The General Teaching Council for Scotland

Enhancing professionalism in education since 1965

General Teaching Council for Scotland Fitness to Teach Panel Outcome

Full Hearing 18 and 20 July 2017

Respondent Darrena Smith
Registration number 087043
Registration category Secondary Geography
Panel John Kilpatrick (Convener), Miriam Zziwa, Maureen Anderson
Legal Assessor Gareth Jones
Servicing Officer Dani Tovey
Presenting Officer Gary Burton, Anderson Strathern
Respondent’s representative Paul Reid, Fleming and Reid

Any reference in this decision to:

  • “GTCS” means the General Teaching Council for Scotland;
  • the “Panel” means the Fitness to Teach Panel considering the case;
  • the “Rules” (and any related expression) means the GTCS Fitness to Teach and Appeals Rules 2012 or refers to a provision (or provisions) within them;
  • the “Register” means the GTCS register of teachers;
  • “COPAC” means the GTCS Code of Professionalism and Conduct 2012.

Preliminary issues

At the outset of the hearing the Presenting Officer made an application to amend paragraph 6 of the complaint pursuant to Rule 3.8.3 of the Rules. The proposed amendment was to insert the words, “On 30 January 2016” at the beginning. There was no opposition to the application and the Panel was in agreement that no injustice would result from the amendment. The application was therefore allowed.

The Legal Assessor then raised a second preliminary issue relating to the Investigatory Summary Report which formed part of the Presenting Officer’s hearing papers (P4). It was pointed out that in the “conclusions and practice concerns” sections of the report the Investigating Officers made a number of findings in fact, some of which related to the complaint. The Legal Assessor advised the Panel that the earlier findings were irrelevant because the Panel was tasked with making its own findings in fact in light of the evidence which it accepted. Both the Respondent’s representative and the Presenting Officer agreed that the earlier findings were irrelevant and, in the circumstances, the Panel agreed to disregard this evidence.

Complaint

The complaint (as amended) against the Respondent considered at the hearing was as follows:

Between 18 January 2016 and 1 February 2016, both dates inclusive whilst employed as a teacher at Education and Care Centre A, you did:

  1. fail to comply with a social work request to limit your contact with Pupil A, a former young person of Education and Care Centre A and continued to engage in contact with Pupil A between 19 January and 30 January 2016 via text message and telephone;
  2. during a telephone conversation with Pupil A on 24 January 2016 you did use inappropriate language by saying to Pupil A, words to the effect of you were, “fucking raging and that this was a disgrace.”
  3. during a telephone conversation with Pupil A on 30 January 2016 you did use inappropriate language by saying to Pupil A, words to the effect of, “I’m fucking raging with you”.
  4. on 30 January 2016 collect Pupil A from an address in Castlemilk and return him to his residential unit whilst he was under the influence of drink and/or drugs and whilst your child was within the vehicle;
  5. on 30 January 2016, fail to inform staff at the residential unit that you had returned Pupil A;
  6. on 30 January 2016 fail to inform Witness 2 and Witness 3, Operations Manager about the incident detailed at allegation 4 above.

And in light of the above, it is alleged that your fitness to teach is impaired and you are unfit to teach, as a result of breaching Parts 1.2, 1.3, 1.4 and 1.6 of the General Teaching Council for Scotland’s Code of Professionalism and Conduct.

Respondent’s admissions

The Respondent admitted paragraph 4 of the complaint and the Panel found that paragraph 4 of the complaint was proved by admission.

No admission was made that the Respondent is unfit to teach or that her fitness to teach is impaired.

Hearing Papers

In accordance with Rule 3.1.3, the Panel admitted all of the documents and statements listed below as evidence for the purposes of the hearing:

Presenting Officer

P1 Witness statement of Witness 1, Head Teacher and Executive Director of Education and Care Centre A, dated 23 August 2016 (attended the hearing)
P2 Witness statement of Witness 3, Operations Manager of Day Services of Education and Care Centre A, dated 24 August 2016 (attended the hearing)
P3 Witness statement of Witness 2, Deputy Head Teacher of Education and Care Centre A, dated 31 October 2016 (attended the hearing)
P4 Investigation Summary Report by Investigator 1 and Investigator 2, dated 23 March 2016 and appendices thereto

Respondent

R1 Unsigned statement of the Respondent provided 9 May 2017

Servicing Officer

S1 Notice of hearing dated 19 June 2017 with email delivery/read receipts

Summary of evidence

Witness 1

Witness 1 commenced his evidence by reading aloud his witness statement before being examined and then cross-examined. The salient parts of his evidence can be summarised as follows.

Witness 1 is the Head Teacher and Executive Director at Education and Care Centre A. He was promoted to that post in November 2014.

