Decision: Ross Spittal (Full Hearing)

Fitness to Teach Panel Outcome

Full Hearing

24 January, 7, 8, and 9 February 2022

TeacherRoss Spittal
Registration Number132046
Registration CategorySecondary (Mathematics)
PanelAlison Reid (Convener), Michele Knight and Helen James
Legal AssessorJohn Moir
Servicing OfficerHannah Oakley
Presenting OfficerSarah Donnachie. Anderson Strathern
Teacher’s RepresentativeClaire Raftery, Clyde and Co

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;
  • the ‘Rules’ (and any related expression) means the GTC Scotland Fitness to Teach Rules 2017 or refers to a provision (or provisions) within them;
  • the ‘Register’ means the GTC Scotland register of teachers; and
  • ‘COPAC’ means the GTC Scotland Code of Professionalism and Conduct 2012.
  • ‘IOG’ means the GTC Scotland Fitness to Teach Conduct Cases – Indicative Outcomes Guidance Practice Statement

Preliminary Issues

The Panel and Legal Assessor were aware that the hearing had been previously scheduled to commence on 17 November 2021. However, a Panel Member on this date recused themselves from proceedings at the preliminary issues stage, following an application from the Teacher’s Representative that they do so due to their previous involvement in the case. It was not necessary or appropriate for the current Panel to be informed of the details of this previous involvement, only that the hearing had previously commenced and had been adjourned prior to Stage 1 commencing and the allegations being read.

Allegations

The following allegations were considered at the hearing:

Between on or around 10 April 2019 and on or around 23 May 2019 while you were employed by West Lothian Council as a Mathematics Teacher at Inveralmond Community High School:

a. On or around 10 April 2019 after an Easter School session you kissed Young Person A, a sixth year pupil who you had taught;

b. You had  sexual relations with Young Person A on at least two occasions at your home;

c. On or around 13 May 2019 you stated to your Head Teacher, Witness 2, that there was “nothing going on at all” between you and Young Person A, or words to that effect, when this was not the case;

d. Your actions at allegation (c) were dishonest in that you sought to represent that your relationship with Young Person A was that of a pupil and teacher, when in fact you had engaged in a romantic relationship with Young Person A.

And in light of the above it is alleged that your fitness to teach is impaired and that you are unfit to teach as a result of breaching Parts 1.2, 1.4 and 1.5 of the General Teaching Council for Scotland’s Code of Professionalism and Conduct.

Teacher’s Admissions

The Teacher indicated that he admits all the allegations, including that he breached parts 1.2, 1.4 and 1.5 of COPAC. However, he does not accept that he is currently unfit to teach.

Hearing Papers

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

Presenting Officer’s Hearing Papers:

  1. Final Investigation Report, dated 12 February 2020, with appendices including:
    • Referral from West Lothian Council dated 6 June 2019
    • West Lothian Council fact-finding report, dated 7 June 2019
    • GTC Scotland statement of Witness 2, dated 27 August 2019
    • GTC Scotland statement of [redacted], dated 9 October 2019
    • GTC Scotland statement of [redacted], dated 26 September 2019
    • GTC Scotland statement of Witness 1, dated 30 October 2019
    • Photographs of e-mails between the Teacher and Young Person A
    • Copies of correspondence between the Teacher and Young Person A on West Lothian Council’s ‘Glow’ e-mail system
    • Teacher’s response to Notice of Investigation, dated 2 July 2019
    • Teacher’s response to Application for Temporary Restriction Order, dated 29 August 2019 enclosing:
      • CV of Teacher
      • Witness statement of Young Person A, dated 2 September 2019
      • Witness Statement of [redacted], dated 22 August 2019
      • References on behalf of the Teacher:
        • [redacted], dated 15 September 2019
        • [redacted], undated
        • [redacted], dated 19 August 2019
        • Witness 3, dated 25 August 2019
        • [redacted], undated
        • [redacted], dated 20 August 2019
        • [redacted], undated
        • [redacted], undated
        • Record of Professional Learning Activity
        • Letter from Young Person A’s Mother, dated 26 August 2019
    • Email correspondence between the Investigating Officer and Witness 2
    • Response to the Interim Investigation Report from the Teacher’s Representative, dated 3 February 2020
    • Chain of e-mails between the Teacher’s Representative and GTC Scotland, dated 11 February 2020
    • Further references on behalf of the Teacher:
      • [redacted], undated
      • [redacted], dated 3 February 2020
  2. Notice of Investigation, dated 18 June 2019
  3. Notice of Panel Consideration, dated 21 February 2020
  4. Notice of Panel Consideration cover email and delivery receipt, dated 21 February 2020.

