Teacher title bill a breach of the Bill of Rights

New Zealand First MP Jenny Marcroft. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

A private members bill that would bar anyone without a teaching qualification from calling themselves a teacher is a breach of the Bill of Rights, the Attorney General has found.

The Education (Protecting Teacher Title) Amendment Bill is sponsored by New Zealand First MP Jenny Marcroft, who took it over from fellow MP Tracey Martin when she became a Minister.

Its aim is to boost the status of the teaching profession by barring anyone from describing themselves as a teacher unless they had a bachelor of education, a diploma in teaching or a four-year conjoint degree.

If adopted it would become an offence for people to use the word teacher in connection with their name or business unless they held the appropriate qualification.

But in his report on the legislation, Attorney-General David Parker found it significantly limited the right to freedom of expression.

The word 'teacher' had a wide ambit and individuals, however qualified, who represent themselves as teachers with an expertise in an area such as music, ballet or yoga were expressing their right to freedom of expression, the report said.

"The restriction imposed by the Bill would impose a significant limit on the ability of these people, ordinarily thought of as teachers, to conduct their business and describe themselves as teachers.

"The likelihood of confusion arising between teachers who are qualified and registered under the Education Act and specialist teachers who do not work in schools is low."

Protections for the registered teaching profession already exist and Parker said he was not convinced there was a pressing need to justify its adoption.

As the bill was drafted, it would also prevent businesses using the word teacher in their title - for instance, if they were selling teaching supplies."

Appearing before the Education Select Committee on Wednesday, Marcroft was grilled by National MPs Nikki Kaye and Tim Macindoe about Parker's findings and the severe limitations of the bill.

Kaye wanted to know why no evidence had been presented about how many people or businesses could be affected by the legislation, while Macindoe asked Marcroft to explain why Parker's view was not justified.

“I think when we look at how many other bills have been passed in the past nine years that have breached the bill of rights, there are 15, so it’s not like this would be a precedent, so that’s literally my answer to you," Marcroft said.

Submissions on the bill close on 13 April.