The General Teaching Council for Scotland

Enhancing professionalism in education since 1965

Panel Consideration Outcome

Panel Consideration Outcome

21 November 2017

 Teacher  Michael Meechan
 Registration number  017381
 Registration category  Secondary – Religious Education
 Panel  Tony Bragg, Lynda Dalziel, Karen Greaves
 Legal Assessor  Robert Frazer
 Servicing Officer  Gillian Sim
 Teacher’s representative  Clyde & Co

Definitions

Any reference in this outcome 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 Rules 2017 or refers to a provision (or provisions) within them;
  • the “Register” means the GTCS register of teachers; or
  • “COPAC” means the GTCS Code of Professionalism and Conduct.

Notification of meeting

The Panel had before it a copy of the notice 8 November 2017. The Panel was satisfied that the Teacher had been provided with notice of the meeting in accordance with rules 1.6 and 2.3.1. Accordingly, the Panel proceeded to consider the case.

Preliminary matters

The Panel considered the application from the legal representatives for certain information to be subject to non-disclosure within the published decision. In particular, it noted that reference was made to intimate and sensitive health issues involving the Teacher and members of the Teacher’s family and family circumstances of the Teacher.

The Panel had regard to the relevant Practice Statement on Conducting Hearings in Private together with rule 1.7.3 which allows a panel to consider matters being dealt with in private or anonymising identities where it considers that the interests of justice outweigh the requirement for matters to be dealt with publicly. It noted that where intimate or sensitive details of the health of a Teacher or witness are to be raised, this may justify holding part or all of a hearing in private to protect an individual’s private life in accordance with Article 8 of the ECHR.

In this case the Panel considered that it was in the interests of justice to allow the evidence to be excluded from the published decision given the matters brought to its attention involved the health of the Teacher and other members of his family.

Allegation

  1. Whilst employed as a Teacher at St Andrew’s and St Bride’s High School, and whilst subject to a reprimand on your registration with GTCS you did:
  1. On or around 11 August 2016 lie to [NAME REDACTED], Depute Head Teacher, in that you did state that you required a period of absence on 12 August 2016 to transport your wife home from an operation when in fact you knew this to be false and you were in fact attending court to support a friend who had been convicted of an offence;
  2. On 12 August 2016 when asked by [NAME REDACTED], Head Teacher, about your whereabouts during the morning of 12 August 2016 you did deny being in court to support your friend, when in fact you knew this to be a lie;

and in doing so you acted dishonestly towards your employer.

Information available to the panel:

  1. Signed Case Form dated 10 April 2017
  2. Reprimand with Consent Order dated 1 April 2016
  3. Documentation from South Lanarkshire Council (including redacted internal investigation hearing)
  4. Teacher documents signed and dated 6 June 2017 (including statement)
  5. Teacher documents parts 1 & 2 (including testimonials and references)
  6. Course confirmations 1 & 2
  7. Privacy application dated 20 October 2017 from Clyde & Co
  8. Report from GP, dated 9 October 2017
  9. Notification of Panel Consideration dated 8 November 2017

In response to the notice, the Teacher provided the following additional information for consideration by the Panel:

Teacher’s response

  1. The Teacher admits the allegations;
  2. The Teacher admits his fitness to teach is impaired.

Background

The Panel noted that the allegation had come to the attention of the school when it was reported that the Teacher had been seen in court on 12 August 2016, rather than at work. The Panel noted that the Teacher had originally requested time off on 11 August 2016 and had said that it was to bring his wife home from hospital after an operation. This request was granted by the Depute Head Teacher, [NAME REDACTED]. When confronted later on the 12 August 2016 by the Head Teacher, NAME REDACTED, he denied being in court that day. As a result, an investigation was commenced where the Teacher admitted he had not been truthful in saying what he did. Following the investigation, the Teacher was issued with a final written warning but continues to work at the school.

In particular, the Panel noted that, at the time of the incident, the Teacher was already subject to a Reprimand with Consent Order imposed in April 2016 as a result of dishonest practices relating to assistance given to pupils studying for exams and failing to declare that he was carrying out work outside the school.