Teacher’s Hearing Papers

  1. Statement of the Teacher, dated 29 July 2020 with appendices:
    • CV of the Teacher, undated
    • Personal Development Plan, undated
    • Certificate of completion of Honesty and Personal Values in the Workplace course, dated 21 July 2020
    • Booking confirmation for Professional Boundaries course run by The National Training Academy, dated 23 July 2020
    • Statement of [redacted], dated 27 July 2020
  2. Psychologist report by Witness 4, Chartered Occupational Psychologist, dated 11 February 2021
  3. Statement of Witness 3, dated 22 February 2021
  4. Addendum statement of the Teacher, dated 16 March 2021, with appendices:
    • Teacher’s reflections on CPD course on Ethics and Personal Values in the Workplace and Safeguarding in Education, dated 21 July 2020
    • Teacher’s completion certificate and reflections on CPD course on Professional Boundaries, dated August 2020
    • Teacher’s training certificate and reflections on CPD course on Safeguarding in Education, dated September 2020
    • Teacher’s record of ongoing activities, undated
    • Teacher’s reflections on ‘How I Wish I’d Taught Maths’ book by Craig Barton, dated 8 February 2021
    • Teacher’s reflections on mentor meetings with Witness 3, dated 6 August 2020, 27 August 2020, and 23 September 2020
    • Teacher’s reflections on the behaviour change programme undertaken with Witness 4, undated
    • Teacher’s certificate of completion and reflections on CPD training course on Assertiveness and Self Confidence, dated October 2020
    • Teacher’s certificates of completion and reflections on Time Management and Stress Management training courses, dated February and March 2020
    • Teacher’s reflections on advice provided on the Education Support and Health and Safety Executive websites, dated 9 March 2020
    • Teacher’s further reflections on the Fitness to Teach case
  5. Further SQA reflections, dated 23 March 2021
  6. Reflections on further meetings with Witness 3 and Witness 4, various dates
  7. Further testimonials:
    • [redacted], dated 4 November 2021
    • [redacted], dated 9 November 2021
    • [redacted], undated.

Servicing Officer’s Hearing Papers

  1. Notice of Full Hearing, dated 23 December 2021, with cover email, delivery receipts and Teacher’s response form
  2. Procedural Meeting decision regarding admissibility and a virtual hearing, dated 16 December 2020.

Findings of Fact

The Panel noted that the Teacher had admitted the facts detailed in the allegations, including that his conduct had breached parts 1.2, 1.4 and 1.5 of COPAC. The Panel noted that, on the basis of these admissions, it was able to find the allegations proved in accordance with Rule 1.7.21 and was not required to hear evidence in relation to them.

Fitness to Teach

Summary of Evidence

Given that the Panel found that all of the allegations were proved, the Panel invited the parties to lead evidence and make submissions in relation to the Teacher’s fitness to teach.

Witness 1

Witness 1 had provided a statement to GTC Scotland which was signed and dated 30 October 2019, and she confirmed that what was written was accurate. At the outset of her evidence, she read aloud her witness statement. She told the Panel that she had been aware from discussions with the Teacher’s colleagues at social events that it was a running joke within the school that Young Person A ‘fancied’ the Teacher and was infatuated with him. In the year or so before they ended their relationship, she had noticed that the Teacher had searched for Young Person A on Facebook. Witness 1 also became aware that the Teacher was contacting Young Person A using the school’s ‘Glow’ email system. She told the Panel that the communications were not related to the school; they contained ‘chat and banter’ and not the sort of discussions you would expect a teacher to be having with pupils outside of school. She had questioned the Teacher about these, but he had asserted that as she was not a teacher, she would not understand. Witness 1 also told the Panel about an occasion at the end of March 2019, when she discovered that the Teacher was contacting Young Person A at 2:00 am.

Witness 1 told the Panel about an incident where she had been asked to speak at a recruitment event at the school. Young Person A had made a comment directed at her, saying words to the effect of ‘you’re the other woman’. Witness 1 stated that she had laughed it off because she never thought the line would be crossed, despite thinking that the relationship between the Teacher and Young Person A was ‘odd’ and ‘a bit inappropriate’.

On 22 May 2019, Witness 1 stated that she was using the Teacher’s laptop, when a notification of an email from Young Person A appeared at the bottom of the screen, which was indicative of arrangements being made between Young Person A and the Teacher to meet outwith school. Witness 1 searched for Young Person A’s name and discovered over 800 emails between the Teacher and Young Person A, many within his deleted items, dating back to April that year. She told the Panel that most of these emails were sexual in nature and included naked pictures of Young Person A. On confronting the Teacher over the phone, he initially denied knowledge of the emails, but later asked Witness 1 not to contact the school or police. She respected his wishes and she spoke to letting the Teacher take the reins due to being ‘shocked and heartbroken’. Witness 1 stated that these emails were subsequently deleted from the laptop, but not by her. Witness 1 had taken photos of some of the emails. She had provided copies of the inappropriate pictures of Young Person A to the police. Witness 1 confirmed that the photos of emails from the Teacher’s personal account the Panel had before them had been taken by her.

Witness 1 spoke to the kiss between the Teacher and Young Person A being brand new information to her when the information was reported in the press.

Witness 2

Witness 2 had provided a statement to GTC Scotland which was signed and dated 27 August 2019, and she confirmed that what was written was accurate. At the outset of her evidence, Witness 2 read her statement aloud. She was the Headteacher at lnveralmond Community High School in Livingston. There were no concerns raised by any members of staff, parents, or pupils in relation to the Teacher. She described him as a first-class teacher who was very committed to his job.

Witness 2 had not been aware of the ‘standing joke’ about Young Person A having a ‘crush’ on the Teacher. Had she been aware, this would have been thoroughly investigated. Witness 2 stated that, in January 2019, Young Person A had made an entry in the S6 Yearbook stating, ‘I see myself teaching maths at lnveralmond in the class next to [the Teacher] so I can see him every day’. Witness 2 stated that the Teacher was spoken to about this, and it was made clear to him what COPAC says about distancing oneself from pupils and maintaining appropriate relationships. Witness 2 stated that the Teacher’s response was appropriate, and he seemed to reassure her that there was nothing to be concerned out. It was simply regarded as just a ‘throwaway’ comment in a yearbook.

