schools.

“[These teachers] are in all other ways eligible and competent to teach, and pose no safety or educational risk to children.”

Educators are prohibited from teaching without a valid registration, and schools aren’t allowed to employ those with an invalid licence.

“[This] is why is it important to resolve these issues with urgency,” Ms Berry said.

“The bill will validate past registrations impacted by these issues … and all decisions that have been made by employers and TQI about these registrations.”

Ms Berry stressed the provisional teachers on these invalid licences were qualified and competent to teach, as well as provide safe learning environments.

The amendment bill will also alter the associated regulation, which currently requires teachers to have taught for 100 days in the previous five years to be eligible for their full registration.

This isn’t authorised by the Act, which makes it invalid.

“The bill resolves this issue by clarifying that teachers who hold full registration who wish to renew their full registration, must be able to demonstrate recency of practice which is at a minimum of 20 days of teaching in the previous year, or 100 days of teaching in the previous five years,” Ms Berry said.

It’s expected this bill will come back to the Assembly for debate on Thursday (21 September), which would amend the TQI Act 2010 and the associated regulation.

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