The Welsh teaching watchdog is handing out increasingly harsh punishments to school staff found guilty of unprofessional conduct, according to accusations from a teaching union.
The claim by the NASUWT Wales comes after a week in which two of its members were banned from the classroom.
Last week, the General Teaching Council for Wales (GTCW) imposed a four- year prohibition order on former music teacher Debbie Lloyd-Jones, who was found to have bombarded pupils with text messages and showered with a number of students after a concert.
It is one of the toughest orders in the GTCW's history, but was doubled from the usual two-year ban because the committee considered the case to be particularly serious.
This week Keith Jones, a former history teacher at Radyr Comprehensive in Cardiff, was found guilty of tampering with pupils' coursework and suspended for a year (see box below left).
Rex Phillips, NASUWT Wales organiser, said: "There has been a worrying sea-change in the way the GTCW handles cases. We are very concerned it is now attempting to justify its existence by handing out tougher punishments to teachers."
The union is also unhappy that the GTCW investigated Ms Lloyd-Jones, who taught at Oakdale Comprehensive in Caerphilly, when the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) had already cleared her to work with children.
"This sort of thing is cropping up time and time again with the GTCW," said Mr Phillips. "They are treading into territory that is not in their remit. The matter had been dealt with by the ISA and they had taken the decision that they did not feel she posed a threat to children."
Her union representative David Browne said she has been branded a "paedophilic lesbian" as a result of the media coverage of the hearing, with "appalling consequences" for her family. Lawyers are now looking at the judgment to see if there are grounds for an appeal.
But Gary Brace, GTCW chief executive, said the accusations being levelled at the council were "clearly incorrect".
"Every case referred to the GTCW is unique and as such must be treated individually, based on its own circumstances," he said. "Cases are considered thoroughly by an experienced panel of teaching professionals and lay members, in line with documented procedures which have been subject to full consultation with teaching unions and others."
Mr Brace said the roles of the ISA and GTCW were "entirely different". "Employers have a legal duty to report allegations which involve a potential risk of harm to children to the ISA, which has the power to prohibit any individual from working with children, regardless of their occupation," he said. "The GTCW has a statutory duty to investigate the professional conduct of any registered teacher where an employer dismissal has taken place."
Ms Lloyd-Jones, who did not attend the hearing, admitted sending 1,124 text messages to one of her pupils and 223 messages to another, some of which said: "Love you loads."
Huw Roberts, presenting officer, said she showered with pupils during a school musical performance while wearing a bikini top and shorts, but there was "no sexual element".
Chairman John Collins said: "Although no sexual activity took place, this was inappropriate involvement with pupils who were using the showers. We are not satisfied she doesn't pose a significant risk of repeating her behaviour."
- Original headline: GTCW is getting tough on conduct to `justify its existence'