They could pose a threat to students, but they are still teaching

11th May 2012 at 01:00
Lecturer accused of grooming still at work due to regulatory vacuum

Dozens of lecturers accused of serious misconduct, including grooming and having "inappropriate" relationships with students, are being allowed to teach in colleges, as a result of a hiatus in disciplinary proceedings caused by a government-commissioned review of FE professionalism.

The Institute for Learning (IfL) professional practice committee was dismissed by Lord Lingfield's review of professionalism as "relatively low-key". But with the IfL paralysed while the review - which last month called for the body to no longer be compulsory for FE teachers - takes place, there is currently no system to bar dangerous individuals from teaching in the sector.

To date, the IfL has been unable to deal with 39 cases referred to it, as the teachers concerned are no longer members. As IfL membership is at present effectively voluntary, there is nothing to stop the individuals working in colleges or for other FE providers.

TES has learned that the cases still open include one lecturer accused of grooming three of his male students, who is now working as a private tutor, and another lecturer who allegedly incited sexual activity with a student and is believed to still be teaching at an FE college. In another case, a lecturer failed to disclose previous convictions for possessing a blade and a class C drug when he got a teaching job.

With some colleges teaching students as young as 14, IfL chief executive Toni Fazaeli believes the regulatory vacuum has created a "very serious risk". "These individuals may still be teaching in the sector," she said. "There could be a serious risk for young people from some of these individuals."

While the IfL is still able to hold professional practice committee hearings - indeed, two are scheduled for later this month - it has no jurisdiction to deal with cases where a person's IfL membership has lapsed in 2011-12.

"The IfL hearings would have determined whether or not the individual is suitable to teach or train in the publicly funded sector, or if they should be barred or have other sanctions applied," Ms Fazaeli said. "The IfL is extremely concerned about this situation and it is a direct consequence of the regulations not being applied or enforced by government."

Convictions would show up on a Criminal Records Bureau check carried out by FE providers, but they would not necessarily be able to find out about unproven allegations and other misconduct. Previously, the IfL was able to warn providers, through government agencies, of any teachers who could slip through the net.

Lynne Sedgmore, executive director of the 157 Group of colleges, warned that some colleges use compromise agreements to get rid of problematic teachers, meaning that information may not be shared. "We need a baseline professional standard, and we need a system in place to ensure we are safeguarding students properly," she said.

Shadow FE minister Gordon Marsden told TES: "The cases that have been given as examples by the IfL are of sufficient weight for the government to look urgently, with the IfL, at dealing with them and taking them forward."

The interim report from the review of FE professionalism called for "an appropriate government body (to) be given the task of keeping a record of all those found culpable of gross misconduct by the authorities". It added that "the Independent Safeguarding Authority has a separate responsibility in disbarring those adjudged to be unfit to work with children or other vulnerable groups, with or without a relevant criminal record".

It is not yet clear whether, or when, Lord Lingfield's recommendations will be accepted in full. But with his report suggesting that IfL membership should be voluntary from September, a spokeswoman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) admitted that there are currently no plans in place for a new system to bar dangerous individuals from the sector.

One possible solution would see cases handled by the new Teaching Agency, which will deal with cases involving teachers in schools; another would be for BIS to monitor them directly. But, at present, it is less than clear who the buck ultimately stops with.

Unresolved cases

- A lecturer at a large FE college has been accused of "placing a bag over the head of a student who uses a wheelchair, with cerebral palsy and hearing and speaking difficulties, and.threatening other students".

- An assessor for a work-based training provider in Northern England has been accused of "falsifying evidence and learner portfolios in relation to NVQ awards, completing false mileage claims and time sheets and threatening colleagues".

- A lecturer at an FE college is alleged to have had an "inappropriate relationship" with a learner after using his position to obtain personal information.

- A lecturer at another FE college failed to admit previous convictions for "carrying a bladed article in public and possession of a class C drug".

- A teacher has been accused of "using sexual language with female colleagues, swearing at students and mocking a learner's learning difficulty in front of other students".

- A college lecturer has been accused of grooming three current and former students, and is now working as a private tutor in the South of England.

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