More than 100 teachers face agonising waits to learn if they will ever work in schools again as the number of unfinished disciplinary hearings has doubled in the past year.
The General Teaching Council for England has voted to allow non-council members on its conduct panels for the first time, as it fears its reputation will be further damaged if the delays lengthen. Critics of the council, which charges teachers pound;33 a year, say the problem is partly due to the failure of some council members to attend enough hearings.
The number of cases to be completed rose from 67 in April 2005 to 145 this month. The time taken for the first hearing of a referred case has risen from 52 to 63 weeks. A report by the GTC's professional standards managers warned that the backlog could damage the council's reputation.
Teachers whose hearings were completed this year include three accused of buying heroin and two who cheated to improve their pupils' exam results.
But there have also been apparently trivial cases. The council cleared a teacher who was sacked from a Leamington Spa school for pulling faces, doing silly walks and making derogatory remarks about other staff and a Nottingham deputy head criticised for sending flirty text messages.
The National Association of Head Teachers said the accused teachers are often already suspended or sacked, but few subsequently got permanent bans.
Ian Poole, who represents NAHT members at the hearings, said: "It is obviously an extremely stressful wait for the accused. The cases affect their livelihood."
Mr Poole said many cases should never have been heard because the accusations were too trivial or vague. However, the council said it proceeded with only 143 of the 390 referrals it received last year. The GTC said the number of cases had risen because local authorities and the Department for Education and Skills were referring greater numbers.
Panels currently consist of three council members, two teachers and one lay member. The 64 council members are supposed to spend 12 days a year at hearings. However, the GTC's report said that, while some exceeded the standard amount, "some will have given a number of days short of that level and others will have given very few at all". Carol Adams, GTC chief executive, said there was no evidence council members had been "shirking".
Some had difficutly getting time away or had not yet been trained.
The council has voted to make members ensure they fulfil their disciplinary obligations. It also voted to allow a maximum of one non-council member to sit on panels, and will be hiring and training teachers and non-teachers.
A MORI poll of 1,000 teachers for the council has found that only a fifth have a favourable attitude to it while a third are negative and the rest feel neutral.
Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teachers' union, said: "If the council was abolished tomorrow few teachers would notice and even fewer would care."
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