Editorial: Let's not train in vain

Last updated 05:00 18/03/2014

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OPINION: The Teachers Council is on its way out. It's a decision that so far hasn't been widely lamented by the public. Rightly or wrongly - we'll go with rightly - the council hasn't been celebrated for its successes, nor its openness, when it comes to keeping the profession honest.

The Government's decision to replace the council with an independent statutory body to be called the Education Council of Aotearoa New Zealand (EDUCANZ) should deliver something better than the existing holy huddle of teachers.

But right now we have a transitional stage and that's often a lumpen time for bodies that still have a job to do.

At least there's been feistiness, of late, from within the bowels of the council's much-maligned disciplinary tribunal, where member Patrick Walsh has been raising serious criticisms about teacher training.

Last week the six-year tribunal veteran said that at times the quality of training around professional boundaries and student safety was non-existent and that some teachers were so concerned with thinking they needed to be friends with students that they accepted inappropriate gifts and invitations because they were flattered.

Texting and social media, including Facebook, had also contributed to the blurring of the line on what was acceptable between teachers and students, he said.

It's hard to argue with that, given cases ranging from criminality to the perfectly legal but screamingly inappropriate conduct of one teacher who accepted a gift of underwear.

We should note, however, the follow-up public criticisms that people dumb enough not to independently recognise the perils of such a gift were quite possibly too dumb to be teachers for that reason alone and no amount of training would change that.

Now Mr Walsh has an unassailably good reason to call, again, on education providers to lift their game.

The council declined nearly 50 applications for registration last year, leading to criticisms that in many of those cases the training providers were accepting people with drug and assault convictions that certainly should, and in these cases did, render their career ambitions futile.

Education providers are required to vet students applying for teacher training. The problem appears to be the disconnect between simply going through this exercise and then reacting appropriately to the scope to make judgment calls

Hence the withering assertion from Secondary Schools Principals Association president Tom Parsons that a huge variance exists between the standards applied by the training providers and those in the profession.

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It's understandable that quite apart from the futility of the training, and the risk that some inappropriate personalities might get through - let's never forget disgraced Northland teacher James Parker - there's also some public concern that inappropriate trainees have been getting class time as part of their studies, closely monitored though it presumably would be.

Mr Walsh's bottom line is a good one: the transition to EDUCANZ affords a chance for a necessary recalibration of teacher training requirements, especially better connection to the standards that the profession, and for that matter the wider public, would insist upon. And when in doubt, children's safety trumps all.

- The Southland Times

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