Decision: Alastair Sim (Panel Meeting B)

GTC Scotland Fitness to Teach Panel Outcome

Panel Meeting

19 January 2022

TeacherAlastair Sim
Registration Number965179
Registration CategorySecondary – Music
PanelArthur Stewart (Convener), Michele Knight and Ruth Sharp
Legal AssessorJohn Moir
Servicing OfficerAga Adamczyk
Presenting OfficerNone – a professional competence case
Teacher’s representativeDarren Wapplington, NASUWT

Definitions

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 GTC Scotland Fitness to Teach Rules 2017 or refers to a provision (or provisions) within them.

Background

The Procedural Meeting was arranged to consider the following:

  • Applications dated 18 November 2021 for:
    • specific sections of the full hearing decision annex to be redacted in accordance with Rule 1.7.3; and
    • letters of apology to be issued by the Panel to Witness 3 and Witness 4 for what the Teacher’s Representative considered to be the unacceptable manner in which they have been characterised and treated by the Panel in the full hearing decision annex.

Evidence

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

  1. Application from the Teacher’s Representative, Darren Wapplington of NASUWT, dated 18 November 2021
  2. Fitness to Teach Panel Outcome of Professional Competence Full Hearing held on 25 June 2019, 27 May 2021, 16 and 17 September 2021.

Preliminary Matters

There were no preliminary matters considered.

Decision

In its careful consideration of the application, the Panel had regard to the Rules, the GTC Scotland Professional Competence Cases Practice Statement and the advice from the Legal Assessor.

The Panel had before it an application in terms of Rule 1.7.3 of the Rules. The application did not challenge the Panel’s determination in respect of the Teacher.

Despite references within the application to its being an ‘appeal’, as a right of appeal of its decision lies only to the Court of Session, the Panel did not treat the application as an appeal and noted that it does not have the power or authority to do so.

The application rather concentrated on the Panel’s assessments of the witnesses who had appeared before it. The application variously accused the Panel of acting in a manner that was ‘ultra vires; falling ‘well short of the GTCS Standards that they are required to hold other teachers to’; an ‘abuse of trust’; ‘display[ing] a clear bias to a witness who is known to them’; ‘appearing partisan’; inferring that ‘GTCS impartiality is open to abuses of power and cronyism’ and stated that the Panel’s decision ‘would affect the integrity of the GTCS’ decision-making processes moving forward’.

The application sought that:

the following ultra vires comments are redacted in full and not placed in the public domain:

Witness 3 had a lot of sympathy and empathy for the Teacher. His language, however, was felt by the Panel to be somewhat emotive and exaggerated. He had little or no first-hand knowledge of the Teacher’s teaching ability. He appeared to lack objectivity. The Panel did not consider it could place much weight on his evidence.

Witness 4 appeared to be an overly partisan witness who seemed, at times, to be dismissive of the Local Authority witnesses. He appeared to lack objectivity. The Panel considered it could place little weight on his evidence.

Further to this the comment ‘His only motive appeared to be the best interests of the pupils in his care’ in relation to Witness 1 should be redacted and not placed in the public domain” [sic]

Dealing firstly with the assertion by the Teacher’s Representative that ‘no determination of credibility was necessary’, the Panel noted that the Professional Competence Cases Practice Statement specifically provides that ‘assessing the evidence of the witnesses that the Panel has heard from […] will require the Panel to consider credibility and reliability.’ The Practice Statement contains guidance as to the questions a Panel should ask itself in assessing credibility and reliability, including motive, objectivity, attitude etc. The Panel noted that this guidance was referred to within the Legal Assessor’s advice without objection or comment by the Teacher’s Representative at the hearing. Further to this, the Teacher’s Representative, as a representative familiar with GTCS’ proceedings, would have been aware of the content of the Practice Statement.

As this is the only issue raised in the application relating to vires (powers), the Panel was satisfied that there was no merit to the allegation that it had acted ultra vires (acting beyond one’s legal power or authority). In fulfilling its requirement to consider the credibility and reliability of all witnesses appearing before it, the Panel made assessments of the witnesses as stipulated in the Practice Statement. The Panel’s assessments were based on their observations of the witnesses during the hearing. The comments in question provided the reasoned basis for the Panel’s conclusions. The Panel agreed with the Teacher’s Representative’s submissions that ‘both justice and the appearance of justice are necessary prerequisites to a fair process’. It considered that to omit its reasoning could potentially give their determination the appearance of being arbitrary.

Further to this, the Panel noted that Witness 1’s status as a GTC Scotland Panel Member was known to the Teacher. At the outset of the hearing, the Panel made the relevant declaration of interest in this regard and the Teacher and his Representative were given the opportunity to make comments on the matter. No objection was raised at that time.

The Panel considered the application for specific sections of the decision annex to be redacted in line with Rule 1.7.3. However, it was of the view that there was no basis to grant this application as the comments were honestly made by the Panel in the proper exercise of its function. Accordingly, the proposed redactions were rejected.

Finally, the Panel considered the Teacher’s Representative’s request that ‘Witnesses 3 and 4 should receive a written apology from the Panel for the unacceptable manner in which they have been characterised and treated by the Panel.’ [sic] The Panel noted that there were no specific procedural provisions set out in the Rules that would allow it to deal with such a request. In any event, for the reasons given above, the Panel did not consider that any apology was either justified or necessary. This application was, accordingly, also rejected.

The Panel wanted to make it clear that the application has been considered on its merits and in line with the relevant rules and practise statements. However, the Panel also wished to note their surprise and disappointment at the intemperate and inappropriate tone and language of the application given that it comes from such an experienced Representative.

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