In around March 2019, a comment by an S2 pupil was overheard by another teacher saying they felt that Young Person A, who was a class helper, was getting ‘a bit close’ to the Teacher. The pupil was spoken to and said they were only joking. Witness 2 had a one-to-one discussion about professional boundaries with the Teacher and printed out a copy of COPAC for him. The Teacher did not give Witness 2 any concerns about his conduct at this time. Witness 2 told the Teacher that Young Person A should be removed as a class helper for him as a precautionary measure. Witness 2 spoke to a further incident in May 2019, whereby the principal teacher for pupil support received a text from a colleague stating that Young Person A was in the Teacher’s room, and they did not feel comfortable with the situation. Witness 2 stated that this teacher could not put their finger on what made them uncomfortable. Witness 2 spoke to the Teacher about this on 15 May 2019 to reinforce what they had previously talked about. The Teacher told Witness 2 that there was nothing going on between him and Young Person A beyond a normal staff pupil relationship. Witness 2 stated that she had to take the Teacher’s word for it, as there was never any evidence of anything going on other than that Young Person A admired him in some way. Witness 2 stated she left this conversation with the Teacher reassured that nothing untoward had happened. Witness 2 spoke to the Teacher requesting a meeting with her on 23 May 2019 where he confessed to the relationship with Young Person A and stated he had let her down. The Teacher was shaky and upset during this conversation. Witness 2 stated that she felt a whole mixture of emotions; she was disappointed and shocked that what the Teacher had told her prior to this was not true. The Teacher told Witness 2 that nothing had happened prior to Young Person A leaving school on 5 April which was her last day of S6. He told her that on 10 April after an Easter school drop-in session, there had been a kiss between himself and Young Person A, but he was not sure who instigated this. When Witness 2 asked if the relationship had become sexual, the Teacher said he had had sex with Young Person A on two occasions at his flat.

Witness 2 told the Panel that S6 pupils left school on 5 April 2019, and this is traditionally considered their last day of school; they have a celebration and make quite a fuss of it. However, Young Person A remained on the school roll until the end of the school year on 28 June 2019. Pupils stay on the school roll for a period of time, and this is related to their exams and some pupils still needing to be paid an education maintenance allowance. Witness 2 stated that Young Person A remained a pupil until then and she expected all pupil teacher boundaries to be maintained in the period of April until the end of June. Within this time, pupils are still coming into school in school uniform and are taking exams. Teachers would not be allowed to communicate with pupils outside the school system. If any pupils were behaving inappropriately during this period, Witness 2 would expect her staff to respond in the same manner and use the same sanctions as they would have done before 5 April 2019.

Witness 2 had been unaware of the extent of the Teacher’s communications with Young Person A on the ‘Glow’ system or via private emails. When asked about the Teacher’s communication with Young Person at 2:00am on a weekend, Witness 2 stated that this was not appropriate, and she would have expected the Teacher to maintain those professional boundaries. If the Teacher felt a pupil was behaving inappropriately, he should have reported this to her. Witness 2 had no recollection of being told about Young Person A’s comment, in terms of describing Witness 1 as the ‘other woman’. Witness 2 confirmed that she would have taken action had she been made aware of this incident at the time.

When asked a theoretical question about whether Witness 2 would be comfortable employing the Teacher in her school if he were to remain on the Register, she told the Panel would not offer him a position in her school.

Ross Spittal

The Teacher had provided statements for these proceedings which were signed and dated 29 July 2020 and 16 March 2021 and he confirmed that what was written was accurate. The Teacher read these statements aloud. He admitted all the allegations, including that he breached parts 1.2, 1.4 and 1.5 of COPAC.

The Teacher provided details of the extra-curricular activities he had taken responsibility for whilst working at the school. The Teacher told the Panel that he had last taught on 23 May 2019.  He had been prevented from teaching after this by a Temporary Restriction Order and had found alternative employment as a courier. The Teacher stated that he had taught Young Person A since she started at the school in 2014. In 2019, she was in his advanced higher maths class, which was a course he was teaching for the first time. The Teacher described having a relaxed manner with this class as he had built strong relationships with them. He stated that he viewed them more as young adults, which he accepted may have been wrong at times. The Teacher stated he had built up a good rapport with his class; they had a bit more ‘banter’ and class nicknames and sayings that they had built up over the years.