Witness 1 described Education and Care Centre A as a “social enterprise”, which provides education and support for some of the most troubled, at risk and traumatised pupils in the country. Those who teach at Education and Care Centre A seek to understand the behaviour of the pupils there and what drives it.

Witness 1 knew Pupil A, who was 15 years of age during his time at Education and Care Centre A. He described him as having, “good values”, however, due to the neglect that Pupil A had experienced in the past he was often very aggressive towards staff and difficult to control.

Through his role at the school, Witness 1 also had direct knowledge of the Respondent and her abilities as a teacher. He described her as being, “very actively involved” in her teaching role at Education and Care Centre A and that she “positively contributed” to the School Improvement Plan, amongst other educational areas. In particular Witness 1 was aware that the Respondent provided what he described as, “high quality support” to Pupil A. The Respondent became Pupil A’s allocated key tutor, which involved setting boundaries in the classroom which Pupil A was expected to work within. In addition to supporting Pupil A with his Personal Learning Programme (PLP), as his key tutor the Respondent was also expected to have good insight into his home life. To that extent, the responsibilities that the Respondent had towards Pupil A were different to what one might find between a teacher and pupil in a mainstream school.

Witness 1 described that, over time, the Respondent and Pupil A developed a very positive relationship and a good connection. As a result of their close relationship, the Respondent was often used as a “resource” for Pupil A and would regularly be contacted in the event of a difficulty with his behaviour because she was able to calm him down. Despite Pupil A’s close relationship with the Respondent, however, his placement at Education and Care Centre A broke down because he was unable to comply with basic expectations around safe care. For that reason, Pupil A left Education and Care Centre A and was thereafter placed at two residential units, Residential Unit 1 and then Residential Unit 2.

After Pupil A left Education and Care Centre A, Witness 1 was fully aware that the Respondent and Pupil A remained in contact. Witness 1 was clear in his evidence that the continued contact between the Respondent and Pupil A was normal practice because former pupils often require support when transitioning away from Education and Care Centre A to a new destination. Furthermore, continued contact is often requested by the Social Work Department, as it was on this occasion because if contact were to cease straight away that could be potentially damaging to a pupil. For that reason, the Respondent and Pupil A remained in contact by telephone, text and by having face to face contact during Pupil A’s time at both Residential Unit 1 and Residential Unit 2. Furthermore, Witness 1 was clear in his evidence that there was never any attempt by the Respondent at any stage to disguise the fact that continued contact was taking place.

It was on Saturday 16 January 2016 that Witness 1 was informed for the first time about a concern in relation to the level of contact between the Respondent and Pupil A. Specifically, Witness 1 was advised that an employee from Residential Unit 2 was “perturbed” at the level of contact between them.

The following Monday, Witness 1 asked Witness 2, the Depute Head teacher at Education and Care Centre A, to ensure that any ongoing contact between the Respondent and Pupil A was, “by the book”, meaning that the Social Work Department were kept informed of what was going on.

In the course of his evidence, Witness 1 was taken to a statement made by Social Worker 1 (SW1), a Social Worker that was involved in Pupil A’s care. In her statement, SW1 described having a discussion with the Respondent on 14 January 2016 in which she relayed her concerns that the level of contact that was taking place between the Respondent and Pupil A was negatively impacting upon Pupil A’s placement at Residential Unit 2 because staff there were finding it difficult to engage with him. In her statement, SW1 also described how the Respondent accepted the recommendation of having more structured contact with Pupil A, which would be facilitated by picking 1 or 2 nights a week when they would contact each other by telephone but otherwise have no contact. Having been taken to SW1’s statement, Witness 1 accepted that there had been an agreement between the Respondent and SW1 that the Respondent would limit her contact with Pupil A to telephone calls 1 or 2 nights a week.

Witness 1 was then taken to a chronology of phone contact between the Respondent and Pupil A as well as a series of texts between the two of them. This collectively showed that, notwithstanding the discussion that had taken place on 14 January 2016, the Respondent continued to have regular contact with Pupil A by telephone, text and visits. Furthermore, it could be seen that many of the telephone calls were of a lengthy duration. Witness 1 agreed that the evidence showed that the Respondent had deviated from the structured plan to limit contact (paragraph 1 of the complaint).

Witness 1 described that on 3 February 2016 an issue arose from contact between the Respondent and Pupil A over the preceding weekend. It became apparent that the Respondent had collected Pupil A after he repeatedly contacted her asking to be picked up. At the time, Pupil A was in a state of intoxication through drink and/or drugs. The Respondent had then collected Pupil A and returned him to outside his residential unit at Residential Unit 2, however, she did not accompany him into the unit to explain the situation to staff. It subsequently transpired that Pupil A could not gain access to the unit and, as a result, he forced entry.

