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Legal issues

Two teachers found guilty of misconduct have recently been allowed to continue in the profession by England's General Teaching Council.

One was a primary teacher reprimanded for fabricating results for his Year 5 class (TES, March 7). The other was the first head to be found guilty of unacceptable professional conduct after failing to account for more than pound;3,000 of school trip money (TES, April 18).

A third teacher, a businessman jailed for four years for theft, has been allowed a conditional registration order allowing him to teach as long as he has nothing to do with money or management for three years (TES, April 11). It may seem that the GTCE has brought a new easy-going dimension to the handling of gross misconduct. But this would be unfair. Before 1998, when such matters were determined by the Secretary of State, teachers could also be allowed to continue teaching, subject to certain conditions.

In one case, a teacher was convicted of indecency in a public lavatory. He was dismissed, but appealed successfully to a tribunal, which found no evidence of a risk to pupils. The Employment Appeal Tribunal quashed that verdict, commenting that it was impossible to say he posed no future risk to children. Nonetheless, he was not barred from teaching by the Secretary of State.

The difference now is that the GTCE can stipulate that teachers receive some form of support. Its menu of orders ranges from outright prohibition to a conditional registration order which can include, for example, a requirement to seek psychiatric help or have extra training. The GTCE can also issue reprimands, which stay in place for two years.

All cases of gross professional misconduct or conviction for a criminal offence are still referred to the Secretary of State in the first instance by a school or local education authority. Those that are not to do with child protection or welfare are passed to the GTCE.

The council appoints a panel of three - two teachers from the council plus a lay person - to hear the cases. They are advised by a legal expert, but the panel makes the decision.

The Welsh GTC has a similar disciplinary panel, which has yet to hear a case. Scotland has had a disciplinary system for many years, as its GTC was established in the 1960s.

Chris Lowe is honorary legal consultant to the Secondary Heads Association

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