The Teacher accepted searching for Young Person A on Facebook. He stated that this was in around 2016 and he had been having a tough week at school with his confidence, and ‘stupidly’ thought that he would look for positive comments on Facebook. The Teacher told the Panel that he was embarrassed that he had searched for Young Person A. He maintained that he had been naïve, but that there was nothing sinister in his action. He accepted in answer to the Presenting Officer that his action in searching Young Person A’s Facebook page had been inappropriate. The Teacher maintained that it was not just Young Person A’s profile he had looked at, and he had clicked on other pupils’ profiles. The Teacher stated that he was confronted by Witness 1 about this, and he explained to her why he had done it. The Teacher also accepted that communicating with Young Person A at 2:00am during the weekend was inappropriate. He stated that a notification from Microsoft Teams came up on his phone and Young Person A had posted a picture of pupils in the Teacher’s class on a night out. The Teacher stated that he acknowledged this by putting a ‘thumbs up’. The Teacher stated that he did tell Young Person A at school that this was not what Teams was for; he accepted that he should have reported it to senior management but had not wanted to make a fuss because it was the last week of school at that point. With regard to Young Person A’s comment about Witness 1 being ‘the other woman’, the Teacher told the Panel that it was an awkward and uncomfortable situation and he brushed it off due to embarrassment. Nothing was happening with Young Person A at the time of the comment. He accepted that he should have ‘shut it down’ straight away and should have spoken with senior members of staff, as well as with Young Person A in order to review boundaries. The Teacher did say that he may have told colleagues in his department about the comment, but he did not take it as far as he should have. He accepted that if he had ‘shut it down’ at this point, Young Person A’s ‘crush’ on him might not have been a running joke within the school. The Teacher told the Panel that when he had become aware of derogatory comments about him on social media during a previous placement, he had taken it up with management as he was advised to. With regards to the emails between himself and Young Person A which occurred before they kissed, the Teacher accepted that he could have given the impression that boundaries could be crossed, and that Young Person A could ask questions about his private life and see him more as a friend than a teacher. He accepted that he had been the one to move the conversation to being informal. The Teacher stated that, looking back, he was embarrassed by the relaxed manner of some of his replies.

The Teacher accepted that when Witness 2 had provided him with a copy of COPAC to review, he did read it, but did not take it as seriously as he should have done. The Teacher agreed he was aware of his responsibilities in terms of maintaining professional boundaries.

The Teacher accepted that after they had kissed, his emails with Young Person A were even more overfamiliar and personal, with a clear change in their dynamic. He accepted that he should have had the courage to ‘own’ his wrongdoing and should have come clean to senior management about what had happened. He had not taken steps to distance himself after the kiss. He maintained that his logical thought processes were ‘all over the place’ in that 5-to-6-week period. When the Teacher was asked whether, had Witness 1 not found out about the relationship, he would have informed senior management and what circumstances would have had to be in place for this to happen, the Teacher stated that he would like to think that he would have eventually had the courage to come clean about his relationship with Young Person A. He denied that there had been 800 emails from his personal account to Young Person A and maintained that he did not know who had deleted emails from the laptop. The Teacher stated that emails using their personal addresses had commenced from 10 May. Between 10 April when the kiss occurred and 10 May, he and Young Person A communicated via school email and in person in school for the purposes of exam preparation.

When asked about what the Teacher could have done to prevent the various incidents involving Young Person A, the Teacher stated that as soon as he became aware of Young Person A’s ‘crush’, he should have ‘shut it down’ and spoken to senior members of staff for advice. He stated that if boundaries had been put in place, he wouldn’t be in the position he now found himself in. He should have set and reviewed boundaries, making sure pupils knew why they were important. The Teacher said that he was ashamed and embarrassed that Witness 2 was someone who had trusted him, had faith in him and supported him, and yet he lied to her face to protect himself. He told the Panel that logical thought processes were not there for him in the period following the kiss; it was just panic, fear and stress.

When asked about the implications of his actions for pupils, the school and members of the public, the Teacher stated that it reflected negatively on the school. He stated that he did not want anyone to think anything untoward about the school, and that it was a brilliant school to teach in. He stated that teachers should be role models and that children in their care should be protected against ‘violations’. The Teacher stated that he did not want his pupils to think he was not in teaching for all of them. He stated that the pupils lost a teacher who was dedicated and wanted them to do well, and he did not want his actions to affect them confidence-wise.

The Teacher told the Panel that he had let the situation dictate his actions and his honesty. He stated that if he had been ‘intrinsically honest’, he would have realised what he was doing was wrong and would have told someone.

The Teacher told the Panel of his remorse for his actions and the steps he had taken to remediate his behaviour. He had at his own expense engaged the services of Witness 4, a Chartered Occupational Psychologist, to engage in a Behaviour Change Programme with her and develop strategies to reduce the risk of misconduct in the future. This included implementing a ‘traffic light system’ to give him time to stop and think about his actions, being more assertive, implementing a better work-life balance and adopting a ‘broken record’ policy to maintain appropriate boundaries. He had also sought mentoring from Witness 3, a former colleague, who had reached out to him.

He told the Panel that whilst his conduct in the past had been wholly inappropriate, he now had an excellent support network and felt equipped to deal with any future risks should he be allowed to return to teaching. The steps and reflections and the courses he had worked on and put in place would ensure this do not happen again. The Teacher stated that it had been a long 2.5 years and he had put in a lot of work to remediate his conduct. He misses teaching and thinks about it every day. He told the Panel he was proud of his 19-page reflective piece. When asked what he would do differently if he were to return to teaching, the Teacher said that during his initial interaction with pupils, he would be going over what he expects of them and what they should expect, as well as what is and is not acceptable. He would ensure consistency in his approach to dealing with challenging situations and would return to boundaries if situations came up. The Teacher stated he would be approachable and engaging but would return with more of a ‘wall’ up to pupils. He stated that, if he found himself answering pupil questions late at night, he would set curfews for himself and would explain to pupils what they can expect in terms of a reply and when this would be.

The Teacher told the Panel about when he and Young Person A kissed for the first time on 10 April 2019. Notwithstanding Witness 2’s evidence, he maintained that Young Person A was no longer a pupil at the school at the time. He maintained that he had no recollection of how the kiss had come about and who had initiated this. He told the Panel that ‘without the kiss, nothing would have happened’ and repeatedly maintained he did not have emotional or romantic feelings towards Young Person A at any point prior to the kiss. He accepted that all professional boundaries had been crossed at the point of kissing her. He accepted that he had taken the lead in arranging for Young Person A to come to his flat for sex.