Witness 1 described how during a discussion with the Respondent she admitted picking up Pupil A, but maintained that prior to doing so she had repeatedly tried to phone Residential Unit 2 without success. She also said that she tried to speak to someone at Residential Unit 2 whilst en route there but, once again, there was no response. In the course of his evidence, however, Witness 1 said that he would have expected a member of staff from Education and Care Centre A to have also contacted the school directly as Education and Care Centre A has a 24/7 duty number. By doing so, a Duty Manager could have provided the Respondent with the level of support that she needed. An experienced manager may have also contacted the Duty Social Worker. However, Witness 1 also acknowledged that the Respondent was relatively inexperienced in dealing with children like Pupil A and that she was put in a very difficult position by him. Witness 1 also acknowledged that the situation could have escalated to crisis level had the Respondent not acted quickly. Her decision to act, whilst placing her in a vulnerable position, was in the opinion of Witness 1, understandable.

Witness 1 confirmed that, following the incident, the Respondent was suspended pending investigation of the matter. However, the Respondent was subsequently invited back to Education and Care Centre A to teach, which she did for another 10 weeks.

It was the opinion of Witness 1 that the Respondent was a caring and compassionate teacher who was fit to work with children, hence his decision to invite her back. In short, Witness 1 had no concerns at all about the Respondent’s abilities as a teacher because it was clear that she had acted with the best of intentions towards Pupil A.

Witness 2

Witness 2 commenced her evidence by reading aloud her witness statement before being examined and then cross-examined. The salient parts of her evidence can be summarised as follows.

Witness 2 is the Depute Head Teacher at Education and Care Centre A, a position which she has held since 2015. At the time of the complaint, Witness 2 was the Respondent’s senior line manager, with a Principal Teacher also involved in line managing the Respondent. They had also been close friends since school.

Witness 2 described the Respondent as an able and effective teacher who was very actively involved in her teaching role at Education and Care Centre A to the extent that she would take on other classes when she was asked to do so. It was the opinion of Witness 2 that the Respondent was interested in the wellbeing of all of the children at Education and Care Centre A and that she was the only staff member to have a positive influence on Pupil A. The relationship between the Respondent and Pupil A was therefore something that Education and Care Centre A as an organisation encouraged. Such encouragement was acceptable because the boundaries between staff and pupils at Education and Care Centre A is not the same as in mainstream school. Witness 2 was also aware that Social Work had named the Respondent on the Care Plan relating to Pupil A just before he left Education and Care Centre A in order to help him settle into his new placements, first at Residential Unit 1 then at Residential Unit 2.

It was the understanding of Witness 2 that the Residential Unit 2 Manager was the first person to contact Education and Care Centre A due to a concern raised about the level of contact between the Respondent and Pupil A. It was after a discussion with Witness 1 that Witness 2 spoke with the Respondent and emphasised the importance of keeping everyone safe. After being shown an email trail by the Respondent, Witness 2 considered that the contact between the Respondent and Pupil A was entirely, “above board”. However, the Respondent herself was concerned about the extent to which Pupil A was contacting her and it was agreed that, for the sake of transparency, going forward a record of contact should be kept and that social work should be kept informed about any ongoing contact.

Like Witness 1, Witness 2 was taken to the statement of SW1 and agreed that as at 14 January 2016 there appeared to have been an agreement between the Respondent and SW1 that the Respondent would reduce her contact with Pupil A. Witness 2 indicated, however, that, whilst she was aware that the Respondent and Pupil A remained in regular contact following 14 January, Pupil A usually instigated the contact because he was unhappy being at Residential Unit 2. Witness 2 was also keen to emphasise that social work did not assist the situation because they were not effectively monitoring what was happening. According to Witness 2, whilst there may have been a provisional agreement to reduce contact, there was no structured agreement put in place by social work for how contact should be maintained between the Respondent and Pupil A.

On being taken to the text messages between the Respondent and Pupil A postdating 14 January 2016, Witness 2 acknowledged that there had been regular text contact with Pupil A but once again pointed to the fact that Pupil A instigated many of the text messages. Witness 2 was also keen to emphasise that the text messages sent by the Respondent were of a positive nature because in the messages the Respondent was checking that Pupil A was okay and offering him words of encouragement. Furthermore, according to Witness 2, it would have been potentially damaging for the Respondent not to have responded to messages sent to her by Pupil A because he was a particularly vulnerable pupil and historically he had a close relationship with the Respondent.

