Decision: Jade Moore (Panel Meeting)
GTC Scotland Fitness to Teach Panel Outcome
7 April 2021
|Teacher||Jade Moore (not present)|
|Panel||Catriona McDonald, Pauline McClellan and Gillian Fagan|
|Legal Assessor||John Moir|
|Servicing Officer||Isobel Allan|
|Teacher’s representative||Graeme Watson, Clyde & Co (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.
The Panel Meeting was arranged to consider the following:
- A proposal made by GTCS’ Regulation and Legal Services Team for the Professional Competence Full Hearing to be held virtually by way of Microsoft Teams.
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 at the 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 is usually made by the party who wants to use electronic communication or, in certain cases, a proposal is made by GTCS. The relevant procedure and criteria for determining such applications or proposals are set out in the Use of Electronic Communications in Hearings Practice Statement.
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 meeting:
- Case Management Directions and cover email regarding the Virtual Hearing proposal, dated 29 October 2020
- The Teacher’s response with supporting evidence, dated 3 February 2021 and 9 February 2021
- Servicing Officer’s Note, dated 4 February 2021
- Case Overview Report with supporting evidence
- The Teacher’s Response to the Case Overview Report with supporting evidence.
It was submitted on behalf of the Teacher that the proceedings were not competent as no formal application in accordance with the Use of Electronic Hearings Practice Statement had been made. The Panel noted that the Practice Statement made no explicit reference to Professional Competence Full Hearings. They further noted that it was not normal practice in Professional Competence proceedings for a Presenting Officer to be appointed. In conduct proceedings the Presenting Officer would prepare a formal application for a virtual hearing, but as there was none the Servicing Officer had issued a Case Management Direction seeking comments on the proposal to deal with the competence hearing virtually.
The Panel had regard to Rule 1.7.6 of the Rules which provides:
All or any part of a hearing may be conducted by use of electronic communications provided that –
(a) the Panel has given the parties an opportunity to make representations on the matter and the Panel considers it just and equitable for electronic communications to be used;
(b) the method used allows the parties, the Panel and any witnesses to hear each other; and
(c) where all or any part of the hearing is to be held in public, the method used also allows the public to hear proceedings.
The Panel determined that notwithstanding that there was no formal application in terms of the Use of Electronic Communications in Hearings Practice Statement provided Rule 1.7.6 was adhered to, it would be competent to proceed by way of a virtual hearing. The Panel considered that in their responses dated 3 and 9 February the Teacher’s Representative had been able to make full representations which it would consider.
The Panel considered the proposal and submissions made in response which addressed, in particular, the following factors:
- Is the Teacher represented?
The Teacher is represented by a solicitor.
- Does the Teacher have any particular needs or vulnerabilities?
No issues of any particular needs or vulnerabilities in respect of the Teacher have been raised.
- How will the Teacher and Representative, if any, communicate during the hearing?
It has been submitted on behalf of the Teacher that there would be difficulties in taking instructions in any virtual hearing and that at a minimum more time is likely to be needed.
- The nature of the proceedings and issues to be determined at the hearing? The proceedings will be a Full Hearing in respect of the Teacher’s competency.
- The estimated length of the hearing?
The expected length of the hearing has not been specified, but five representatives from the Local Authority are anticipated and the Teacher’s evidence is anticipated to be lengthy.
- The extent and complexity of the issues in dispute?
All issues remain in dispute. It is submitted on the Teacher’s behalf that these include:
- The Teacher’s career to date;
- Her interaction with senior staff from 2017 onwards;
- The extent to which she was offered support, if at all;
- Her [redacted] as a consequence of the manner in which she was treated;
- The impact of that upon her classroom management;
- The differential treatment of other teachers;
- The Teacher’s endeavours to address the concerns raised.
- Will the hearing take place in public or (partly) in private?
The hearing will take place in public although the Teacher’s Representative has indicated that there are matters relating to the Teacher’s health which will likely be held in private.
- The volume of documentation to be referred to during the hearing and how documentation will be provided to witnesses for reference, if required?
The papers comprise a total of 202 pages.
- The nature of witnesses to give evidence at the hearing?
The five witnesses for the Local Authority are all professional witnesses. The Teacher in addition to giving evidence on her own behalf may have additional witnesses.
- How easily will the Panel be able to assess the credibility and reliability of the witnesses?
Due to the inquisitorial nature of competence proceedings all Local Authority witnesses are present throughout the proceedings. This will involve a greater than normal number of screens being visible at the same time.
- How long is each witness estimated to give evidence for? Not known due to the inquisitorial nature of proceedings.
- Do any of the witnesses have particular needs or vulnerabilities?
No issues of any particular needs or vulnerabilities in respect of the witnesses have been raised.
- What confidence is there that each witness will be able to follow questions easily and any documents being referred to?
There is great confidence that the witnesses will be able to follow questions easily and any documents referred to.
- How will witnesses be provided with hearing documentation?
An individual witness bundle will be emailed to each witness shortly before they are due to give evidence.
- Will all participants at the hearing have access to a suitable electronic device?
It is anticipated that each witness to be called has access to a suitable electronic device. It is envisaged that GTCS and participants 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 witness to be called has access to a suitable internet connection.
- Will all participants have an appropriate location from where they can participate alone and undisturbed?
It is anticipated that each witness to be called has access to an appropriate location to participate from.
The Panel appreciated that it should balance all of the relevant factors outlined above, the interests of the parties and the public interest in deciding whether or not the full hearing should be held virtually.
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 issue weighed in favour of refusing to allow the hearing to be held virtually.
The Panel considered that any difficulties in the Representative taking instructions in a virtual setting could likely be mitigated by separate communication procedures and allowance of additional adjournments being afforded. It did not consider, however, that it would be able to mitigate other difficulties, particularly the credibility and reliability of witnesses. Since all participants, including the Panel, Servicing Officer, Legal Assessor, Teacher, her Representative and any Local Authority witnesses are present throughout competence proceedings, the sheer number of persons on screen, and consequent likely smaller images, would make it more difficult to observe the reactions of participants to evidence given and would substantially inhibit the Panel’s ability to properly assess issues of credibility and reliability. In addition, it considered that, as the Teacher was not currently employed in a teaching role, there was not a pressing requirement for a hearing to take place virtually.
Accordingly, the Panel refused to allow the hearing to take place virtually.