No half-measures under new misconduct regime

16th November 2012 at 00:00
'Blunt tool' Teaching Agency bans 43 teachers in six months

When he axed the General Teaching Council for England (GTC), Westminster education secretary Michael Gove promised "stronger and clearer" methods of dealing with staff found guilty of misconduct.

But figures released from the Teaching Agency - which took over the role of policing the profession - have prompted concerns that too many teachers are being struck off. In its first six months, between April and September this year, the agency barred 43 teachers for unprofessional conduct, compared with GTC figures of just 13 teachers being struck off in the whole of 2009-10, 33 in 2010-11 and 68 last year.

While the GTC had a range of punishments at its disposal - including suspending and reprimanding teachers - the Teaching Agency can only strike off offenders.

According to Jayne Phillips, senior legal advocate for the ATL teaching union, that means a risk of skewed decisions. "If you have an 'all or nothing' system such as this, where only barring is used, it's not surprising there do seem to be more people prohibited from teaching," she said.

The GTC came in for criticism in the press for not banning enough incompetent teachers, but underperformance is now being left to schools to deal with. The Teaching Agency only deals with serious misconduct, including inappropriate conduct with pupils and criminal activity.

In its most recent published case, Benjamin Conway, a former head of RE at Jo Richardson Community School in Dagenham, East London, was last month struck off for at least five years by the agency after it found he had exchanged "overtly sexual" messages with a former pupil via Facebook. Mr Conway denied the charge, claiming that his Facebook account had been hacked.

Almost eight in 10 cases heard by the Teaching Agency between April and September have led to teachers being banned. During the same period, a total of 458 teachers were also reported to the agency by their employers, the police, the Independent Safeguarding Authority and members of the public. None of these has yet led to hearings.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT heads' union, said that not having the option of a range of punishments meant the Teaching Agency was a "blunt tool".

"Some teachers will commit offences that are silly, not dangerous," he said. "With a punishment that is more of a middle ground their career might be able to be rescued.

"We have to put these numbers in the context of the profession having half a million members. They show the vast majority are upstanding and this should be a message of confidence in the profession."

Schools have been told that only the most serious cases of misconduct should be referred to the Teaching Agency. Malcolm Trobe, deputy general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that for this reason he would "expect the proportion of people banned to be high".

"People are referring cases based on evidence that could lead to a banning order," he said. "They report because they don't want to put children at risk, or allow the person to move on to a different school. Headteachers are very aware of safeguarding issues."

The total cost of the disciplinary work of the Teaching Agency in the financial year 2012-13 is forecast to be #163;3 million. This compares with #163;4.25 million for the final year of the GTC.

At the end of September, 193 cases were in progress, 80 of which related to work transferred to the Teaching Agency when the GTC was closed.

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