Witness 2 stated that she became aware of an allegation that on the 30 January 2016 the Respondent collected Pupil A and returned him to his residential unit whilst he was under the influence of drink and/or drugs and failed to inform staff at the unit that she had done so (paragraphs 4 and 5 of the complaint). On hearing about the incident, it was the opinion of Witness 2 that, due to the Respondent’s inexperience of dealing with non-mainstream pupils, she did not take the necessary steps of phoning the Duty Officer or social work in order to get some advice about how best to deal with the situation. Witness 2 was, however, aware that the Respondent attempted, without success, to speak with someone at Residential Unit 2 prior to picking up Pupil A and whilst she was en route to the unit. Despite the unit being manned 24 hours a day, however, it was the understanding of Witness 2 that nobody answered the calls made by the Respondent. According to Witness 2, it was not unusual for calls to go unanswered because the unit is very busy. It was, however, not clear to her why a member of staff did not afford Pupil A entry to the unit.

In relation to the allegation that the Respondent failed to inform her (Witness 2) of the incident (paragraph 6 of the complaint), whilst Witness 2 was of the view that she could have provided the Respondent with guidance, she was on leave in the North of Scotland at the time and had no way of being contacted because she had no phone reception. Furthermore, Witness 2 confirmed that the Respondent was aware that she was on leave at the time.

Witness 3

Witness 3 commenced his evidence by reading aloud his witness statement before being examined and then cross-examined. The salient parts of his evidence can be summarised as follows.

Witness 3 is a qualified Social Worker and is currently the Operations Manager of Day Services at Education and Care Centre A, a positon which he has held since 2010.

Witness 3 only became aware of the allegations on being told about them by the Respondent and did not have much involvement with either her or Pupil A prior to the allegations coming to light.

Witness 3 was aware that the Respondent and Pupil A remained in contact after Pupil A moved to Residential Unit 1 then Residential Unit 2 and he advised the Respondent to make sure that social work were aware of the contact that was taking place to ensure transparency. Witness 3 confirmed, however, that there was no issue at all with the continued contact because teachers at Education and Care Centre A operate differently to those at mainstream schools and are encouraged to be more “social-worker like” in terms of engaging with pupils. For that reason, the boundaries are quite blurred, which can be confusing for a relatively new and inexperienced teacher.

At some point Witness 3 learned that the Respondent had transported Pupil A back to his residential unit at Residential Unit 2 on 30 January 2016 whilst Pupil A was in a state of intoxication (paragraph 4 of the complaint). Witness 3 also became aware that Pupil A got out of the car by himself and gained access to the unit by forcing entry because nobody was there to let him in. In relation to this incident, it was the opinion of Witness 3 that the Respondent should have contacted the Duty Manager at Education and Care Centre A in order to get advice and support and that, due to her inexperience of working in a non-mainstream school, the Respondent made a mistake by not doing so. Furthermore, it was the opinion of Witness 3 that the Respondent should have accompanied Pupil A into the residential unit in order to update the staff working there.

In relation to the allegation that the Respondent failed to inform him (Witness 3) of the incident (paragraph 6 of the complaint), Witness 3 stated that he was on holiday at the time.

The Respondent

The Respondent commenced her evidence by reading aloud her witness statement before being examined and then cross-examined. The salient parts of her evidence can be summarised as follows.

The Respondent qualified as a teacher in 2007. After a period of time working in mainstream schools, she was employed as a teacher at Education and Care Centre A for a period of 2 years until 28 June 2016.

During her time at Education and Care Centre A, the Respondent was employed as a key tutor to Pupil A, who was a child who presented with a number of challenges and issues. He was one of 17 children in a family and had been placed within Education and Care Centre A at the instance of the Social Work Department. Whilst he had many good qualities, he was a difficult boy who would shout and swear and would revel in being chased by staff.

Pupil A regularly attended the Respondent’s class and his attendance rose considerably whilst she was his key tutor. In light of their good relationship at school, the Respondent was also encouraged to take Pupil A out at the weekends.

The Respondent accepted that she kept in contact with Pupil A after he was placed at Residential Unit 1 and then Residential Unit 2 in order to assist in his resettlement and to ensure that he was coping in his new environment. In line with the evidence given by the other witnesses, it was the Respondent’s positon that she was encouraged to remain in contact by those directly involved in Pupil A’s care, including SW1, and that the school (Education and Care Centre A) and the Social Work Department were fully aware of the level of contact that was taking place, including her visits to the residential units.

The Respondent acknowledged that some of the telephone calls that had taken place were lengthy but emphasised that Pupil A was finding it difficult to adjust to life at Residential Unit 2 because the environment at that facility is very different to Education and Care Centre A. Residential Unit 2 is a step closer towards independent living in that children there are allowed to make their own choices about such things as whether to go to school or not. According to the Respondent, Pupil A was finding it difficult to cope with the transition, hence the number of calls between them and their duration.