The Panel further noted the position adopted by the Teacher during the internal investigation process with his employer where he had admitted the allegation, co-operated in the inquiry and showed remorse for his behaviour.

The Panel had regard to his written statement that he had prepared and noted the mitigating circumstances surrounding the incident itself. In particular, it noted that he had been asked by the friend to accompany him to court for support on the date of sentencing for serious charges. The Panel noted that this individual had been particularly supportive of the Teacher and his wife. The Teacher considered that it was important for him to support his friend by attending court where his friend received a custodial sentence. It was whilst sitting in court that the Teacher was recognised and a complaint made to the school about his presence.

The Panel noted that the Teacher has continued to work at the school where he has the support of the staff, including the Head Teacher, and pupils. It noted that he had supplied the GTCS with numerous letters and testimonials in support of his position, which attested to his popularity and professional competence.

The Panel further noted the medical report from his GP, XXXXXXXXXX, and letter from his legal representatives, Clyde & Co. XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX. It further noted the request from Clyde & Co for the matter to be dealt with by way of anonymisation of identity in order to protect the Teacher, his family, school and pupils.

Decision

The Panel considered all of the information available to it as described above. The Panel had a range of options open to it, as set out at rule 2.3.2 (a) to (f). The Panel had regard to the factors set out in the GTCS Panel Consideration Practice Statement.

The Panel did not consider it appropriate to dispose of the case in accordance with rule 2.3.2

  1. The Panel reached this conclusion for the following reasons:
  • The matter amounts to relevant conduct and there is on the face of it, a real prospect of a finding that the Teacher’s fitness to teach is impaired. The Panel considered the following factors relevant in that the conduct alleged relates to:
  1. Abuse of a teacher’s position of trust
  2. Fraud or dishonesty

The Panel considered the relevant Parts of COPAC to be:

  1. Part 1 – Professionalism and maintaining trust in the profession

The Panel did not consider it appropriate to dismiss the case on the basis of an insufficiency of evidence as provided for by rule 2.3.2 (b). The allegation has been admitted by the Teacher. Furthermore, the Panel did not consider the referral to be malicious.

Having considered all the evidence set out above the Panel determined that this was a matter that could be dealt with in accordance with rule 2.3.2 (e). In particular, the Panel considered given the nature of the allegation that it amounted to relevant conduct and a full admission had been made by the Teacher. In these circumstances, and notwithstanding the dishonest conduct, the Panel considered that the matter could be dealt with by way of a consent order, in accordance with the rules.

The Panel considered that the dishonest action was motivated by a genuine desire on the part of the Teacher to support a friend, who had previously helped and supported the Teacher and his wife. The Teacher had been given permission to be absent from school but only because he had requested it on a false premise. The matter was subsequently compounded by his denial to [name redacted], the Head Teacher, when confronted by her later the same day. However, the Panel also took account of the Teacher’s position in relation to the internal investigation when he co-operated fully and the genuine remorse he had displayed. In all the circumstances the Panel considered his behaviour represented an error of judgement which was at the lower end of the spectrum for dishonesty and did not relate to pupil harm or adversely impact of his teaching capabilities.

The Panel therefore went on to consider if his fitness to teach is impaired.

Fitness to Teach

The Panel carefully considered all of the available information and had regard to Part A of the GTCS Fitness to Teach Conduct Cases – Indicative Outcomes Guidance in considering whether the Teacher’s fitness to teach is currently impaired.

The Panel considered that the behaviour described and admitted by the Teacher amounted to misconduct and, in particular, the following parts of COPAC had been breached:

  • 1.3 (avoiding situations outwith work which could breach criminal law or call into question fitness to teach)
  • 1.4 (uphold standards of personal and professional conduct)
  • 1.5 (professional, honest and act with integrity)
  • 1.6 (act as a role model to pupils)
  • The Panel had regard to the case of CHRE v NMC and Grant [2011] EWHC 927 and considered the approach to be taken in assessing impairment of fitness to teach. By his conduct the Panel considered that the Teacher had clearly breached identified parts of the Code above and by doing so had brought the profession into disrepute.