The Teacher maintained he had told Witness 3 and Witness 4 about the ‘other woman’ comment and the general awareness of Young Person A’s ‘crush’. He discussed with Witness 4 his feelings after the comment, what he should have done, what he would do if a similar situation came up and what safeguards he could put in place to ensure this doesn’t happen in future. He maintained that he had similar conversations with Witness 3.

Whilst accepting that receiving pictures of a sexual nature from Young Person A was wrong, the Teacher initially maintained she was an ex-pupil and they were two consenting adults, stating ‘it just happened’. Under Panel questioning, the Teacher accepted that although at the time he considered that his professional responsibility to S6 school leavers came to an end on 5 April 2019, he now accepted that his professional responsibility went beyond that date.

The Teacher told the Panel he was still in a relationship with Young Person A.

Witness 3

Witness 3 had provided a statement for these proceedings which was signed and dated 22 February 2021, and he confirmed that what was written was accurate. At the outset of his evidence, he read his statement aloud. Witness 3 was a Principal Teacher of Pupil Support at another school. He had worked with the Teacher at Inveralmond Community High School between 2014 and 2017. He considered the Teacher to be an exceptional teacher, as he always had classes of top sets, he took part in extra-curricular activities, he was committed, and he was always available when pupils needed him. During the period of time Witness 3 worked with him, the Teacher’s actions gave him no cause for concern and he did not question his professionalism at any point.

Witness 3 told the Panel that he had discussed with the Teacher at his mentoring sessions the Teacher’s decision making and how he should have acted differently. They discussed the sessions and work the Teacher had undertaken with Witness 4. They discussed the Teacher’s reflective document and the courses he had undertaken. Witness 3 told the Panel that the Teacher had reflected on his previous conduct and how he would act differently in the future. He told the Panel that he did not think there would be repetition of the Teacher’s conduct. Witness 3 stated that the Teacher wanted to come out of the matter as a better teacher and a better man, and that he has a deeper understanding of COPAC and is in a better place to take this back to the classroom.

Witness 3 told the Panel that he had reached out to the Teacher when he had learned of his suspension. He described being ‘shocked and surprised’ when he heard what had happened and stated that it was a ‘bit overwhelming’. Witness 3 stated that he knew the Teacher would not be allowed to communicate with anyone from the school, and that he would be going through ‘dark times’. The Teacher asked Witness 3 to be his mentor in July 2020.

Witness 3 told the Panel that the events leading up to the allegations were admitted by the Teacher, which they had discussed related to the yearbook comment, the concern from an S2 pupil that Young Person A and the Teacher were ‘close’, and then the kiss. The Teacher gave Witness 3 no explanation as to how the kiss had happened other than that they were tidying up after an Easter session, but they discussed that the Teacher should have informed Witness 2 immediately. The Teacher told Witness 3 that the 5-week period afterwards was a blur for him and the only clarity of thought he had was when he was teaching. He did not know how it had come to be and subsequently how his feelings had developed. Witness 3 stated there were ‘low points’ in some of their sessions and these were the sessions primarily around honesty and the Teacher’s infidelity; he was in a place where he was feeling very bad about himself.

Witness 3 told the Panel he could see why people would have concerns about working with the Teacher in light of his conduct but considered that what is important is context and understanding the Teacher’s remediation.

In answer to Panel questions, Witness 3 could not recall being told by the Teacher about Young Person A’s comment about Witness 1 being the ‘other woman’. Witness 3 himself had been aware of Young Person A’s ‘crush’ on the Teacher by the time he left the school, so he had assumed it was common knowledge. Witness 3 and the Teacher had just taken their discussions from the yearbook comment, not before. In hindsight, Witness 3 acknowledged that they could have discussed how the Teacher had dealt with the ‘crush’ prior to the yearbook incident. Witness 3 stated that he thought the Teacher was a little bit embarrassed by it, but he should have reinforced boundaries when the yearbook comment was made as it alluded to the ‘crush’. They had considered the communications between the Teacher and Young Person A using ‘Glow’ which had been produced. He considered these to have been informal but nothing he read that made him ‘stop and think this is unacceptable’. Witness 3 considered that the Teacher’s communication with Young Person A had not been appropriate and could be seen as encouraging her. He stated that there was a ‘relaxed tone’ to them that was perhaps not appropriate for email.

Witness 3 told the Panel he considered that in relation to remediation, the Teacher had acknowledged the truth of the allegations, and had been on a journey of acceptance and reflection. He had tried to understand the reasons why he did not ‘nip it in the bud’ or escalate matters. He now understood what the boundaries are and why they are important, and his need to be assertive in setting and maintaining boundaries. He considered that the Teacher had done a lot of work on himself which will benefit him if he is allowed to return to teaching. Witness 3 considered that the work the Teacher had done with Witness 4 and his sense of remorse and shame indicate that the conduct is unlikely to be repeated. He considered that the Teacher had taken ownership of his actions. He stated that none of the Teacher’s work with him or Witness 4 could have been done without the Teacher having taken ownership.