In relation to the discussion with SW1 on 14 January 2016, the Respondent stated that she made contact with SW1 in the first instance because she was conscious that Pupil A was phoning her too much and she wanted the contact to be curtailed. It was the Respondent’s position, however, that whilst a structure for contact was discussed, nothing specific was agreed. Thereafter, the Respondent maintained that she heard nothing further from SW1, however, Pupil A continued to regularly contact her.

In the course of her evidence in chief, the Respondent was taken to an email sent by her to SW1 on 18 January 2016. In her email the Respondent refers to the earlier conversation and states the following at end of the message:

“I am aware that Residential Unit 2 have been in touch to discuss my level of communication with [Pupil A] and I do not wish to impact negatively on the work they are trying to do. I hope [Pupil A] has a more settled week and until I hear from you I will hold off on getting in touch with him.”

On being asked about this message the Respondent said that, “hold off getting in touch” meant not instigating contact with Pupil A, save for where it was agreed that she could initiate contact. It was the Respondent’s position that following 18 January 2016, she did in fact reduce her level of contact with Pupil A and that he was the instigator of most of the messages that were sent.

In relation to paragraphs 2 and 3 on the complaint, in the course of her evidence, the Respondent was taken to a minute of an investigatory meeting which took place with the Respondent on 1 March 2016. In the minute, it is recorded that the Respondent volunteered that she used inappropriate language (as described in paragraphs 2 and 3 of the complaint) in conversation with Pupil A. In her evidence, the Responded admitted that she had used swear words during the investigatory meeting in order to convey how she felt about the incidents involving Pupil A, but not in the context of describing something which she had said to him. In short, it was the Respondent’s positon that the minute inaccurately recorded what she had said and she denied both paragraphs 2 and 3 of the complaint. When asked why she had not asked for the minute to be corrected, the Respondent said that, at the time, she had not been charged with using inappropriate language and that the focus of the investigation was on her level of contact with Pupil A. For those reasons, she did not feel the need to take issue with what had been written down. Furthermore, in support of her defence that she did not use inappropriate language towards Pupil A, the Respondent highlighted that in none of the text messages retrieved did she use swear words or any other kind of inappropriate language towards Pupil A.

In relation to the remaining paragraphs of the complaint, the Respondent described that on the morning of 30 January 2016 she noticed 5 missed calls from Pupil A on her mobile phone. Out of concern for Pupil A’s safety she phoned him back to enquire if he was okay. On answering the phone, however, it was apparent that Pupil A was intoxicated and he was asking to be picked up. The Respondent initially refused to pick him up and made it clear that he should make his way back to Residential Unit 2. She then took her children to football training. When Pupil A phoned again at noon asking to be picked up, the Respondent said the same thing. It was only at 2.30 pm, when Pupil A phoned again, still in a state of intoxication, that the Respondent made the decision to travel to meet with him to collect him and return him to his residential unit. At the time of that call, the Respondent had heard someone in the background offering Pupil A some “blues”, which she suspected was a reference to drugs. Whilst Pupil A denied taking drugs, she was concerned for his wellbeing because she suspected he may continue to make poor choices, which in turn may have jeopardised his place at Residential Unit 2. The Respondent therefore travelled from the Fort Shopping Centre with her daughter to meet with Pupil A. The Respondent’s daughter and the rest of her family had met Pupil A before. En route to collecting Pupil A and after having collected him the Respondent maintained that she repeatedly attempted to contact Residential Unit 2 without success.

On arriving at Residential Unit 2 it was the Respondent’s position that Pupil A left her car quickly and went through the back gate to the unit. As Residential Unit 2 is a semi-independent unit she believed that Pupil A had keys and could have let himself in. She maintained that she attempted to call Residential Unit 2 again without success but soon afterwards received a call from a member of staff who she told about Pupil A and that she had dropped him off. She accepted that, with the benefit of hindsight, she would have done things differently, such as accompany Pupil A into the unit.

In relation to paragraph 6 of the complaint, and the allegation that the Respondent had failed to contact either Witness 2 or Witness 3 about the incident, in line with the evidence given by those witnesses, the Respondent maintained that they were on holiday at the time. Also, she said that she let them know about the situation as soon as they returned. Furthermore, the decision about who to contact generally and the correct procedure to follow was complicated by the fact that Pupil A was no longer based at Education and Care Centre A.

Following the incident, the Respondent said that she was suspended for a period of time pending the outcome of the investigation before returning to teach at Education and Care Centre A. During the period of suspension, she said that she reflected on the incident and realised that she should have phoned the Duty Manager at Education and Care Centre A in order to have been clearer about what was expected of her.

Findings in fact and reasons

The Panel heard helpful submissions from the Presenting Officer and the Respondent’s representative. The Panel gave careful consideration to all of the evidence presented and the submissions made by the parties in making its findings in fact.

