Teacher complaints are a vital part of ensuring quality in ECE. Teachers are on the ground, daily inhabiting a space with many other beings, adult and child, subject to regulations and rules, while carrying personal ethics.

The teacher complaints process begins with the teacher bringing the matter to the attention of the manager, either directly, or in a staff meeting. However, the fear of other teachers/managers taking things personally, and the possibility of backlash, overt or covert, deters teachers from taking this first step.

Teachers Council

The Teachers Council expects us to have these skills, but there was very little of this kind of communication and problem resolution included in our training. To bring a complaint about practice, a colleague or a manager, requires a degree of personal efficacy as admitted by a member of the Teacher’s Council who  calls it “a high level skill”.

If the problem is not resolved at this stage, the teacher can then make a complaint to the Teacher’s Council about a registered teacher’s behaviour on the mandatory form, or in the case of a regulation breach, the Ministry of Education, on the mandatory form.

On both of these forms the complainant must name herself. There is little trust among teachers that this information would remain confidential. Besides, it is likely to be obvious once an issue had been raised in a meeting, who was responsible for Min Ed knocking on the door.

For me, the nature of the complaints I had, I felt, required a face-to-face meeting with Min Ed. It took three weeks to get an appointment. I was not just complaining about management practices in the centre, but by extension, my colleagues, present and past.

Personalisation

I expected a degree of personalisation in this process in recognition of my and my colleagues’ professional status.

I wanted assurance that I was not misunderstood, and that matters would be handled with both sensitivity and seriousness. Had I been working full time, this meeting would have been difficult to facilitate, so I understand the convenience of written complaints.

Anonymity is very important to teachers for a number of reasons. The early childhood community is quite small, a ‘whistle-blower’ is likely to be shown the door, (covertly of course) when looking for work, and can face retaliation at work.

She can be denied registration, residency or references on any number of pretexts. She has no recourse at present in the face of this. For instance, there is no mechanism that compels managers to sign off on registration in a timely manner.

Complaining may also jeopardise her chances of promotion.

Very few teachers would take this risk and the statistics bear this out. Although Min Ed declined to tell me how many teachers complaints have been logged, the person who interviewed me stated that she was aware of very few. I have applied to Official Information for teacher complaints in the last five years.

Anonymous

When I went to lay out my complaint, the interviewer first tried to palm the issues off onto other departments, but I explained I had already had meetings with those departments and the regulation breaches must be examined by Min Ed.

When the meeting was nearly over she mentioned that when they went to visit this centre, they could say they “had received a complaint from the public” and my name needn’t be mentioned. She said they do this “all the time.”  Given the scarcity of teacher complaints, I felt this was a slight exaggeration.

However, it was good news, even though I had already told my ex head teacher I would be making a formal complaint when I left, so probably somewhat moot in my case.

I provided evidence and photos in this complaints process. I was given no support. I did not ask for it, I don’t know who I would have asked, nor was any provided. There was no information on line about what I should bring to such a meeting, but why should there be when the occurrence is so rare?

Told to hire a lawyer

When I had enquired of ERO about making a complaint and the possible negative ramifications in my employment, I was told to engage a lawyer.

Apparently ERO does not consider employment matters and working conditions to be within its purview of ‘quality ECE’. How many ECE teachers will engage a lawyer before making a complaint about breaches in regulations, or ethical concerns not covered by regulations, or unenforceable rules being broken to the detriment of children’s wellbeing?

The result of the meeting with Min Ed is that it will visit the centre to investigate and I will receive an email from someone by 6th April.

I advocate for ‘spot checks’. It will only be necessary to execute a few of these to encourage centres to operate at full regulation compliance at all times. Also, ERO has ticked off centres in many areas, which are in breach in others.  It seems to  concentrate on certain areas in reviews, leaving others unchecked. Who is ensuring the regs are being adhered to?

In my opinion ERO is unable to wash its hands of teacher’s rights while ensuring ‘quality education’ for children. Teachers are the curriculum for children this young.

Second, teachers complaints must be able to be made absolutely anonymously, not necessarily having already being raised with management.  There must be a mechanism or a ‘teacher’s advocate’ who can guarantee anonymity.

Where teachers are not treated as professionals, how will making a complaint improve that treatment? No-one is managing the managers.

Ethical duty

ERO has pointed out to me that teachers have an ethical duty to report breaches of rules, regulations and ethics. It has stated that these issues are Teacher’s Council problems, and that teachers should not be registered if they have not abided by their ethical duty to report breaches.

But who has the ethical duty to provide protection for teachers?  My research has shown there are many, many teachers who would have made complaints if they had felt safe doing so.

It has also shown there are many teachers who have resigned from two or more centres for reasons of a lack of professionalism shown by management.  This is not a situation conducive to ‘collaborative problem solving’.

I welcome feedback from other teachers who have gone through, or would like to go through the complaints process. I can provide some advice having gone through it myself, and yes, I guarantee confidentiality.

Contact ea@nzei.org.nz to be put in touch with the writer