The agency responsible for regulating school teachers in B.C. will be overhauled this fall to help "weed out the bad apples" from the ranks of the province's 75,000 licenced educators.
Education Minister George Abbott promised "substantial" changes to the B.C. College of Teachers when legislation is introduced later this fall, so that parents will be able to determine if concerns about individual teachers have been investigated, and whether those teachers are still serving in classrooms.
However, he said the amendments to the Teaching Profession Act will not be made retroactive, so any existing concerns about teachers won't be captured.
"I don't think any of us in our professions want to be tarred by those bad apples and I'm hoping we'll see better management of issues around bad apples with these changes," Mr. Abbott said in an interview Thursday.
The B.C. government pledged to overhaul the college almost a year ago, after a report by fact-finder Don Avison concluded that the agency does not consistently put student safety ahead of the interests of teachers.
The college sets standards for professional educators, issues teaching certificates, investigates complaints and imposes discipline.
In his report, Mr. Avison cited three examples where individuals were granted the right to teach in B.C. despite serious professional misconduct – including one teacher who had been convicted of sexual assaults on students.
Even today, Mr. Abbott said he does not know if any of those teachers cited in the Avison report are currently working in B.C. schools. "But I believe the changes we are proposing with respect to the reform and renewal of the college of teachers will give us the ability to answer your important question definitively."
Mr. Abbott said the changes will ensure that teachers who face discipline by the college cannot elude discipline by surrendering their teaching licence – and then find a teaching job elsewhere.
But Susan Lambert, president of the B.C. Teachers' Federation, said it is a "myth" that teachers are evading discipline, and accused the government of manufacturing a crisis in confidence.
Ms. Lambert said the government has refused to investigate the cases in Mr. Avison's report to determine what happened. "In our view the Avison report was seriously flawed," she said. "The charges themselves were never fully investigated."
The changes are being drafted even as the teachers union is engaged in contract talks and is taking job action.
Ms. Lambert said she is not entirely satisfied with the new college model – which will replace the existing college with an organization embedded in the Ministry of Education – because it will diminish the role of the union.
But she offered grudging support for the changes. "The strength of the proposal is that it focuses on conduct and confidence and discipline," she said.
Kit Krieger, the registrar for the College of Teachers, says he is alarmed that the proposed changes will only make things worse by formalizing the role of the teachers' union in regulating teachers.
Mr. Krieger, a former president of the BCTF, says there is no doubt the college needs to be changed, but he said Mr. Abbott has overlooked what he believes to be the fundamental problem: The college needs to be independent of the union.
"This is a terrible setback for our profession," he said. "As long as he is placing the union in any role – majority or minority – he's compromising the regulatory function, he has he has sacrificed the public interest and he has put kids at risk."
Mr. Abbott did not provide details of the proposed legislation, which is still in draft form. But he said: "The college will not be an instrument of the union."