Governing Ourselves informs members of legal and regulatory matters affecting the profession. This section provides updates on licensing and qualification requirements, notification of Council resolutions and reports from various Council committees, including reports on accreditation and discipline matters.
For professions, trust and accountability are like two sides of a coin. Both help to show value, and the response to complaints is a key part.
What generates trust in a profession? Being accountable to the highest levels of training and standards is vital. Professionals are also accountable to those they serve. That includes the public, as well as their employers, regulator and peers.
Sometimes, people don’t live up to their professional expectations. If that happens, their regulator must take action.
How does this response work for the Ontario College of Teachers? Over the next year in Professionally Speaking, we’ll explore the stages of the College’s process:
The thoroughness and legitimacy of these activities are essential to maintaining the public trust, ultimately giving people confidence in both the profession and the College.
People might complain about all sorts of matters regarding members of the profession. The College’s focus is on fulfilling its prescribed duties in the public interest, and upholding the profession’s standards of practice and ethical standards.
The standards provide a framework of principles. They describe the knowledge, skills and values inherent in Ontario’s teaching profession. They also guide its professional judgment and actions.
The College has jurisdiction around allegations of professional misconduct (as defined by the Professional Misconduct Regulation), incompetence and incapacity. To carry out its responsibility, the College receives and investigates complaints against members, and deals with discipline and fitness to practise issues.
Complaints against members are relatively rare. The College has more than 238,000 members, and last year the Investigation Committee considered 653 complaints. That’s just over one-quarter of one per cent of members.
A complaint doesn’t necessarily indicate wrongdoing. Some are without merit; others can be handled without a formal hearing. On average, only 100 members face a public hearing in any given year.
Regardless of the numbers, the College has a duty to review each complaint received through an investigative screening committee.
To make a complaint, people have to submit it to the College in writing (or in a recording of some form). The subjects of complaints have a right to be presumed innocent until proven otherwise, and a right to procedural fairness (including the right to respond and defend themselves).
Where can complaints originate? Of the 653 last year, 273 came from the public and 67 from College members. The other 313 were Registrar’s complaints. The Registrar can launch an investigation upon becoming aware of certain information about a member. That includes notifications made by employers.
Employers have a duty too. They must report to the College about members who’ve been found guilty of certain criminal acts, who’ve had certain criminal charges against them, or who’ve had duties restricted for reasons of professional misconduct.
For example, if a school board terminates the employment of a College member, or restricts the duties of a College member for professional misconduct, it must report to the College within 30 days.
Not every issue surrounding a member rises to the level of professional misconduct. What if a parent is dissatisfied with, say, their child’s Individual Education Plan (IEP) and how a teacher is handling it? Such matters are typically best addressed by the employer.
Employers also have authority to deal with a teacher who, for instance, is late for work or takes an inappropriate sick day. If that’s the sole issue, it most often falls under employer-employee matters, as in any workplace.
However, there are clear reasons why employers alone cannot and should not deal with complaints about members and possible breaches of the standards.
For one, employers may have their own way of addressing and resolving such complaints. The public as a whole also won’t be aware of what has transpired if discipline is necessary. The College has its own consistent complaints process and public reporting responsibilities around discipline.
Moreover, employers are responsible for the performance and behaviour of their staff. That’s the employer-employee relationship. Colleges, in contrast, have a responsibility around the licensing (and public perception) of an entire profession. That’s a far broader mandate.
Members who are the subject of a complaint to the College should feel that the process is just. The screening committees that look at complaints are comprised of elected members of the profession and appointed members of the public. That brings a balance of perspectives to the issue, including an understanding by peers of what it means to meet the profession’s standards.
Consider the mission of the College: to regulate the teaching profession in the public interest by setting high ethical and professional standards. Complaints, investigations, complaint resolution and hearings are all aspects of enforcing those standards.
To earn the right to self-regulate in the public interest, the College must be seen to be serving that interest. The complaints process is a critical part of doing just that.
Look for our next instalment about investigations in the March 2018 issue.