GTCS pays high price for competence case

10th January 2014 at 00:00
Maths teacher struck off for failings mounts second appeal

A maths teacher banned from the classroom for incompetence is to appeal the decision for a second time, in what is already the most expensive case ever heard by the General Teaching Council for Scotland.

The case against Janet Garner, who taught at Alva Academy and later Alloa Academy in Clackmannanshire between 2003 and 2007, has so far cost more than pound;174,000 according to figures released by the GTCS - about 30 times the typical amount. The sum, revealed to TESS under Freedom of Information legislation, does not include staff time but does cover legal and other expenses.

Ms Garner was said to have made basic errors during lessons and given "acidic or unpleasant" responses to students asking for help - accusations which she denied.

Her first hearing, which began in November 2010, lasted for 18 days compared with an average of just 2.5 days. In 2011, when the case concluded, she was struck off the register for professional incompetence.

However, in 2012 Ms Garner won an appeal in the Court of Session against the GTCS, with judges ruling that the verdict had lacked "the reasoning which would be essential to a fair and rational decision". They returned the case to the GTCS to be reassessed.

After another 16-day hearing, which began in August last year, Ms Garner was struck off a second time in November. She has appealed again and in the coming months will return to the Court of Session, which will decide if her case has merit.

Kenneth Muir, chief executive of the GTCS, said that the council was "unhappy" about the costs incurred but that it had no choice but to pursue the case.

However, Ms Garner's situation has raised concerns about the length of time taken more generally to resolve disciplinary cases against teachers. One former council director of education, who did not want to be named, said they often took too long to reach a conclusion.

"While I understand that teachers have the right to a fair hearing and the right to appeal, there needs to be a balance," he said. "Some of these processes take years from start to finish; that's not a good thing for the school, for the teacher concerned or the reputation of the system."

Mr Muir said Ms Garner's case illustrated that the GTCS would do "everything to ensure high standards are maintained in the Scottish teaching profession", adding that "members of the public and teachers should be reassured by this".

"The cost of this case is clearly a huge sum, which was generated by the large number of hearing days involved and the associated legal costs," he said.

"It is, of course, the right of an individual to defend their case and we will always stand by the principle of full and open hearings. We are unhappy at the costs, which come directly from the annual fees paid by registered teachers, but we were left with no other option but to pursue this case."

Mr Muir said it was important to note that most cases were resolved far more quickly. He also pointed to other changes introduced by the GTCS to speed up the disciplinary process, including "removal with consent", where teachers can plead guilty and avoid a full hearing.

As a result of Ms Garner's case, the GTCS had revised its training for panel members to ensure that decisions against teachers were fully reasoned, a spokesman for the council said.

He cited a more recent Court of Session decision in the case of JB v GTCS, published on Christmas Eve, where the court had concluded it was satisfied with the reasoning provided in the watchdog's decision.

"It is important to note that our hearings are increasing in length year on year and cases are more complex," he added.

Leslie Manson, who represents education directors on the GTCS council and is convener of one of the body's investigations panels, praised the work of the council, adding that in recent years legal advice had become more sophisticated because people were now more likely to challenge decisions.

The GTCS's powers to rule on incompetence came into effect in 2006. Before this date, the tiny number of teachers dismissed on such grounds by one local authority could find a job with another.

To date 14 teachers have been deemed incompetent by the GTCS and barred from teaching. The first, Susan Barnard, was struck off in 2008.

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