MS TIERNEY (Minister for Training and Skills) (20:40:12) — I thank members for the contributions that they made to the house in previous weeks to this debate, and I would like to take this opportunity to address some of the issues raised by members here and indeed in the other place as well. Most of the issues raised concern the amendments in this bill that will align the Victorian Institute of Teaching (VIT) registration scheme more closely with Victoria’s working with children check scheme. I remind members that the intent of the amendments is for the Victorian Institute of Teaching to consider the same categories of offences and apply a similar risk assessment as the working with children check unit.
Under the changes a registered teacher or applicant for registration who has committed a category A offence or who has received a negative working with children check will be ineligible to hold a teaching registration under the Education and Training Reform Act 2006. Such an outcome is common sense and accords with community expectations that children in our schools and early childhood services are not taught by people who have been found to be generally unsuitable to work with children. The robustness of the Victorian Institute of Teaching decisions on teacher suitability will be improved by the introduction of a new category of conduct, category B offences, that carries with it a presumption against registration as a teacher. In a similar fashion to Victoria’s working with children scheme, where a person is charged or found guilty of a category B offence, such as a drug offence, the VIT may only grant or continue a teacher’s registration if satisfied that the person does not pose an unjustifiable risk of harm to a child. If the person who aspires to be a teacher has a history of serious violence or drug offences involving a child or another adult, this bill will make it harder for that person to be registered as a teacher, and the Victorian Institute of Teaching must give proper consideration to the safety and wellbeing of children who are or would be entrusted into that teacher’s care.
The government believes that introducing a rebuttable presumption against registration for category B offences strikes the right balance between the rights of the child to be protected from harm and the rights of an adult to pursue work in their chosen profession, even after serving a sentence of punishment for quite serious crimes. Further, the fact that a person already holds a positive working with children check does not automatically entitle them to registration as a teacher. The Victorian Institute of Teaching assessment of suitability to teach requires that all persons’ character, reputation or conduct be assessed. The goal is to ensure that only people with a satisfactory conduct history are registered for teaching children in a school or early childhood service.
In terms of the extent of VCAT’s review and VIT decisions, several members commented during the debate on the extent of oversight by VCAT’s decisions made by the Victorian Institute of Teaching, and I would like to briefly summarise for members the approach this bill takes and why. When the Victorian Institute of Teaching cancels or refuses a teacher registration on account of category A offences, there is no right to appeal that decision to VCAT. This exclusion of right to review is consistent with both the current Working with Children Act 2005 and the recommendations made by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. It is already the case in Victoria that a person on the sex offender register does not have the right to appeal to VCAT against a negative notice under the Working with Children Act 2005, except in the case of mistaken identity. The royal commission’s Working With Children Checks Report recommended that administrative review rights be limited for adverse working with children check decisions involving serious sexual offences against a child and murder.
These are the category A offences in Victoria. Accordingly, this bill is consistent with the royal commission’s recommendations. Separately, if the Victorian Institute of Teaching determines to refuse registration or suspend or cancel a teacher’s registration on account of a category B offence or category C conduct, then the teacher will have the right to seek review of that decision by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
Now, in terms of the government’s responses to the Armytage review of VIT, several members remarked during the debate on the fact that this bill does not implement fully the government’s response to the recommendations contained in the recently completed review of VIT conducted by Penny Armytage and KPMG. This review made 34 recommendations to government aimed at improving the governance and the performance of the Victorian Institute of Teaching and improving the standards that regulate teacher quality. The government has accepted in principle all but two of these recommendations. The recommendations not accepted by government were the proposals to rename VIT to Teacher Regulation Victoria and to consider amalgamating the Victorian Institute of Teaching with the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority. The government considers the registration and regulation of teachers and schools to be distinct functions that should be undertaken by separate authorities.
Many of the recommendations accepted by the government will involve a significant overhaul of the statutory framework for the Victorian Institute of Teaching, including the disciplinary system for dealing with allegations of teacher misconduct or incompetence. Such an overhaul cannot be rushed. In this context it is important for members to be aware that the national teacher registration framework and standards are currently being reviewed through the Education Council of the Council of Australian Governments and the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership. The government will need to consider the outcomes of this review, which is currently underway, before committing to further legislative changes that affect the Victorian Institute of Teaching and the way it regulates teachers.
Accordingly, during 2019–20 the Department of Education and Training will develop for the government’s consideration options to further amend part 2.6 of the Education and Training Reform Act 2006 to address the remaining recommendations of the Armytage review. This will include consideration of the appropriate role of VCAT in overseeing teacher registration and disciplinary decisions taken by the Victorian Institute of Teaching. As previously noted, we will also be informed by the recommendations of the Working With Children Checks Report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
Separate to reforming the Victorian Institute of Teaching statutory framework, there are other recommendations of the Armytage review that call for changes to the institute’s internal governance practices: migration to an online teaching registration system and expanding the institute’s activities to educate teachers and the community about teacher quality. These operational changes will also take time to implement fully and well, although the institute has started to work on these changes.
As previously noted, a key objective of this bill is to ensure that the Victorian Institute of Teaching gives proper consideration to the safety and wellbeing of children who are or would be entrusted to a teacher’s care. This is reflected in the amendment to the institute’s function to make this proper consideration requirement explicit. This reinforces the government’s position that the safety and wellbeing of children is as important as professional teaching competence and the reputation of the profession. Community expectations about safety and wellbeing of children are also important considerations for the Victorian Institute of Teaching.
Going to the enabling legislation for merging Box Hill TAFE with the Centre for Adult Education, the Box Hill Institute of TAFE and the Centre for Adult Education have been for many years in a strategic partnership to expand opportunities for senior secondary, vocational and higher education in informal learning. In 2013 a common governing body was established to run the Box Hill Institute of TAFE and the Centre for Adult Education. Since then Box Hill Institute and the centre have operated as one group known as the Box Hill Group, despite being separate legal entities. The board of the Box Hill Institute and the Centre for Adult Education have asked that the government formally merge the institute and the centre so that they can operate more efficiently and reduce their regulatory burden.
Currently there is no mechanism in the Education and Training Reform Act 2006 to enable TAFE institutes to merge with an adult education institute. This bill overcomes this barrier and will enable a merger to occur between Box Hill Institute and the CAE. There will be no practical impact on staff and students at Box Hill or the CAE. This is because the institutes already have the same corporate leaders and the same employment arrangements.
Then there is the issue of removing annual general meeting requirements for TAFEs and adult education institutes. TAFE institutes have collectively provided strong feedback to the government that mandatory annual meetings are not achieving their purpose because they are extremely poorly attended. Last year eight TAFEs advised the government they did not have a single member of the public attend their 2017 annual meeting. A substantial proportion of TAFEs have never had a member of the public attend the annual general meeting since this regulatory requirement was introduced in 2012.
Having considered this feedback, the government agrees that the requirement to hold the annual public meeting and advertise it in local newspapers is excessive and imposes burdens on TAFE and adult education institutions that are disproportionate to the benefits of holding public meetings, given the history of low attendance. The government considers that there are other means available for institutes and adult education institutions to inform the public about the previous year’s activities and to seek public feedback about proposed activities for the coming year. This includes public reporting via annual reports and the general stakeholder management of each institute that is undertaken, but nothing prohibits TAFEs from having meetings with the public at any level. Indeed the recent community engagement at Federation Training is an example of a TAFE undertaking much more effective community consultation outside an annual meeting with specifically convened and targeted events for the community to attend.
So I believe, in terms of the contributions that have been made here and in the other place, that I have covered off on most, if not all, of the issues raised, and I now look forward to going into the committee stage to answer further questions.