At a recent Education Industry symposium conducted by McInnes Wilson Lawyers, which was attended by a large number of delegates having varying roles and interests throughout the Education sector, Paul McCowan presented a paper dealing with teacher regulation in Queensland. Here are some of the main points which arose.

Queensland has a proud history of many decades of formal teacher registration being the historical leader in Australia. Some other states in Australia are still yet to follow suit with formalised legislated teacher regulation. Our present regime is governed under the Education (Queensland College of Teachers) Act 2005.

This legislation sets out a framework as to how persons become and remain as registered teachers as well as setting up extensive processes for dealing with the conduct of teachers including, in extreme cases, disciplinary action which might lead to teacher de-registration.

The registration aspects under the act strive to ensure proper qualifications are held as a pre-requisite to registration. The disciplinary side of the act is firmly focussed on child safety matters. The Queensland College of Teachers is the official regulator.

The College has a pivotal role in overseeing any changes in circumstances which may impact upon teacher registration. Additionally it processes notifications, assesses complaints, initiates and monitors compliance with conditions upon registration, conducts or oversees investigations, ensures compliance with the legislation as well as acts as prosecutor in disciplinary cases.

There are two levels of disciplinary action either before the Professional Practice and Conduct Committee or for the more serious matters, the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal. The College can initiate immediate action through suspension or cancellation of registration. For example if a registrant is charged with a certain type of offence (set out in a schedule to the Commission for Children and Young People and Child Guardian Act 2000 – “CCYPCG Act) the College is able to be made aware of the changed circumstance.

The College has the specific power under the act to require the Police Commissioner to supply details of any charges which may be laid against registrants for a range of offences. In order that this role is carried out in a timely and effective manner the College through administrative arrangement with the Queensland Police Service, has a computer data matching program in place to allow an overnight data search of names in the register as against any charges and/or convictions reported on police indices to the moment.

There have been a number of cases under the legislation which have been referred and decided under the legislation in QCAT. Typically the more serious boundary violation cases are dealt with in QCAT. These include cases where a registrant has attempted to “groom” a child in their care or control to enter into an inappropriate relationship with the registrant through to the worst cases of actual sexual relations or sexual assault.

Under the legislation a registrant’s registration is cancelled in the event that they are convicted of a “serious offence” (as defined under the legislation). These involve prescribed offences under the CCYPCG Act. Such an outcome is stated in the act not to be capable of any right of appeal or review.

The overall scheme of the regulation of teachers is designed to be “protective” of the public rather than being directed at being punitive which is in line with the legal principles applying to many other professional or vocational areas of regulation.