The Panel had in mind that the burden of proof rested on the Presenting Officer throughout and that the standard of proof required is that used in civil proceedings, namely the balance of probabilities.

Paragraph 4 of the complaint had been proved by admission. In relation to the remaining paragraphs of the complaint, however, the Panel reached its findings in fact in the following way.

As a starting point, the Panel considered the credibility and reliability of the witnesses called by the Presenting Officer as well as the credibility and reliability of the Respondent.

The Panel found Witness 1 to be a credible and reliable witness. He was objective when giving his evidence in that he clearly indicated when he was unable to recollect something. He also gave a spontaneous, clear and consistent account of his dealings with the Respondent, with Pupil A and of his knowledge and understanding about the contact that they had following Pupil A’s departure from Education and Care Centre A. For all of those reasons, the Panel attached weight to the evidence given by Witness 1.

The Panel was, however, less persuaded by the evidence given by Witness 2. The Panel considered that, as a close friend of the Respondent’s, Witness 2 was focused on supporting her and for that reason was careful about how she answered questions. That meant that, occasionally, Witness 2 was vague in her responses to questions instead of directly answering what was asked. In the end, the Panel found that Witness 2 was attempting to put things in the best possible light for the Respondent as opposed to giving a balanced account. As a result, the Panel attached little weight to her evidence.

The Panel found Witness 3 to be a credible and reliable witness. Like Witness 1, the evidence of Witness 3 was balanced. He provided clear evidence about the expected standards when dealing with the type of situation that the Respondent found herself in on 30 January 2016. Also, whilst he was keen to emphasise that the Respondent found herself in a very unusual situation, he had no hesitation in saying that she should have contacted Education and Care Centre A and that she should have accompanied Pupil A into Residential Unit 2 after returning him there. For all of those reasons, the Panel found Witness 3 to be a straightforward, credible and reliable witness and attached weight to his evidence.

In relation to the Respondent, the Panel found most aspects of her evidence to be credible and reliable. She had been consistent about the nature and extent of her relationship with Pupil A and accepted from the beginning that she had picked him up in a state of intoxication before returning him to Residential Unit 2. She had also been consistent in her account of her dealings with Pupil A from the time she was interviewed at the investigatory stage up to an including being cross-examined by the Presenting Officer. For reasons explained below, the only aspect of the Respondent’s evidence which the Panel questioned, was her account that she had limited her contact with Pupil A after the discussion that took place with SW1 on 14 January 2016.

Based on the evidence that the Panel found credible and reliable, the Panel was satisfied that the Respondent had shown herself to be a capable and hardworking teacher during her time at Education and Care Centre A and that she had provided Pupil A with a very good level of support. Witness 1 in particular spoke about the Respondent’s relationship with Pupil A and the extent to which she would be used as a “resource” to manage his behavior. The Panel was also satisfied that staff at Education and Care Centre A and the Social Work Department encouraged continued contact between the Respondent and Pupil A after he left Education and Care Centre A to go to Residential Unit 1 and then Residential Unit 2. It was clear that the continued contact had not only been approved by all those involved in Pupil A’s care but that such contact, whether by telephone, text or face to face, was normal practice, especially where a pupil was making the transition to a new destination. Furthermore, it was clear to the Panel that at all times the Respondent acted with the best of intentions and in an effort to support and protect Pupil A.

In relation to paragraph 1 of the complaint, however, the Panel found that there had been a request by Social Work on 14 January 2016 that the Respondent limit her contact with Pupil A, which the Respondent subsequently failed to comply with. In the statement provided by SW1 it clearly stated that, during a discussion with the Respondent on 14 January 2016, the Respondent accepted the recommendation of having more structured contact with Pupil A by picking 1 or 2 nights a week when they would contact each other by telephone but otherwise have no contact with him due to concerns raised by staff at Residential Unit 2. Whilst SW1 was not called as a witness in the proceedings and her account of the discussion was hearsay, the Panel was reinforced in its view that her account of what was discussed was accurate because in an email sent by the Respondent to SW1 on 18 January 2016, the Respondent indicated that she would, “hold off getting in touch with [Pupil A]” due to the concerns raised by staff at Residential Unit 2.

The Panel was also satisfied that the Respondent did subsequently fail to limit her contact with Pupil A. There was objective evidence before the Panel of frequent phone calls and text messages between the Respondent and Pupil A between 18 January 2016 and 1 February 2016. The evidence showed that often lengthy telephone calls took place on 21, 24-28 and 30 January and that there were text messages between the Respondent and Pupil A on 18, 20, 22-28 and 30 January 2016. Whist the Panel accepted that, occasionally, Pupil A was the instigator of the texts it was also clear to the Panel that sometimes the Respondent instigated contact.

