Extensive Code of Conduct review needed

Joan Lemaire
Senior Vice President

Federation has called for the Department to undertake an extensive review of the Code of Conduct which genuinely engages teachers, executives and principals in discussions around teachers’ professional behaviour and their rights and responsibilities.

Earlier this year the Department informed Federation that it had reviewed the Code of Conduct in 2013. A copy of a draft revised Code of Conduct and a number of “fact sheets” were provided for comment within a short timeframe.

Federation’s response commenced with the obvious concern that a review of the Code of Conduct was undertaken without any input from the union. The code impacts on the industrial and professional lives of all teachers, executives and principals and should be developed in a collaborative manner rather than simply being imposed on teachers.

A code developed in this way would provide guidance and support for professional standards and the professional judgment of all teachers. The focus of a code of conduct should be on promoting collegiality and collaboration in schools. The Government’s policy Great Teaching, Inspired Learning: Blueprint for action acknowledges the importance of collaboration and effective school leadership in supporting students to achieve their best. The provision of professional learning opportunities, time and support for teachers, executives and principals to increase their ability to support and learn from each other in improving student learning outcomes would be a more effective strategy in advancing the professional work of teachers than a code which imposes an extensive list of requirements on teachers.

Federation believes that the Code of Conduct has an over-emphasis on compliance with “lawful directions” and “reasonable instructions” which appears to conflict with other expectations that teachers will “work collaboratively with your colleagues”. Federation noted that the 2004 Code of Conduct and previous versions attempted to acknowledge the rights of staff and balance these with responsibilities. It stated: “6.1. Public employment carries with it an obligation to serve the public interest, however staff should not be subject to unnecessary restrictions unrelated to public interest. Staff have all of the normal rights and obligations of employees under common and statute law.”

However, the codes of conduct issued after the 2004 version have no reference to teacher rights. These codes outline an extensive list of requirements and expectations of teachers and the consequences for failing to meet these expectations.

The Code of Conduct deals with a plethora of matters including drugs, duty of care, lobbying, conflict of interest, record-keeping, personal references and respect for people to name a few. So extensive is the list of requirements, expectation and consequences that teachers, executives and principals may have difficulty in remembering whether or not the code deals with a specific issue. An example of this is the code sets out a number of requirements around “signatures”. In a hectic “normal” school day it can be difficult for a teacher, executive or principal to recall whether there are specific requirements for this type of matter and whether it is covered by the code. This could result in an unintended breach.

When responding to the draft code Federation pointed out to the Department that a different approach to developing a code of conduct was taken in Victoria and South Australia. The Victorian Institute of Teaching developed the Victorian Teaching Profession Code of Conduct by establishing a working party with a wide range of teacher, principal and union representatives who drafted a code based on an agreed set of principles and standards to guide professional behaviour. This was then distributed for feedback for subsequent revision of the draft code. This type of process supports professional judgement rather than setting out a list of requirements, expectations and the consequences for failing to meet these requirements.

The union believes there is a need to conduct an extensive review of the Code of Conduct. The review should provide the opportunity for the teaching service to discuss and consider how best to support the professional status and conduct of teachers, executives and principals. Federation did not endorse the draft Code of Conduct or the draft fact sheets but did indicate the union’s willingness to meet with the Department to discuss a process for a more extensive and consultative review.

Response to dress code

Federation released the following statement on March 24:

“Despite the recent media coverage of Education Minister Adrian Piccoli’s release of a dress code for public school teachers, it should be noted that teachers have always been required to dress in an appropriate professional manner.

“Federation supports professional dress standards for teachers, in keeping with our commitment to the provision of high quality public education for our students.

“Teachers would not find anything particularly objectionable in the published dress code, as it largely reflects current practice.

“Federation hopes, however, that this focus on a dress code does not become a distraction from the more important issues facing public education today.”