Contrary to its "courtroom" perception, Fitness to Teach is about protection, not punishment. It is a positive safeguard for the profession and for the public
In the past, after acquiring full registration, many teachers would have little or no contact with GTC Scotland. Those unfortunate to have fallen short of the standards expected may have encountered the regulator’s “disciplinary” procedure. And while this only affected a tiny minority of the profession, it was the one thing sure to generate media interest. Consequently, a skewed perspective of the organisation persisted.
But much has changed.
The launch of the Professional Standards and Professional Update have made GTC Scotland a much more active part of teachers’ professional journey.
And fundamental changes to the Fitness to Teach (FtT) process have gone a long way to changing the emphasis of that function.
Jennifer Macdonald, who oversees FtT at GTC Scotland, said: “We have made great efforts to reposition FtT as a framework that is about public protection and maintaining teaching standards. It is not there to punish teachers. It is about ensuring that we have a teaching profession in Scotland that is and remains fit to teach so that public trust and confidence in teachers is maintained and the learning of our children and young people is protected.
“We are encouraging early, open, honest and reflective dialogue throughout the process. This is better for everyone involved, building a culture of learning around the process that is more constructive.”
The diagram above outlines the current FtT process at a high level.
Download the Fitness to Teach Process diagram
Below we explore each key milestone in more detail.
1. Referral received
The FtT process begins when GTC Scotland receives a referral of information. Referrals can come from Disclosure Scotland, criminal justice agencies (like the police), employers or members of the public.
Did you know?
GTC Scotland typically receives 170 referrals per annum, which is the approximate equivalent to less than 0.25% of teachers registered to teach in Scotland (based on 73,000 registered teachers). See:
2. Initial consideration
When the referral is received, officers from GTC Scotland will use the Fitness to Teach Threshold Policy to decide whether it is something that should be investigated. This is called “Initial Consideration”. While each referral is different and considered on its own merits, the policy provides a basis for consistency and ensures transparency. Jennifer said: “Questioning a teacher’s fitness to teach is a serious matter. It is not simply that the teacher has made a mistake or done something wrong, but that they have done something that raises concerns about their ongoing fitness to teach.”
GTC Scotland will not investigate the health of teachers as they do not have a legal remit to do so (as some other professional regulators do). Fitness to teach is not about a medical assessment; it is about a teacher’s conduct and/or professional competence.
When the officer has decided how and if to proceed, they will inform the teacher, the referrer and the employer of their decision and how it was reached.
Did you know?
Professional Competence cases follow a different process, and can only be made by employers.
For referrals where investigation is deemed necessary, an officer will work to gather all of the relevant information. A detailed plan is created for every investigation, including a risk assessment.
Jennifer said: “Investigations are approached in a neutral way – we are investigating to find out what has happened, not to build a case for or against the teacher. We’ll send a notice of investigation to the teacher at the beginning of this process and encourage them to enter into open dialogue with us.”
Investigations can involve asking the person who has made the referral to provide information as well as contacting the teacher’s employer or criminal justice agencies for information. Statements are gathered from all relevant parties.
Jennifer stressed: “Throughout the entire process, we approach assessing whether fitness to teach is impaired holistically in the here and now. We not only look at any shortfalls in conduct or professional competence identified, but also consider what steps have been taken to openly and honestly reflect on the issues, learn from them and make changes to ensure they will not happen again.
“While there are times when the shortfalls identified are so fundamental that there is no scope for remediation in this way, our approach recognises that we all make mistakes and is about providing assurance that those same mistakes will not be repeated so that the public (especially pupils) is not harmed and trust and confidence in the teaching profession is maintained.”
At the end of this phase, an investigation report is produced, which presents all information gathered. Some 15 per cent of cases are concluded at this stage, with the remainder being forwarded to a FtT panel for consideration.
4. Panel meeting
When an investigation report concludes that there is sufficient evidence available to prove an allegation, the report is provided to a panel consisting of three independent members. They consider all of the information available at a private meeting and decide what should happen next.
The panel may decide the case is not eligible for further investigation, that it should go to a full hearing, that no further action is required or that further information is needed.
5. Full hearing
Only 10 per cent of all referrals are brought before a full hearing.
This is a formal process in which efforts are made to ensure all information is presented in order to make a fair and proper decision.
A Presenting Officer will share evidence and information in a neutral way; they are not there to prosecute or defend. Other relevant parties may be given the opportunity to present the relevant information that will help inform a fair and proper decision. A panel of three will consider all information presented, as well as the wider context and any steps taken by relevant parties since the allegation took place.
Did you know?
The panel is always made up of a majority of registered teachers and a lay member.
The panel uses a suite of Practice Statements to provide a framework within which to base their findings. Parties retain the right to appeal any decision with the Court of Session. Jennifer said: “Hearings are designed to be fair and transparent. There is a perception that you are entering in to a kind of courtroom situation, but in reality this is far from the case.”
Did you know?
Changes to the FtT process have led to the number of referrals coming to a full hearing being significantly reduced.
FtT More Streamlined And Efficient As Evolution Continues
Jennifer and the team at GTC Scotland have worked hard to reposition FtT as a positive safeguard for the teaching profession. Not only have their revisions created a more streamlined process, which greatly reduces the burden placed on all involved, they have also gone some way to evolve the culture and perception of the entire function.
But they see the evolution of FtT continuing. Learnings from every referral are being fed back into the process, meaning it is likely to become even more efficient and objective. And a Council Committee ensure they are fair and equitable. Meanwhile, a comprehensive review of the Code of Professional Conduct (CoPAC) will take place, bringing these guidelines up to date.
To learn more about the fitness to teach process, visit: