'Interim suspension' for teachers facing criminal charges

30th July 2010 at 01:00
New powers could lead to miscarriages of justice, experts warn GTC

Teachers facing charges of serious misconduct could be banned from working even before they are found guilty, as part of new plans for tougher regulation of the profession.

The General Teaching Council for England (GTC) wants new powers to be able to suspend those awaiting hearings, but experts say this could lead to miscarriages of justice.

Currently, the GTC can only bar teachers from working in the classroom after they have been convicted by a panel of their peers.

But in future, those facing serious charges would be given an "interim suspension" while waiting for their hearing.

Staff had been working on the changes before Education Secretary Michael Gove announced he was axing the GTC last month. However, the GTC will recommend that a future disciplinary body has stronger powers.

The changes would specifically affect teachers facing criminal charges. "There are people where we feel we need to take action now to stop them teaching because their actions have been so serious, but we don't have the due processes to do that," GTC registrar Alan Meyrick said.

"If a regulatory body had these powers, I predict they will be used rarely, for small numbers of teachers. It's the equivalent of withholding bail for someone awaiting a criminal trial.

"If we were asked by the Government what a model regulatory body should be like, we would recommend interim suspension powers."

The changes could have affected cases such as Uzma Naureen-Khan, a former science teacher at West Leeds High School, who was jailed for two years last year for not taking action when she knew her brother was beating his wife to death. She only resigned from her post in the middle of her trial.

Richard Bird, legal consultant for the Association of Schools and College Leaders, said any new regulatory body could find itself facing legal action brought by banned teachers if the powers were brought in.

"There is potential for serious misjustice and people will seek legal redress - particularly if they are then found not guilty," he said.

"This will especially be the case if teacher regulation continues to be carried out at such a leisurely time frame; I can't see how this will work unless the system is speeded up."

Christine Blower, general secretary of teaching union the NUT, said: "I am surprised the GTC is thinking of such a course of action. Suspension needs to be used with extreme caution - such decisions must be made by the employer."

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said she could not understand the need for the new powers.

"Surely a CRB (Criminal Records Bureau) check would pick up any record. Schools have plenty of safeguards in place," she said. "We would also assume the police would inform heads if any of their teachers were charged with a serious offence."

A GTC spokeswoman said: "We wouldn't single out an example of where a temporary suspension of a teacher's registration could have been made. However, like the General Teaching Council of Scotland, we would expect this power to be used in circumstances of serious conviction and misconduct."

Before Mr Gove's announcement, Mr Meyrick and his staff were considering changing legislation to allow quicker treatment of GTC cases. Investigating committees might have been allowed to issue a reprimand if a teacher pleaded guilty. Currently, all those accused receive a full hearing.

  • Original headline: Guilty or not: `interim suspension' for teachers facing criminal charges

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