Witness 4

Witness 4 is a Chartered Occupational Psychologist. She had prepared a report for proceedings, dated 11 February 2021, which she adopted into her evidence. Witness 4 read her report aloud. She had been engaged by the Teacher’s Representative to enquire if the psychological interventions she offered might be of value in helping him reduce his risk of misconduct in future. She had conducted psychometric testing of the Teacher and engaged him in a Behavioural Change Programme. She had encouraged him to adopt a ‘Traffic Light System’ to encourage him to stop and think before taking actions, to ensure he had an appropriate support network, to undertake assertiveness training and adopt a ‘broken record technique’ to help him stand his ground, and to find a better work-life balance to improve his resilience and decision making. She told the Panel that she considered that the Teacher had developed sufficient insight into the factors that influenced his behaviour at the material time and that he is sufficiently motivated to guard against acting in such a manner in future. She considered that the reflective piece the Teacher had produced indicated to her a depth of reflection on his part. When asked about the purpose of the reflective piece, Witness 4 stated that this consolidates the information the Teacher has gathered and demonstrates changes in his attitude, behaviour, and beliefs from the time the behaviour occurred up until the point her work with him completed. Witness 4 considered that the Teacher fully understands that his conduct would be deemed as inappropriate at the time. Looking at the effort he has put in on the psychometric tests, she considered he was unlikely to do something like this in the future.

Witness 4 considered that it is possible that there has been a change in the Teacher’s personality traits that may have contributed to his conduct. Addressing any tricky personality traits is what the programme is about. The witness stated that the Teacher believed that at material time, he still had responsibilities in his capacity as a teacher to Young Person A. He recognised that the kiss was not in keeping with standards expected of a teacher. He was aware that lying to his colleagues was inappropriate and wrong. Witness 4 felt he took responsibility for allegations before she met him; this was not something she had to change.

Witness 4 was aware from her work with the Teacher that it was common knowledge that Young Person A had a ‘crush’ on him. Whilst she accepted that at the time he kissed Young Person A he had been acting impulsively, that was not the case subsequently in denying the relationship until 23 May 2019 and having sex with Young Person A at his flat. She considered him to be particularly vulnerable at this stage and stated that he had retreated into himself. She considered that he had full consideration and cognisance of what he was doing at that point in time. However, he was in denial and had ‘buried his head in the sand’ as he was in a state of extreme stress. He was reacting emotionally rather than responding in a professional manner of someone in a position of trust. She considered that the objective evidence indicates that he will not act dishonestly in future.

When asked to what extent she was satisfied that the Teacher had taken ownership of his actions leading to the kiss, Witness 4 told the Panel that the Teacher was aware he could have had a different approach to events. He knew that Young Person A had a ‘crush’ on him and had made that very public. He could have made more of an effort to act in a more assertive and professional manner. She considered that the Teacher was very well aware that there was a pupil who had a ‘crush’ on him. He could have done more to distance himself from her at that time. Witness 4 considered that he had taken ownership of his actions and knew he should have been more assertive with her.

Findings on Fitness to Teach

In the Presenting Officer’s closing statement, she submitted that the conduct which had been admitted by the Teacher was sufficient to amount to a finding that his fitness to teach was impaired. The Presenting Officer submitted that the public interest factor was engaged and that the Teacher’s conduct risks the reputation of the teaching profession, and it would impact public confidence in GTC Scotland as a professional regulator if a finding was not made that the Teacher’s fitness to teach is impaired. The Presenting Officer submitted that the allegations admitted by the Teacher are at the highest end of the spectrum in terms of severity, and that the onus is on the Teacher to distance themselves from pupils; she submitted that teacher/pupil boundaries extend beyond a pupil’s leaving date. The Presenting Officer stated that the Teacher had been reminded of his professional responsibilities on at least two occasions by Witness 2 and had, therefore, been given ample opportunity to remedy his behaviour. The Presenting Officer submitted that the Teacher had sought to highlight the kiss between him and Young Person A as the catalyst to events, but he had let it get to the stage where a kiss was felt to be permissible due to appropriate boundaries not being put in place. The Presenting Officer stated that the ‘5 weeks of stress’ according to the Teacher was not borne out by the tone of the email communication between him and Young Person A. The Teacher’s conduct was compounded by his dishonesty, and he was forced into disclosing the relationship when Witness 1 discovered the emails. She submitted that dishonesty is much more difficult to remediate. The Presenting Officer acknowledged that the Teacher had expressed genuine remorse and had fully engaged with the fitness to teach process but submitted that he had not demonstrated sufficient insight to the point that the Panel could be satisfied that there is no risk of repetition. The Presenting Officer stated that the ‘kiss’ was described as an impulsive decision, but the Teacher had not been honest with himself as to what led to that moment. She submitted that there was sufficient evidence before the Panel to support a finding that the Teacher had fallen significantly short of the standards expected.

In her closing statement, the Teacher’s Representative submitted that the Teacher admits he fell short of the standards, but that he was not unfit to teach; he had admitted the allegations at the outset of the GTC Scotland investigation and had produced a number of reflections. The Teacher was open and honest in his evidence, recognising where he may not have performed professionally. He admits that he failed to maintain boundaries and that there was a lack of professionalism; he deeply regretted lying to Witness 2 when given the opportunity to tell her what was going on. The Teacher’s Representative stated that the Teacher accepts that he has a duty to be honest and act with integrity, and that he had let down a number of people who had supported him throughout his career. She submitted that the evidence provided has been consistent as to when the relationship between the Teacher and Young Person A started and how feelings progressed; there is no evidence to suggest it was any earlier. She submitted that the conduct is remediable and that significant steps have been taken by the Teacher to remediate over a period of 2.5 years and to ensure the conduct is not repeated. The conduct was isolated to a period of time, the Teacher has no previous history of misconduct and is currently living daily with the effect of his actions. The Teacher’s Representative submitted the risk of repetition was low to non-existent. The Teacher’s Representative directed the Panel to character evidence within the full hearing papers. She stated that the Teacher could provide an invaluable service to teaching in the years to come and that a member of the public fully informed of the facts of the case would wish to ensure the Teacher continues teaching.

