How other regulators punish their erring workers

28th November 2008 at 00:00

Teachers are not the only professionals whose actions can be punished by a regulator. Social workers, nurses, doctors and architects are a few of the groups whose behaviour is scrutinised in this way.

So how do these other regulators treat outside-of-work misconduct?

Social workers

The number of rulings on the outside-of-work misdemeanours of social workers has been lower than the equivalent number for teachers. The General Social Care Council, which regulates social workers, ruled on 38 cases involving incidents which occurred outside work between 2006 and now.

Only 10 could be said to be truly outside-of-work incidents as the others included relationships with service users, many of which would have begun in work and continued outside. Just two social workers faced misconduct cases centred on driving.

In the same period the GTC ruled on 57 outside-of-work cases.

"Generally we are not looking at drink-driving, but it has been big issue for us," said Robin Weekes, the GSCC's head of conduct.

"How strict do you get? How many professionals would you have left?

"But if it is at work and someone driving a service user or patients, that is a different issue, or if they have an alcohol problem."

He said that users of social services have a right to expect their social workers are "squeaky clean" and if they are not that they are trustworthy and there is a good reason for their misdemeanour.

Doctors and nurses

It is difficult to directly compare the figures for teachers with doctors and nurses because their regulators - the General Medical Council and Nursing and Midwifery Council - provide statistics on allegations rather than findings, or have not yet heard all the cases bought.

The figures for doctors and nurses include some incidents which could have happened at work and exclude some types of outside-of-work offences.

In 2007-08, 147 cases were referred to the GMC because doctors had been investigated or convicted for violence, dishonesty, drugs and motoring offences. Of these, 42 cases will go to a hearing and six have been heard so far with all but one resulting in some form of punishment.

The Nursing and Midwifery Council received 149 allegations in 2006-07 and 217 allegations in 2007-08 against nurses for motoring offences, being absent without leave, drink and drugs offences, breaches of confidentiality, bullying, manslaughter or being unfit for duty through drink and drugs.

The NMC heard a far greater number of cases against nurses than the GTC did against teachers: it punished 339 nurses from 482 cases heard in 2007-08 compared with a 119 teachers sanctioned from 150 cases heard.

Architects

The Architects Registration Board, considers only a narrow range of offences which it believes are relevant to architectural practice. The regulatory body has punished just three cases of outside-of-work misconduct since 1997 out of 70 cases.

The board takes a relatively relaxed line on outside-of-work offences. Simon Howard, professional standards manager at the ARB, said the board is legally bound to prosecute only cases directly relevant to architectural practice.

It can also punish offences not directly related to the profession which could bring it into disrepute. For example, an architect was struck off the register after being convicted of sexual offences with children.

"We would say with drink-driving, unless it was really serious, like dangerous driving with death involved, it is probably not relevant.

"But something like dishonesty, theft or fraud would be relevant because architects deal with their clients' money," he said.

HOW TEACHERS ARE REFERRED

Most referrals come from the teachers' employers, who are obliged to notify the Department for Children, Schools and Families when they dismiss a teacher for misconduct or if they believe that the teacher resigned before they could be dismissed.

Schools are also supposed to contact the GTC directly if they think a teacher is not competent enough to teach.

If the police caution or convict a teacher, they are also supposed to inform the DCSF. It reviews cases and retains those linked to the safety and welfare of children for a decision by the secretary of state. Other cases are sent to the GTC, which has a legal duty to investigate.

Complaints made by the public and cases linked to minor offences are screened by the GTC's head of professional regulation and then referred to an investigating committee, which should decide from the evidence whether there is a case for the teacher to answer.

A professional conduct committee holds a hearing and may issue a punishment. It considers any pattern or recurrence of the offending behaviour, the teacher's character and history, and the impact on their work in school.

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