Teacher gaffe revelation raises suspicions: Jo-Anne Dobson

Jo-Anne Dobson has concerns over the timing of the release
Jo-Anne Dobson has concerns over the timing of the release

Revelations that a blunder left no legal power to remove unsuitable teachers should not have been released as the Assembly entered summer recess, Jo-Anne Dobson has said.

The Upper Bann MLA originally expressed concern over the timing of the announcement when the education committee was briefed on the “breakdown in communication” at Department of Education in early July.

Speaking on Wednesday, she said the official release of the full statement this week raised further questions for minister John O’Dowd.

In the statement released to MLAs on Tuesday, the minister admitted the “serious” and “extremely regrettable” legislative oversight – dating back to 2009 – meant the department had lost the power to remove a teacher’s eligibility to teach.

However, Mr O’Dowd claimed the mix-up over the need to have the necessary legislation in place does not leave pupils vulnerable.

He apologised for the error and added: “I acknowledge that the repeal of the department’s powers to provide this additional safeguard is a serious matter. At no time were child protection practices negatively impacted or compromised by this issue. Since being informed of this issue, I have ensured that swift action be taken to set it right.”

The UUP MLA – who has since moved from the education to the health committee – said she still intended to submit questions on the matter.

“With an issue as important as this, to have it raised at the last meeting ahead of recess and then for the minister to issue a statement during recess, then the timing raises suspicions,” she said.

She added: “When we come back in September there will be a raft of important issues to deal with and I would be concerned this could be missed or buried in committee. Sinn Fein are good at micro managing our schools when it suits, but when it comes to big issues they seem to drop the ball.”