In relation to the evidence, the Panel noted that all the allegations had been found proved by admission. Its treatment of the evidence in relation to Fitness to Teach did not have to be proved in the same manner as facts.

The Panel first considered the credibility and reliability of the witnesses who had given oral evidence at the full hearing in relation to fitness to teach.

The Panel found Witness 1 to be completely credible. She did not come across as an ex-partner scorned. It was to her credit she attended the hearing to give evidence after her experience. She was dignified in her evidence and the Panel did not feel as though she had tried to attack the Teacher’s character, nor that she was ‘out for revenge’. When cross-examined by the Teacher’s Representative, Witness 1 gave ground where she could. The Panel felt that Witness 1 was truthful and that her evidence was probable and consistent with the evidence before the Panel.

The Panel considered Witness 2 to be credible and reliable. The Panel felt she was ‘holding back’ somewhat, although it felt this was not because she was not being truthful but because she was trying to give her evidence professionally bearing in the mind her responsibility to the reputation of her school. Witness 2’s evidence was factual and the Panel felt her evidence was probable and consistent with other evidence. Witness 2 was clear when she could not remember details and the Panel felt she was being truthful.

In respect of Witnesses 1 and 2, the Panel considered that they were not in a position to give current evidence about the Teacher’s insight and remediation. They did provide evidence about an absence of insight over the material time, which the Panel considered relevant to establishing whether the Teacher fell short of standards at the time. The Panel, therefore, felt it was able to put weight on the evidence of Witnesses 1 and 2 in this regard, but not with regards to remediation and the Teacher’s current fitness to teach.

The Panel considered that the Teacher adopted a repetitive strategy in his evidence. The Panel considered that he has been genuinely distraught and distressed by losing his career and letting people down. The Panel considered however that his reported understanding of what happened was not completely believable. There was a superficiality to his evidence. The Panel considered that it was disingenuous to say he did not remember anything about the kiss. It was, by his account, the most significant event and the catalyst for subsequent events, yet he minimised his role. The Panel considered that this limited the weight they could place on the Teacher’s evidence. The Panel considered that, during the Teacher’s evidence, he had somewhat sought to ‘control the narrative’ in order to avoid going into too much detail about the fact he had had sex with Young Person A.

The Panel considered that Witness 3 was credible but there was a naivety to his evidence. The Panel considered that Witness 3 was essentially left ‘picking up pieces’ and was heavily invested in supporting the Teacher to return to teaching. The Panel considered that Witness 3 was well-meaning and well-intentioned.  His role with the Teacher had been pastoral and did not have ‘official’ status as the Teacher’s mentor and there was no formal framework for this. Witness 3 had accepted the version of events given to him by the Teacher. To his credit, Witness 3 had demonstrated integrity when asked to answer questions from a professional perspective. The Panel considered Witness 3 to be truthful and believable but did not consider him to be in best position to comment on risk of reoccurrence due to not knowing the full circumstances, and not having considered matters from a critical or analytical point of view.

Witness 4 was an expert witness. What she told Panel was her opinion evidence based on data from the Teacher. Witness 4 had made it clear that her overall duty was to GTC Scotland in giving independent assistance based on her objective, unbiased opinion; this overrode any obligation to the Teacher, who had engaged her services. The Panel considered that Witness 4 had given her evidence professionally, and they were able to place more weight on her evidence than that of Witness 3 and the Teacher, owing to her independence and objectivity. The Panel considered that Witness 4 had not taken sufficient cognisance of seriousness in terms of the Teacher’s actions being contrary to the role of a teacher and COPAC. However, the Panel noted that Witness 4 could not be expected to specifically consider COPAC in the same way as an expert witness within the teaching profession would.  

The Panel gave careful consideration to all the evidence presented and the submissions made by the Presenting Officer and the Teacher’s Representative in relation to the Teacher’s fitness to teach. The Panel considered advice from the Legal Assessor and Servicing Officer, as necessary. The Panel addressed the relevant considerations in relation to fitness to teach, as outlined in the IOG.

The Panel were first required to consider whether the Teacher’s conduct or competence at the time of the incident(s) fell short of the expected professional standards, i.e., whether the Teacher was guilty of misconduct.

The Teacher has admitted breaches of Parts 1.2, 1.4 and 1.5 of the COPAC. The Panel had no difficulty in satisfying itself that these parts of COPAC had been breached.

The Panel considered that these are fundamental standards, upon which all professional standards are built upon. In the professional experience of the Panel, there is an unmeasured period of time after pupils leave that they are still regarded as pupils because of a teacher’s position of power and trust. Young Person A was required to follow school rules, the disciplinary policy remained the same, and she undertook her exams in school uniform. The Panel was satisfied that the Teacher’s responsibilities towards Young Person A as a pupil extended throughout May and up until she left the school roll.

