Decision: Muriel Craig (Anonymity Application)

GTC Scotland Fitness to Teach Panel Decision

Panel Meeting

20 May 2022

TeacherMuriel (Patricia) Craig
Registration Number912209
Registration CategorySecondary – Home Economics
PanelJacqueline Blair, Michelle Farrell and Catriona McDonald
Legal AssessorAmanda Pringle
Servicing OfficerAga Adamcyk
Presenting OfficerGary Burton, Anderson Strathern (not present)
Teacher’s representativeFiona Muirs, Balfour + Manson (not present)

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 an application from the Teacher’s Representative for anonymity in respect of the Teacher’s name, category and registration number, the Local Authority, the School (including its location), the Riding Centre, the subject ‘Home Economics’ and any other particulars that may lead to the identification of the Teacher, and that all of which should be anonymised in the following documents:

  • Fitness to Teach Panel Outcome Full Hearing 9, 10, 15, 22 and 23 March 2022
  • Fitness to Teach Panel Outcome Panel Meeting 17 March 2021 (virtual Full Hearing application)
  • Fitness to Teach Panel Outcome for this anonymity application.

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 meeting:

  • Anonymity Application by Teacher’s Representative, dated 26 April 2022
  • Presenting Officer’s response to the application, dated 26 April 2022
  • Virtual Hearing Application Decision, dated 17 March 2021
  • Full Hearing Decision, dated 18 April 2022
  • Email response from the Teacher’s Representative, dated 3 May 2022.

Preliminary Matters

The Panel carefully considered the terms of Rule 2.5.1:

 At any stage of proceedings, a Panel of its own volition, on the Convener’s direction or upon the application of a party (in such form as may be specified by the Servicing Officer), may:

(a) determine any interim or preliminary matter that has arisen in the case;
(b) resolve any issues of law; or
(c) consider an application for a case to be cancelled.

Unless a party has (in the relevant application) requested that a procedural hearing be held or a Panel considers that such a hearing is necessary in the particular circumstances, the above matters will be considered by a Panel at a meeting based on the written representations made by the parties in compliance with case management directions set for this purpose.

The Panel noted that neither of the Parties requested a procedural hearing in the submissions made. Further to this, the Panel considered that a procedural hearing was not necessary. Therefore, the Panel proceeded to consider to matter on the papers.

Application for Anonymity

The Teacher’s Representative submitted an application seeking that the following details be anonymised:

  • the Teacher‘s name, registration number and category
  • the name of the school including its location
  • the name of the Local Authority
  • the name of the Riding Centre
  • the subject ‘Home Economics’
  • and any other particulars that may lead to the identification of the Teacher.

The Teacher’s Representative submitted a detailed written submission in support of the application which outlined the following relevant factors to be considered by the Panel in determining the application: that events had taken place over 4 years ago; the events represented a lapse of judgment which had extended over a period of 3 days; that the Teacher had remediated and displayed insight; that there had been no pattern of behaviour nor any repetition; that the Teacher had remained teaching at the school; the Teacher was found to have no current impairment at the conclusion of the Full Hearing; and the unique nature of both the school and its pupils. The Teacher’s Representative submitted that a fair and reasonable approach would require that the application be granted.

The Presenting Officer submitted a written response to the application in which he referred the Panel to the default position that hearings before GTC Scotland are held in public, and in particular to the GTC Scotland Privacy and Anonymity Practice Statement.  He referred to the nature of the allegations found proved against the Teacher by admission and on the evidence. He highlighted that in terms of Rule 1.7.2, the default position extended to written decisions. He acknowledged that the Teacher’s fitness to teach had been determined not to be impaired. 

Decision

The Panel had careful regard to the application, the written submissions by both parties and the documents. The Panel also took account of the provisions within the Rules and the guidance provided by GTC Scotland Practice Statements, in particular the Privacy and Anonymity Practice Statement.

The Privacy and Anonymity Practice Statement states that; –

‘The default position set out in the Fitness to Teach Rules (’the Rules’) is that fitness to teach hearings are held in public. However, Panels have a discretion to make orders with a view to preventing or restricting the public disclosure of any aspect of proceedings where certain criteria are met…’

The Practice Statement sets out that the default position is influenced by the Human Rights Act 1988 and Article 6(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights. Further, by reference to Article 6, the Practice Statement identifies what may amount to circumstances that justify exceptions to the general rule. Potential reasons narrated include ‘where the interests of juveniles so require‘ and ‘where the protection of the private life of the parties so require’. The Practice Statement continues, ’Panels must be satisfied that there is a compelling reason for granting such an application [for anonymity] in order to protect an individual’s private life.’

The Panel noted that it had been furnished with no information regarding any potential impact upon the Teacher, either in relation to embarrassment or health concerns. The Panel considered that the outcome of the Full Hearing appeared to have been presented by the Teacher’s Representative as serving a dual purpose with regard to the application, namely as the evidence upon which the application was based and as just cause for it being granted. In particular, the Panel considered that the request for inclusion of ‘any other particulars that may lead to identification of the Teacher’ represented a fishing expedition on the part of the Teacher’s representative which was lacking in specification. The Panel considered that it had not been provided with any good, or indeed clear, reasons as to why it should consider making an exception. 

Following consideration of all the material, the Panel decided to refuse the Teacher’s application for anonymity. A high bar is required to be met to justify a departure from the default position of publication. It was the view of the Panel that the submissions made on behalf of the Teacher in this respect did not meet that high bar. The Panel noted that it had been provided with no information regarding the impact, or potential impact, upon the Teacher. The Panel also reflected on the Teacher’s misconduct and considered that there was significant public interest in the decision being published. The Panel considered that the requirement for transparency attached to both the GTC Scotland process in addition to the outcome of the case. The Panel considered that the public requires to have confidence in teachers and the teaching profession, and in GTC Scotland as a professional regulator. The Panel reflected upon the default position and that it was not a punishment to the Teacher to retain her name in the decision. In all the circumstances, the Panel considered that the public interest in publication outweighed the Teacher’s interest in anonymisation.

Accordingly, the Panel concluded there were no compelling reasons in the particular circumstances of this case to justify anonymising the name of the Teacher, the Local Authority, the school, the Riding Centre and the words ’Home Economics’ within the Full Hearing decision and associated decisions.

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