General policy statement
This Bill replaces the Code of Conduct referred to in section 387 of the Education Act 1989 and replaces it with a new Code of Ethics, in order to reinstate the primacy of a code of ethics for the teaching profession.
A certificated Teachers’ Code of Ethics is strongly supported by the teaching profession, which believes such a code has served the profession, employers, employees, learners, and the community well.
The Code of Ethics provision creates an aspirational set of principles which include a commitment to learners, whanau, society and the profession. It also confirms obligations under Te Tiriti o Waitangi and a commitment to Maori as tangata whenua.
Under amendments made by the Education Amendment Act 2015, the Education Council was mandated to establish a binding Code of Conduct for teachers within its first 2 years of operation. Until that time the previous Teachers Council’s Code of Ethics functions as its precursor. This Bill reverts to a previous provision for that Code of Ethics and renames the Education Council as the Teaching Council, to indicate the importance if the teaching profession in its own regulation.
The teaching profession is concerned that a Code of Conduct could limit the right and duty of teachers and principals to speak out in the public interest against poor policy that may harm children’s learning.
The amendments made by the Education Amendment Act 2015 required that the Code of Conduct “take account” of the State Services Code which limits public servants in core state services that provide advice to Ministers from publicly criticising Government policy. Such a Code might have been used, for example, to prevent principals and teachers from voicing legitimate criticism of the invalid and inaccurate basis of the controversial National Standards policy.
A Code of Conduct could be used as a punitive measure to undermine the principles of the Code of Ethics and to constrain educators’ ability to speak out in an area in which they are the experts. This would have a dampening effect on debate about issues that are in the public interest and negatively impact on the development of robust policy. Teachers are highly regarded and respected professionals, with primary schools scoring second only to doctors, according to UMR Research’s recent Mood of the Nation survey. Parents recognise the professional expertise of teachers and rely on the right and responsibility of the teaching profession to speak on issues of education policy.
Teachers should be trusted to adhere to a Code of Ethics and professional standards while being able to speak out, in the interests of quality teaching and learning, on education policy and implementation.