Decision: Alastair Sim (Virtual Hearing Application)

GTC Scotland Fitness to Teach Panel Outcome

Panel Meeting

20 January 2021

TeacherAlastair Sim (not present)
Registration Number965179
Registration CategorySecondary – Music
PanelDiane Molyneux, Joanne Sharp, and Arthur Stewart
Legal AssessorJames Mulgrew
Servicing OfficerHannah Oakley
Teacher’s representativeDarren Wapplington, NASUWT (not present)

Defenitions

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; 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:

  • A proposal made by GTCS’ Regulation and Legal Services Team for the Full Competence Hearing to be held virtually.

By default, GTCS 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 within GTCS’ 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 can be 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. Email response from the Teacher’s Representative, Darren Wapplington, dated 3 December 2020 – proposal not opposed
  2. Email response from the Local Authority, dated 27 November 2020
  3. File Note, dated 7 January 2021

Preliminary Matters

The Panel did not deal with any preliminary matters.

Proposal

As a Presenting Officer does not usually participate in competence cases, a proposal dated 17 November 2020 for a virtual hearing was made by the GTCS’ Regulation and Legal Services Team. The Panel referenced the relevant Practice Statement and considered the proposal and submissions made in response which addressed, in particular, the following factors:

  • Is the Teacher represented?

The Teacher will be represented in the proceedings.

  • Does the Teacher have any particular needs or vulnerabilities?

The Panel were not made aware of any particular needs or vulnerabilities of the Teacher.

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

The Panel did not have particular information about this factor but would understand that the Teacher and his representative will make appropriate arrangements to communicate with each other during any virtual hearing.

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

This would be a Full Hearing on the Teacher’s professional competence.

  • The estimated length of the hearing?

The Panel had no specific information about this factor. However, on the basis of information relating to other factors including the volume of the hearing papers, the Panel considered that if the hearing were to be conducted virtually then additional time may be required.

  • The extent and complexity of the issues in dispute?

The Local Authority contend that the Teacher has failed to maintain the Standards for Full Registration and should be removed from the Register. The Panel had no other information about the particular issues or of any complexities.

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

The hearing will take place in public.

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

The bundle of hearing papers consists of 1,153 pages.

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

The Local Authority will be represented by two participants. One is a Head Teacher and the other is an HR officer. The Teacher intends to call two witnesses. The Panel had no information about the nature of their proposed evidence.

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

The Panel had no particular information about this factor.

  • Do any of the witnesses have particular needs or vulnerabilities?

The Panel had no information about any particular needs or vulnerabilities of any witnesses.

  • What confidence is there that each witness will be able to follow questions easily and any documents being referred to?

It is expected that each participant will be able to follow questions posed and documents referred to easily.

  • How will witnesses be provided with hearing documentation?

The representatives of the Local Authority and the Teacher will have access to the hearing bundle in advance of any hearing. The Teacher and his representative would require to consider how their witnesses would access the papers that they require, if any, when giving evidence. The Panel understood that in other proceedings, individual witness bundles are e-mailed to the witness shortly before they are to give evidence.

  • Will all participants at the hearing have access to a suitable electronic device?

It is anticipated that each participant has access to a suitable electronic device. It is envisaged that GTCS and participants and witnesses will perform checks in advance of any virtual hearing to ensure that such a hearing is at that time viable.

  • Will all participants have a suitable internet connection capable of coping with the requirements of a virtual hearing?

It is anticipated that each participant has access to a suitable internet connection and that this will also be checked.

  • Will all participants have an appropriate location from where they can participate alone and undisturbed?

It is anticipated that each participant has an appropriate location from where they can participate alone and undisturbed.

The Teacher consented to a virtual hearing taking place.

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 proposal 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 proposal weighed in favour of granting it.

The Panel did not consider that there were any personal, evidential, practical, or technical reasons to refuse the proposal. In addition, the Panel observed that the Teacher consented to the proposal. Further, 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 proposal were to be refused.

Accordingly, the Panel granted the proposal for the Full Fitness to Teach Competence Hearing to take place virtually. However, the Panel observed that additional time may require to be scheduled for this hearing given the witnesses to be called by the Teacher and the volume of the hearing papers.

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