Whilst the Panel was in no doubt, given the nature of the text messages, that the Respondent was in contact with Pupil A in an effort to support him, the level of contact between them was, as Witness 1 described, a deviation from the agreement entered into by the Respondent that she would limit her contact with Pupil A to 1-2 days a week. The Panel was therefore satisfied that paragraph 1 of the complaint was proved to the required standard.

For the following reasons, the Panel could not be satisfied that paragraphs 2 and 3 of the complaint were proved.

The central issue for the Panel to resolve in relation to both paragraphs of the complaint was whether the words described were said during a discussion that took place between the Respondent and Pupil A on 24 January 2016 (paragraph 2 of the complaint) and 30 January 2016 (paragraph 3 of the complaint). It was apparent that the only evidence in support of both was a minute of an investigatory meeting with the Respondent, which took place on 1 March 2016. According to the minute, the Respondent volunteered that she had used inappropriate language towards Pupil A, as described in paragraphs 2 and 3 of the complaint. In her evidence, the Respondent maintained that the minute of the meeting was inaccurate.

The Panel noted that the minute produced was an account of what was said during the investigatory meeting as opposed to a verbatim transcript of what was discussed. Furthermore, the author of the minute had not been called to give evidence about what exactly was said during the meeting. In those circumstances, the Panel attached little weight to the minute produced and preferred instead the evidence of the Respondent. The Panel accepted her account that she did not correct the minute when she had an opportunity to do so because she was not charged with using inappropriate language at that time and that the investigation was focused instead on the nature and extent of her contact with Pupil A. For all of those reasons, the Panel was not satisfied that paragraphs 2 and 3 of the complaint were proved.

In relation to paragraph 5 of the complaint, whilst the Panel was satisfied that the Respondent had not accompanied Pupil A into the residential unit and that she should have done so as a matter of good practice, the Panel was careful to note what was alleged in paragraph 5 of the complaint, namely that the Respondent did, “fail to inform staff at the residential unit that [she] had returned Pupil A”. It was clear from the evidence that the Respondent had been consistent in her account that she was contacted by a member of staff at the unit on 30 January 2016 and that she did inform the member of staff that she had returned Pupil A. The Panel therefore had no reason to doubt the Respondent’s evidence and consequently found that paragraph 5 of the complaint was not proved.

Finally, in relation to paragraph 6 of the complaint, the Panel noted that both witnesses 2 and 3 had confirmed in their evidence that they were on holiday at the time of the incident on 30 January 2016 and, in the case of Witness 2, she indicated that she was uncontactable. Moreover, both witnesses confirmed that the Respondent knew that they were away on holiday. Whilst the Panel was satisfied that it may have amounted to best practice for the Respondent to have contacted either or both witnesses, given that both of them were away at the time, the Panel was not satisfied that there had been a failure on the Respondent’s part to do so.

Whilst the Panel did accept, based on the evidence that it found credible and reliable, that following the incident on 30 January 2016, the Respondent should have contacted the person on duty at Education and Care Centre A, her failure to do so was not reflected in any of the paragraphs in the complaint.

In summary, the Panel found paragraph 1 of the complaint proved; paragraphs 2 and 3 of the complaint not proved; paragraph 4 of the complaint proved by admission, and paragraphs 5 and 6 of the complaint not proved.

Fitness to teach

Given that the Panel found that some of the allegations set out in the complaint were proved, the Panel invited the parties to lead evidence and make submissions in relation to the Respondent’s fitness to teach.

No further evidence was led by either party but both parties did make further submissions.

Presenting Officer’s submissions

The Presenting Officer submitted that the Respondent’s conduct, as found proved, could amount to a failure to maintain proper professional boundaries in terms of Part 1.2 of COPAC. The Presenting Officer did, however, fairly remind the Panel that the evidence showed that the Respondent had attempted to act in Pupil A’s best interests and that to cease contact altogether may have had a detrimental effect on him. Ultimately, the Presenting Officer left it to the Panel to determine whether there had been a breach of the COPAC.

In the event the Panel determined that there had been a breach of COPAC, the Presenting Officer reminded the Panel that it should have regard to whether the conduct was remediable, whether it had been remedied and the likelihood of repetition. Once again, the Presenting Officer fairly directed the Panel to unchallenged evidence from the Respondent that during her period of suspension she had reflected on and had learned from her mistakes.

Finally, the Presenting Officer invited the Panel to have regard to the public interest, as set out in the GTCS Indicative Outcomes Guidance when considering whether it was in the public interest to make a finding of impairment of fitness to teach.

