The West

If there is an organisation that teachers love to hate it's their registration body, the WA College of Teaching. So they will hardly be surprised that a long-awaited review of the legislation which governs WACOT has found it contains numerous flaws.

Chief among them is that the way the Act is worded seems to have more to do with "promoting the profession" than with protecting children by making sure people who are unfit to teach are excluded from schools.

The review said the college had too much independence and should be brought back under ministerial control.

Launched in 2004 with much fanfare about how a teachers' registration authority would raise the status of the profession, WACOT has lurched from crisis to crisis.

It's compulsory for all teachers to register with WACOT before they can set foot in a classroom but since it was set up many teachers have complained bitterly about being forced to pay a $70 fee to be able to do their job.

At first they complained about the lengthy delays in processing registrations, which held up teachers' employment. Then they complained about mistakes by overstretched, under-resourced staff such as sending out multiple demands to teachers who had already paid.

Complaints grew even louder when an election for 10 teachers to join WACOT's board had to be called off halfway through because of a technical problem.

The dispute between teachers and their own professional body hit the front page in 2007 when schools faced possible closure from a shortage of staff after the Education Department threatened to sack hundreds of teachers who had refused to pay their WACOT fees until another election date was set.

Even though the college has not been in the headlines for some time, teachers still feel hard done by that it provides little in the way of comment on education issues.

The review of the Act, conducted by the Department of Education Services and tabled in Parliament last week, said the survey revealed a sense of frustration among teachers that the college appears to be a body with little apparent purpose.

"There is a sense that it is an unnecessary level of the education bureaucracy," it said.

A survey of 973 teachers carried out last year as part of the review revealed a "significant level of dissatisfaction" with the value for money and standard of services provided by the college.

Just 8 per cent of respondents believed that college membership represented good value for money. Only 12 per cent indicated they were satisfied with the services provided by the college, though two-thirds of respondents said its management of membership applications was efficient.

A submission to the review by the Professional Teaching Council of WA said the college's registration processes had been "a nightmare".

"Delays in processing information, paperwork that has been lost, the confusion of responsibilities between employing authorities and WACOT, the duplication of processes, the different advice given by different employees at WACOT and the lack of clarity about what WACOT does have led to total disenchantment and misunderstanding about the purpose of registration," it said.

The review said the college was struggling to operate on the funds available, so if teachers wanted it to do more, they would have to pay significantly higher fees.

It also said the college's registration and disciplinary functions - the main reason for WACOT's existence - featured last on a lengthy list of priorities in the legislation. This was well below items such as "encourage and facilitate diversity, flexibility and responsiveness in the education of teachers", implying that these functions were of least importance. The review highlighted another problem with WACOT's disciplinary measures, which lack provisions to allow it to suspend immediately a teacher accused of a serious offence.

Education Minister Liz Constable has signalled she will support recommendations to overhaul the Act, which include a call for the minister to have more control over the governing board, and to be able to appoint its chair. The review said this would give the minister the power to ensure board members had appropriate experience in legal and financial matters.

This is likely to be resisted by the present chairman, former State School Teachers Union president Brian Lindberg. He was one of the driving forces behind setting up WACOT, chaired its interim board from 2002, and apart from a brief break, has chaired the actual board since 2004.

Mr Lindberg also had a hand in drafting the WACOT Act which has now been found to be wanting, though he argues that the draft Act was changed by other people on its way to Parliament.

Writing in the latest teachers' union magazine, Mr Lindberg said he was concerned the Government would try to gain greater control over the college.

"This could mean a smaller board with only one or no union representative," he said. "The Barnett Government may decide who will be the teacher representatives and chair of the board of management. How teachers will respond to being asked to pay for such an organisation with the control in the hands of the minister of the day will be interesting.

"SSTU members need to be vigilant to ensure whatever we end up with is in the best interest of the profession, not just an agency that allows the minister of the day to sleep comfortably at night."

It will be interesting to see how teachers react to the review, given their love-hate relationship with their much-maligned professional body in the past. Whatever happens next to WACOT, teachers in schools should have more of a say in the way it operates to avoid the mistakes of the past five years.

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