Changes to the Teacher Accreditation Act 2004 (NSW); further focus on child protection and reform
In November 2021, the Teacher Accreditation Act 2004 (NSW) was amended to reflect the findings and recommendations made by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
The changes aim to ensure the ongoing protection of children in the process of administering teacher accreditation by applying the principle that, in an action or decision concerning a child or young person, the safety, welfare and wellbeing of the child or young person are paramount.
Further, the changes authorise the NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) to:
(a) determine and grant all types and levels of teacher accreditations in all schools and early childhood education centres;
(b) assess and determine the suitability of individuals to teach in certain circumstances; and
(c) obtain any information and share any relevant information about an individual with other government bodies and education-based organisations, both here and abroad.
NESA is now recognised as the only body which assesses a person’s suitability to teach, regardless of the type or level of accreditation sought by the person (instead of teacher accreditation authorities). Also, NESA may now conduct an assessment of individuals in their suitability to teach taking into account specific circumstances, including:
(a) if a complaint is made to NESA about an individual; and
(b) if the individual is the subject of criminal proceedings which, in NESA’s opinion, relates to an act or conduct that demonstrates a lack of professional integrity and suitability or competence to teach.
As NESA is now the assessing body for teacher accreditation, it may acquire and review documents from other bodies such as the NSW Police Commissioner, the Office of the Children’s Guardian and other interstate or overseas schools and educational bodies. The documents must be relevant to an individual and their suitability to teach, including:
(a) documents that verify an individual’s identity;
(b) an individual’s criminal history anywhere;
(c) information about any disciplinary proceedings involving the individual in any occupation or profession; and
(d) an individual’s WWCC clearance history.
NESA not only determines the suitability of individuals to teach but also may make a finding that a person is unsuitable to teach; for example, because of the individual’s personal and criminal history, because they are an ‘unfit person’, or because they do not maintain competency in teaching.
A school employer who:
(a) starts or finalises disciplinary proceedings against an accredited teacher in relation to alleged misconduct while employed as a teacher, or
(b) dismisses the teacher for a reason for which the teacher’s accreditation may be revoked,
must notify NESA of this and give NESA all the relevant information about it.
Also, a school employer must notify NESA if it has, or is aware of, information that is or may be relevant to the grounds for which a teacher’s accreditation may be suspended or revoked by NESA.
With the overarching aim of protecting children in their pursuit of learning and education, we recommend schools and teachers familiarise themselves with these changes. They are especially relevant to school leaders in ensuring compliance with the new requirements under the Act when dealing with teaching staff, especially those facing disciplinary action.