Decision: Alan MacOnie (Panel Meeting)

GTC Scotland Fitness to Teach Panel Outcome

Panel Meeting

7 April

TeacherAlan MacOnie (not present)
Registration Number850183
Registration CategorySecondary – French and German
PanelGillian Fagan, Pauline McClellan and Catriona McDonald
Legal AssessorJohn Moir
Servicing OfficerKirsty McIntosh
Presenting OfficerSarah Donnachie (Anderson Strathern LLP)
Teacher’s representativeNeil Shaw (ASCL) (not present)

Any reference in this decision to:

  • ‘GTC Scotland’ means the General Teaching Council for Scotland;
  • the ‘Panel’ means the Fitness to Teach Panel considering the case; and
  • the ‘Rules’ (and any related expression) means the GTCS Fitness to Teach Rules 2017 or refers to a provision (or provisions) within them.

Background

The Panel Meeting was arranged to consider the following:

  • An application made by the Presenting Officer for a virtual Full Hearing.

By default, GTC Scotland conducts all its fitness to teach hearings in person in its dedicated Hearings Suite at its office in Edinburgh. However, a Fitness to Teach Panel may order that all or any part of a hearing may be conducted by the use of electronic communications provided the method adopted allows the parties, the Panel and any witnesses to attend remotely, and, where the hearing is in public, allows the public to view proceedings.

Electronic communications are commonly used for witnesses to give evidence by participating from a remote location. In addition, an entire hearing may be conducted via electronic communication. Such a hearing is described as a ‘virtual hearing’.

At present, due to Scottish Government restrictions and guidelines on public interaction and concerns about public safety as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, hearings in person cannot currently take place at the GTC Scotland office. 

An application for use of electronic communications in relation to a participant taking part in a hearing from a remote location or for a virtual hearing is made by the party who wants to use electronic communication. The relevant procedure and criteria for determining such applications are set out in the Use of Electronic Communications in Hearings Practice Statement.

Evidence

In accordance with Rule 1.7.17, the Panel admitted all the documents and statements listed below as evidence for the purposes of the meeting:

  1. Virtual Hearing Application by Presenting Officer, dated 22 March 2021
  2. Appendix to the Presenting Officer’s Application
  3. Response from Teacher’s Representative confirming Teacher not engaging, dated 1 March 2021
  4. Response from Teacher’s Representative confirming no response to application, dated 22 March 2021

Preliminary Matters

The Panel did not deal with any preliminary matters.

Application

An application dated 22 March 2021 for a virtual hearing was made by the Presenting Officer. The Panel considered the application and submissions made in response which addressed, in particular, the following factors:

  • Is the Teacher represented?

The Teacher is represented but is not currently engaging with the fitness to teach process and has instructed his Representative not to engage either.

  • Does the Teacher have any particular needs or vulnerabilities?

The Panel has not been made aware of any such needs or vulnerabilities.

  • How will the Teacher and Representative, if any, communicate during the hearing?

Not applicable as the Teacher is not engaging.

  • The nature of the proceedings and issues to be determined at the hearing?

The application is in relation to a Full Hearing. The allegations are not admitted. The hearing will therefore commence substantively with fact-finding at stage one.

  • The estimated length of the hearing?

It is anticipated the hearing will last 4 days.

  • The extent and complexity of the issues in dispute?

There is a factual dispute regarding the actions of the Teacher but this is not overly complex and is spoken to by various witnesses. Thereafter, if the allegations are found proved, the Panel will require to assess the issues of impairment and thereafter sanction, if applicable.

  • Will the hearing take place in public or (partly) in private?

The hearing will take place in public. It is unknown at this time whether any public or press wish to attend.

  • The volume of documentation to be referred to during the hearing and how documentation will be provided to witnesses for reference, if required?

The Presenting Officer’s papers extend to 80 pages. An individual witness bundle will be emailed to each witness shortly before they are due to give evidence

  • The nature of witnesses to give evidence at the hearing?

Four witnesses are teachers and two are Teaching/Classroom Assistants.

  • How long is each witness estimated to give evidence for?

None of the witnesses are expected to take longer than 1 hour in giving their evidence-in-chief.

  • How easily the Panel will be able to assess the credibility and reliability of witnesses

While the reliability and quality of the link may be a factor, presuming there is no issue with either, it should be entirely possible for a Panel to reach the same conclusions on credibility and reliability as it would do were the evidence being given in person.

  • Will all participants at the hearing have access to a suitable electronic device, have a suitable internet connection and have an appropriate location from where they can participate alone and undisturbed?

It is anticipated a test will be conducted with each party in advance of the hearing to assess this issue. It is anticipated that all witnesses will have suitable means to give evidence, have suitable internet connection and have an appropriate location to give their evidence from.

Decision

The Panel appreciated that it should balance all the relevant factors outlined above, the interests of the parties and the public interest in deciding whether or not to grant the application.

The Panel carefully considered the application and submissions made in response to it. The Panel had regard to the Rules and to the Use of Electronic Communications in Hearings Practice Statement as well as the advice, as required, of the Legal Assessor and Servicing Officer.

The Panel decided that the balance of the various factors and interests to be assessed in determining the application weighed in favour of granting the application made.

The Panel did not consider that there were any personal, evidential, practical, or technical reasons to refuse the application. In addition, given the ongoing issues caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, there would be a considerable delay in the progress of the present proceedings if the application were to be refused.

Accordingly, the Panel granted the application for the hearing to take place virtually.

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