The Panel had no doubts that the Teacher’s behaviour constituted misconduct as defined in the case of Roylance v GMC [2000] 1 AC 311, and that his conduct fell short of the standards expected of a registered Teacher at the material time.

Having found that the proven allegations amounted to misconduct, the Panel then went on to consider, with reference to the IOG, whether the conduct was remediable, whether it had been remedied and whether there was a likelihood of reoccurrence. The Panel understood that it had to consider the Teacher’s current fitness to teach, rather  than  at  the  time  that  the facts  found proved  took  place. The Panel had some difficulty determining whether the conduct was remediable, given the level of seriousness. It considered that there was an argument it was remediable, because this would otherwise suggest that individuals cannot change their behaviour. However, the Panel was conscious that it was looking at whether the conduct was remediable in the context of being a registered teacher. The Panel considered that the conduct, in theory, could be capable of remediation, but that it had to give careful consideration to whether or not it was satisfied that the Teacher had been remedied in light of the seriousness of his misconduct.

After kissing Young Person A, the Teacher had gone on to arrange for Young Person A to come to his flat during term time for sex. The Panel considered that this was a serious aggravating factor; the Teacher had significantly escalated and developed his relationship with Young Person A knowing it was wrong. It considered that his emails thereafter were not indicative of someone suffering severely with stress. The opportunity for support and to admit to what had happened were present but not taken up by the Teacher. The Panel considered the Teacher’s evidence focused on the kiss and not on the development of a sexual relationship after this to be aggravating. It was not satisfied that the Teacher demonstrated sufficient insight into his actions.

The Panel did not speculate on whether the Teacher had feelings for Young Person A before the kiss as he has said he did not. However, it was clear to the Panel that there was something different about his behaviour with Young Person A compared to other pupils and it was not satisfied that the Teacher demonstrated sufficient insight into this and the reasons for this. The Panel felt that it was not a mitigating factor that the Teacher did not have feelings for Young Person A when they kissed, notwithstanding that the Teacher may have held this belief. The Panel also considered that the Teacher and Young Person A still being in a relationship may have also been used in an attempt to minimise the Teacher’s actions and was treated as if it was a ‘joint effort’ despite the onus being on the Teacher to distance himself.

The Panel noted that the Teacher during the course of the hearing had accepted that he was the driver of informality of emails exchanged prior to 10 April 2019. However, the impression the Teacher repeatedly gave the Panel, notwithstanding his admission of allegation (a), was that the kiss was something that had happened to him rather than something he was an active participant in. The Panel considered that the Teacher asserted passiveness in relation to this and was, therefore, not satisfied that he had demonstrated sufficient insight. The Panel considered that the Teacher had made deliberate decisions and his actions in developing a sexual relationship were deliberate, rather than him being a victim of impulsivity.

The Panel noted that the Teacher had no previous history of misconduct, but also felt that he was not recognising the fact that a pattern of behaviour was present. The Panel did not consider that the conduct could be described as an isolated incident, as there was a pattern of crossing boundaries over a sustained period of time. The Panel considered that the Teacher had relied on others being his conscience, and they were not satisfied that he could internally and independently recognise the warning signs that there was a risk of the conduct reoccurring.

Although the Panel acknowledged the steps taken by the Teacher to remediate his misconduct, it was not satisfied as to the extent of his insight. Further, it was not persuaded that the risk of repetition is as low as suggested. The Panel considered that the risk of repetition was lower, but that it could not satisfy itself that it was unlikely. The Panel was of the view that the Teacher’s misconduct was at most serious end of the scale and that the conduct had not been remedied.  

The Panel also concluded that the public interest was strongly engaged. It rejected the submission on behalf of the Teacher that a reasonable member of the public, fully informed of the circumstances, would agree that the Teacher should be allowed to return to teaching. The public would call into question the reputation of the profession and GTC Scotland as a regulator if it did not make a finding that the Teacher was unfit to teach.

The Panel considered that there was considerable focus on the Teacher’s competence and skills in the classroom, which was not in question. The Panel accepted that the Teacher is clearly committed and does genuinely want to teach. However, it did not consider this to be relevant to matter at hand. The character evidence spoke largely to the Teacher’s commitment and competence in the classroom, and this did not assist the Panel’s consideration of fitness to teach.

Accordingly, for the reasons set out above, The Panel determined that the Teacher’s conduct falls significantly short of the standards expected of a registered teacher and that he is, therefore, unfit to teach.

As the Panel determined that the Teacher is unfit to teach, in accordance with the terms of Article 18(2)(b) of the Public Services Reform (General Teaching Council for Scotland) Order 2011, it directed that the Teacher’s name be removed from the Register.

Once the Teacher’s name has been removed from the Register, his name remains so removed unless and until an application for re-registration is made by him and a Fitness to Teach Panel directs that the application be granted.  The Panel directed that the Teacher should be prohibited from making an application for re-registration for a period of 2 years from the date of its decision.  The Panel considered that a shorter time period was inappropriate due to the seriousness of his misconduct. The Panel considered that the Teacher required significant time to consider this decision and reasons and continue reflection to get to the point when he can demonstrate insight that would satisfy a Panel that the conduct has been remediated, particularly in relation to his actions leading up to the kiss with Young Person A and the subsequent development of a sexual relationship.

Appeal

The Teacher has the right to appeal to the Court of Session against the decision within 28 days of service of the Decision Notice. The Teacher’s name will remain on the Register until the appeal period has expired and any appeal lodged within that period has been determined.

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