Teacher removed from register for falling short of standards loses appeal
A teacher who was removed from the teaching register for misconduct has had her appeal against the decision of the General Teaching Council of Scotland to remove her refused.
The appellant, known as LM, faced 15 allegations of misconduct from her probationary year as a primary teacher as well as a separate recommendation from her employer that her provisional registration be removed. In addition to her removal from the register, she was prohibited from reapplying for 2 years.
The appeal was heard in the Inner House of the Court of Session by the Lord Justice Clerk, Lady Dorrian, Lord Malcolm, and Lord Woolman.
Lack of competence
The allegations derived largely from the appellant’s time as a probationary teacher at a primary school in the academic year 2015/16, teaching a primary 5 class. In July 2016, following the end of her probationary period, the local authority sent a recommendation to the respondent that her provisional registration be cancelled due to a lack of professional competence.
The report prepared by the local authority found that the appellant had failed to meet both the standard for a provisional (SPR) and the standard for a fully registered teacher (SFR) in a large number of areas by the end of the period.
The appellant, who was provided a copy of the report, disputed the recommendation. While she accepted that she had not met the SFR, she contended that she had maintained the SPR but had not received adequate support from the school. She alleged a course of bullying, harassment and lack of support with a complete breakdown of relationship between herself and the senior management, for which they were to blame.
Separately, the school received a number of allegations in respect of her conduct, including making inappropriate comments to parents and pupils regarding her relationship with the head teacher and disclosing confidential or sensitive information to third parties. The appellant denied these allegations, citing testimonials from the parents of pupils and character references.
The competency and conduct issues raised were considered jointly by the respondent. Due to a GTCS rules change in 2017, by the time the issues reached the hearing stage it was possible for them to be considered at the same hearing. A hearing was eventually conducted in 2019, which found that the appellant fell significantly short of the standards expected of a registered teacher.
The appellant challenged the decision on three broad grounds. She argued that significant procedural irregularities and delays in the process, which had resulted in both issues being considered in one hearing, had caused unfairness and prejudice to her. More than 3 years elapsed from referral of the issues to the panel’s decision due to the respondent’s actions, and this had caused the appellant financial loss and serious mental health problems
She also argued that the decision reached was irrational, contained errors of law and fact, and that the panel had failed to apply or ignored rules and key authorities on the use of hearsay evidence and the assessment of evidence generally. As an esto argument, the appellant submitted that the sanction imposed on her was excessive and disproportionate.
No suggestion of prejudice
The opinion of the court was delivered by Lady Dorrian. On whether the delay had seriously prejudiced the appellant, she said: “There was no material before us to indicate that the appellant was prejudiced in the conduct of the hearing as a result of the passage of time. It is apparent that in relation to the conduct issues she was able to dispute the allegations without impaired memory as to where she had been, and so on.”
She continued: “The proceedings would have been resolved prior to the spring of 2018 but for the delays which were largely attributable to the appellant and her agents. In any event, the additional allegations would have to have been dealt with at some stage, and there was no prejudice in dealing with them as the panel did.”
On the fact that both issues were dealt with in one hearing, she said: “The panel addressed the issues of competency and conduct separately. The fact that some evidence might have been relevant to both issues does not mean that they were not treated separately by the panel. In our view there was no blurring of the lines by the panel and they did not confuse or conflate the two issues.”
Addressing the appellant’s submissions on evidence, she said, noting that hearsay evidence is permissible in GTCS panel hearings: “In some cases the panel considered that the hearsay evidence could not be relied upon. In others, especially where there was some degree of support, whether in the form of corroboration or because it was inherently probable or fitted in with other evidence which the panel accepted, the hearsay was held to be admissible and of sufficient weight that the panel felt able to rely on it. We do not find any error in law in the panel’s treatment of hearsay evidence.”
She continued: “There was disputed evidence before the panel on the question of whether the appellant had, as she asserted, been bullied. The panel was entitled to reject her evidence and conclude that no bullying had taken place. The panel cannot be criticised for not taking into account something they concluded had not taken place.”
On the appellant’s fitness to teach, she said: “In the present case, the behaviour did involve matters relating to pupils, in the form of breach of confidentiality. The panel considered this to be a serious matter, going to the heart of the pupil/teacher relationship of trust. The appellant, whilst denying the behaviour, acknowledged that such behaviour would be unprofessional and unacceptable. The panel took care to look at all the evidence, including that in favour of the appellant. We can find no flaw in its approach.”
For these reasons, the appeal was refused.
© Scottish Legal News Ltd 2020