Respondent’s representative’s submissions

In his submissions, the representative for the Respondent made no submission as to whether Part 1.2 of COPAC was engaged, but did invite the Panel to find that the conduct found proved was remediable, that it had been remedied and that it was highly unlikely to be repeated. It was emphasised that the Respondent had been transparent about her contact with Pupil A at all times and that she had always tried to act in his best interests. There was no evidence before the Panel that Pupil A had come to any harm as a result of the Respondent’s actions. Furthermore, Witness 1 had been clear in his evidence that the Respondent was well respected and held in high regard by her peers.

Findings on fitness to teach

The Panel gave careful consideration to all of the evidence presented and the submissions made by the parties in relation to the Respondent’s fitness to teach. The Panel addressed the relevant considerations in relation to the Respondent’s fitness to teach, as outlined in the GTCS Indicative Outcomes Guidance.

The Panel was satisfied, based on the evidence which it found credible and reliable, that the Respondent had always acted with the best of intentions towards Pupil A and that she had been transparent about the level of contact that she had had with him. The fact remained, however, that the Respondent continued to have frequent contact with Pupil A despite indicating that she would limit her contact. To that extent, the Panel was satisfied that there had been a failure on the Respondent’s part to maintain proper professional boundaries.

In relation to paragraph 4 of the complaint, the Panel was satisfied that the Respondent found herself in a situation that she had never encountered before and that her decision to act quickly was understandable, albeit she ought to have contacted someone at Education and Care Centre A for support and guidance.

The Panel accepted the evidence of Witness 1 that the Respondent was a much valued member of the teaching staff at Education and Care Centre A who had provided Pupil A with a good level support. The Panel also accepted the evidence of Witness 1 that following the investigation into the Respondent’s conduct she had been invited back to teach at Education and Care Centre A because of her qualities as a teacher and that she taught at the school for a further 10 weeks without incident.

Finally, the Panel accepted the Respondent’s unchallenged evidence that during her period of suspension she reflected on her actions and realised that she should have sought a greater level of support and guidance from staff at Education and Care Centre A in order to be clearer in her own mind about her responsibilities towards Pupil A.

Decision on fitness to teach

In the Panel’s view, the Respondent’s conduct, as reflected in both paragraphs 1 and 4 of the complaint, fell short of the standards expected of a registered teacher. The Respondent had agreed to limit her contact with Pupil A but failed to do so in the knowledge that continuing to contact him was having a detrimental effect on his placement at Residential Unit 2. The Panel also considered that the Respondent should not have collected Pupil A with her daughter in the car when he was in a state of intoxication through drink and/or drugs but should instead have sought support and guidance from staff at Education and Care Centre A. The Panel was therefore satisfied that the Respondent was guilty of misconduct having breached part 1.2 of COPAC.

The question for the Panel was whether the Respondent’s fitness to teach was currently impaired.

In addressing that issue, the Panel was satisfied that the breach of COPAC was committed in a particular set of circumstances that were highly unlikely to be repeated. There was evidence before the Panel, which it accepted, that the Respondent had shown some insight in that she had reflected on what she had done and realised that she should have approached contact with Pupil A differently. There was no record of misconduct before or since the incidents giving rise to paragraphs 1 and 4 of the complaint. Furthermore, the Respondent seemed to be an exemplary teacher, so much so that she was invited back to Education and Care Centre A to teach after the investigation was completed.

The Panel concluded that the above factors, taken together, demonstrated that the conduct giving rise to paragraphs 1 and 4 of the complaint was remediable, that it had been remedied and that it was highly unlikely to be repeated.

Notwithstanding the Panel’s determination that the Respondent had remedied her conduct and that there was a very low risk of recurrence, the Panel carefully considered whether the public interest demanded a finding of impairment of fitness to teach. In the Panel’s view, however, the public interest did not demand such a finding. The Panel considered that the circumstances of the case, in particular the fact that ongoing contact between the Respondent and Pupil A had initially been encouraged by Education and Care Centre A and the Social Work Department and that the Respondent had always attempted to act in Pupil A’s best interests, meant that a reasonably informed member of the public’s confidence in the profession and in the GTCS as a regulator would not be undermined by a finding of no impairment. Furthermore, the level of insight shown by the Respondent and her otherwise exemplary teaching record meant that there was no need to make a finding of impairment in order to protect members of the public.

For all of those reasons, the Panel found that there was no impairment of fitness to teach. The Panel was therefore not required to consider whether a disposal might be appropriate.

Appeal

The Respondent will receive written notice of this decision within 14 days and has the right to lodge an appeal with the Appeals Board within 28 days of the date of service of that written notice where she can show that there are grounds to ask for the decision to be reviewed in terms of the Fitness to Teach Panel having either:

  1. failed to act in accordance with the Fitness to Teach and Appeals Rules; or
  2. made an error in law or in fact,

that has had a significant impact on the decision made.

Notwithstanding the Respondent’s right to appeal, the decision takes immediate effect.