    Having found misconduct, the Panel then went on to consider if the Teacher’s fitness to teach is currently impaired. It had regard to the case of Cohen v GMC 2008 EWHC 581 (Admin) when considering remediation and the approach to it.

    Firstly, it considered that the conduct was remediable and noted there had been no repetition since the incident. However, the Panel also noted that the incident had occurred in 2016 when the Teacher was already subject to a Reprimand with Consent Order for dishonest conduct surrounding his teaching practice. In these circumstances, the Panel was not satisfied that it could be said that the misconduct had been remedied, nor could it be said that it was highly unlikely to recur. Given the history as outlined and the fact there had been two separate dishonest incidents within a short period of time of each other, the Panel considered that a risk of repetition remains.

    For these reasons the Panel concluded that the Teacher’s fitness to teach is currently impaired.

    Disposal

    As the Panel concluded that the Teacher’s fitness to teach is currently impaired, it moved on to consider the appropriate disposal of the case. In considering this matter the Panel had regard to Part B of the GTCS Fitness to Teach Conduct Cases – Indicative Outcomes Guidance. In line with that guidance, the Panel considered the available options from least to most severe. The Panel noted that not all indicating factors required to be present for a disposal option to be considered appropriate.

    The Panel firstly considered a Reprimand. Given the circumstances surrounding the incident, together with the remorse and insight demonstrated and the references and testimonials provided, the Panel considered that in other circumstances the matter could have been addressed by a Reprimand. However, the Panel was aware that the incident occurred whilst the Teacher was already subject to a Reprimand with Consent Order imposed in April 2016 for a complaint involving dishonest behaviour, albeit in different circumstances. The Panel was therefore of the opinion that a further Reprimand with Consent of itself was not appropriate and would not sufficiently address the wider public interest in ensuring that public confidence in the profession was maintained.

    Secondly, the Panel considered a Conditional Registration Order. The Panel noted that the conduct did not relate to the Teacher’s practice and did not involve any harm to pupils or young persons. Given the nature of dishonest conduct, it was difficult to formulate practical conditions. However, the Panel also considered that it was appropriate for the Teacher to continue to reflect on his behaviour and demonstrate the lessons he had learned from the experience. It considered that this could be achieved by the imposition of specific conditions designed to address the risk of repetition and for the Teacher to be subject to a degree of monitoring and support.

    The Panel therefore proposed the following conditions be imposed:

    • That the Teacher prepare a personal development plan (PDP) which sets out his proposals for avoiding dishonest conduct in future and how to deal with the dishonest behaviour he has previously displayed
    • That the Teacher meet with his line manager/ nominated supervisor/ mentor each term to discuss his PDP and progress that has been made
    • That the Teacher prepare and submit 3 written reflective pieces in total over the next 3 school terms (one per term, to be submitted to the Regulation team within 7 days of the end of each term), addressing his previous dishonest behaviour and what he has learned from it
    • That the Teacher submit such reflective pieces together with a written report from his line manager/nominated supervisor/mentor to the Regulation team at GTC Scotland;

    The Panel considered that the Conditional Registration Order be for a period of 12 months to run from the date of signature of the necessary consent form.

    The Panel, however, considered that a Conditional Registration Order was not of itself sufficient to address the dishonest conduct where the Teacher was already the subject of a Reprimand with Consent at the time of the incident in question. In order to reinforce the seriousness of the matter and to properly address the wider public interest, the Panel considered that the Teacher be subject to a further Reprimand with Consent to run for a period of 2 years. It considered that this was appropriate and proportionate and would allow public confidence in the profession to be maintained and in the GTCS as its regulator in upholding proper standards of conduct and performance.

    For the reasons above the Panel did not consider the conduct was sufficiently serious to justify an order for Removal from the register.

    Having identified the appropriate disposal, the Panel decided to issue a consent order in accordance with rule 2.7. The terms of the consent order are set out in the separate “Consent Order” document.