Fast-track system fails to cut queue for GTC hearings

12th March 2010 at 00:00
New private sessions have had little impact on backlog of cases

The introduction of fast-track hearings a year ago has not reduced the backlog of ongoing General Teaching Council for England (GTC) cases, The TES can reveal.

Private sessions were designed to stop teachers being left in limbo after allegations are made. But new figures show they have had no significant effect on the number of people waiting to be dealt with by the regulatory body.

The system was introduced last February, when 118 teachers were waiting for hearings to begin. There are now 113 disciplinary hearings pending.

Under the fast-track system, the cases are heard by the GTC in private sessions. The allegations and final decisions are still made public, but details that usually emerge in hearings are not published.

The new sessions have been criticised for lacking transparency and operating behind "closed doors" because fewer details are made public.

GTC cases are meant to be dealt with within 43 weeks but the average length of time for a case to finish is 60 weeks. Only 52 per cent of cases are dealt with in one year, 42 per cent take between one and two years, and 6 per cent longer than two years. None has so far lasted longer than three years.

David James, head of professional regulation at the GTC, said the delays were caused by teachers. "We know we don't always hit the right timeframe. The clock starts ticking from the day we get the case and school reasons mean they are held over a longer time period," he said.

"From my estimates 80 per cent of the reasons for delays come from teachers - who often ask for an adjournment because of stress or ill health. Bringing all the parties together is not an easy process."

Recent research reveals that the length of time it takes for cases of incompetence to be heard stops local authorities and headteachers referring teachers to the body.

The study, commissioned by the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the GTC, says incompetent teachers escape punishment because the process is seen as "pointless".

Schools also say the GTC has "no teeth" and its systems of suspending or banning teachers from the workforce are "inappropriate".

GTC officials are about to embark on a year of activities to try to transform the way the system is viewed by teachers and local authorities. This includes new advice to help them decide when to refer and the establishment of an "employer reference panel" to provide feedback about how to make improvements.

But Richard Bird, legal consultant for the Association of School and College Leaders, said only better GTC efficiency would convince more schools and local authorities to make referrals.

"Before they start trying to increase the workload of headteachers the GTC should sort out the delay in hearing cases as a priority," he said. "They need to get a regulatory procedure which works faster."

Chris Keates, general secretary of teaching union the NASUWT, said: "This figures appear to show that the GTC is still not keeping up with discharging its core regulatory function.

"It might progress cases in a more timely way if it stopped being diverted into pet projects and focused instead on its regulatory role."

Where do the referrals come from?

Five local authorities - Herefordshire, Derby, Hammersmith Fulham, Thurrock and Calderdale - have never referred any teachers to the GTC, new figures show.

Sixteen more - Bedford, Bracknell Forest, Bury, Gateshead, Rutland, Stockport, Telford Wrekin, Wokingham, Torbay, Trafford and the London boroughs of Barking Dagenham, Camden, Hounslow, Merton, Sutton and Kensington Chelsea - have only referred one teacher.

Most local authorities have referred 10 or fewer teachers to the GTC.

Numbers are significantly higher in four areas - Birmingham, 36; Essex, 27; Kent, 43; and Nottinghamshire, 31.

GTC statistics show 46 teachers have been referred by independent schools since June 2001, 146 from foundation and voluntary aided primary and secondaries and eight from academies.

Around 0.4 per cent of state schools have referred teachers to the GTC, compared with 4 per cent of academies.

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