Dozens of teachers facing allegations of incompetence and misconduct will escape official hearings owing to the abolition of the General Teaching Council for England, new figures suggest.
No cases referred to the GTC since the end of August last year will lead to completed hearings before the council is closed in March because of time constraints, it has emerged.
In a bid to streamline the disciplinary process, the Teaching Agency - the body replacing the GTC - will hear only serious misconduct cases that could lead to teachers being struck off. None of the six teachers referred to the GTC since the summer because of teaching ability will face any further action.
Investigations are continuing but so far none of the 323 cases passed from schools to the GTC since August has been deemed serious enough for transfer to the Teaching Agency.
Russell Hobby, general secretary of heads' union the NAHT, said that the figures showed that the system was flawed and was failing to judge cases on their merits.
"There could be potentially dozens of cases referred by heads which now go no further," he told TES. "Either a case is serious enough to justify referral or it's not, and if it's not taken forward, that's a problem. If you introduce uncertainty, heads will wonder if they should make referrals, especially because of the stress and difficulty it causes."
The teaching council has been regularly criticised for the relatively small number of teachers that have been struck off under its watch. A parliamentary question revealed that between January 2001 and December 2011, just 17 teachers were banned from the classroom for incompetence, with a further 211 struck off for misconduct.
GTC bosses said this week that they had made "all possible efforts" to conclude hearings before they close down at the end of March. All hearing dates between now and then have been filled.
Most of the 323 cases referred to the GTC since August would not be expected to meet the criteria for further investigation, a decision that the council said was unrelated to its abolition. Of the 292 cases outstanding - including those referred before August last year - just 30 have been scheduled for hearings, with a further 35 to be passed to the Teaching Agency.
Paul Heathcote, GTC registrar, said it was inevitable that cases referred under the current system would no longer lead to hearings in future. Under the new system, schools will be expected to deal with more disciplinary issues themselves, with the Teaching Agency considering only the most serious misconduct allegations, including inappropriate sexual and criminal behaviour.
"Given the time frames involved in investigating, collecting evidence and scheduling hearings, it was clear that the GTC would be unlikely to complete hearings where cases were received after the end of August," Mr Heathcote said.
"Since that point, all new referrals have been assessed as to whether they would lead to a hearing under the new system. Only those that would do so are being progressed further and these will be prepared and transferred to the Teaching Agency."
Mr Heathcote said that he hoped the approach would minimise stress on teachers involved in cases by allowing them to be informed quickly if they would not face further action.
The abolition of the GTC was one of the first major announcements made by Michael Gove after becoming education secretary, and followed sustained criticism from some of the classroom unions.
But according to John Bangs, visiting professor at London University's Institute of Education and former head of education at the NUT, the transition period from the GTC to the Teaching Agency has been a "shambles".
"This has been caused by an extremely unwise decision taken on what seems to be the spur of the moment by Michael Gove without thinking about the consequences," he said. "It's shocking this transition is leaving teachers swinging in the wind."
Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the situation had "serious consequences" for those affected by outstanding cases and could stop innocent teachers from being able to clear their names.
A spokeswoman for the Department for Education said: "We do expect the Teaching Agency to conclude a number of investigations and to hear some cases that have been received and initially investigated by the GTCE prior to its abolition. However, it's too early at the moment to be precise about exact numbers."
From 2001 to December 2011, the General Teaching Council struck off a total of 228 teachers - 211 for poor conduct and 17 for incompetence.
Original headline: Misconduct cases slip through net as time runs out for regulator