Panel Meeting – Virtual Full Hearing – Claire Sweeney
|Teacher||Claire Sweeney (not present)|
|Date||15 September 2021|
|Registration Category||Secondary – History and English|
|Panel||Christopher Moore, Jacqueline Blair and Joanne Sharp|
|Legal Assessor||Fiona Drysdale|
|Servicing Officer||Jennifer Fairweather|
|Presenting Officer||Robbie Wilson (not present)|
|Teacher’s Representative||Iain Glennie, SSTA (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 GTC Scotland Fitness to Teach Rules 2017 or refers to a provision (or provisions) within them.
The Panel Meeting was arranged to consider the following:
- An application made by the Presenting Officer for a virtual Full Hearing.
By default, GTC Scotland 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 GTC Scotland 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 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.
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:
- Presenting Officer Application for a Virtual Hearing, dated 26 July 2021
- Appendix B to Presenting Officer’s Application
- Teacher’s response to application, dated 11 August 2021
- Teacher’s further response to application, dated 12 August 2021
The Panel did not deal with any preliminary matters.
An application dated 26 July 2021 for a virtual hearing was made by the Presenting Officer. The Panel considered the application and submissions made in response which addressed, in particular, the following factors:
- Is the Teacher represented?
The Teacher is represented by SSTA.
- Does the Teacher have any particular needs or vulnerabilities?
The Panel were not made aware of any needs or vulnerabilities of the Teacher.
- How will the Teacher and Representative, if any, communicate during the hearing?
The Panel considered this, but experience has shown that it is often easier if both are in the same place during the hearing if possible. This is optional however and it is for the Teacher to decide. The Teacher had requested that GTC Scotland accommodate her and her Representative at Clerwood House for the hearing. The Panel noted that this would be considered by GTC Scotland but that it could delay a hearing being set down and that therefore it would be preferable if the Teacher and her Representative could be present together at the Representative’s office for the hearing.
- The nature of the proceedings and issues to be determined at the hearing?
The Presenting Officer submitted in his report that a full assessment of the evidence will be required in order to determine the allegations, that the allegations are complex in nature and will require extensive evidence to be led, but that the evidence on each of the allegations is relatively straightforward. In all the circumstances the Panel considered that the complexity of the allegations was not a barrier to proceeding with a virtual hearing.
- The estimated length of the hearing?
The hearing is expected to last approximately 4 days.
- The extent and complexity of the issues in dispute?
As set out above the Presenting Officer in his report had submitted that extensive evidence will require to be led, but that the evidence on each of the allegations is relatively straightforward.
- Will the hearing take place in public or (partly) in private?
The hearing will take place in public and partly in private if this is required for vulnerable witnesses.
- The volume of documentation to be referred to during the hearing and how documentation will be provided to witnesses for reference, if required?
The documentation consists of 101 pages. The Panel anticipated that an electronic bundle would be provided, and that witnesses would be provided with a ‘mini bundle’ containing documents that parties intend to refer them to.
- The nature of witnesses to give evidence at the hearing?
There are three pupils, two teachers and one pupil support assistant.
- How long is each witness estimated to give evidence for?
It is estimated that each witness with give evidence for 1.5 hours.
- Do any of the witnesses have particular needs or vulnerabilities?
There are three pupil witnesses in respect of whom vulnerable witness applications have been granted.
- What confidence is there that each witness will be able to follow questions easily and any documents being referred to?
The Panel had not been provided with any evidence to say that they cannot do so.
- How will witnesses be provided with hearing documentation?
The Panel anticipated that the documentation would be provided in a mini electronic bundle.
- Will all participants at the hearing have access to a suitable electronic device?
It is anticipated that all participants with have access to a suitable electronic device.
- Will all participants have a suitable internet connection capable of coping with the requirements of a virtual hearing?
It is anticipated that all participants will have access to a suitable internet connection, and that GTC Scotland will be able to offer test calls ahead of the hearing to ensure this.
- Will all participants have an appropriate location from where they can participate alone and undisturbed?
Vulnerable witness applications have been granted. The Panel noted that the Teacher and their Representative are seeking a location from where they can have a reliable electronic link and from where they can be together for the hearing.
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 application and submissions made in response to it. The Panel had regard to the Rule 1.7.6 and to the Use of Electronic Communications in Hearings Practice Statement as well as the advice 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 application weighed in favour of granting the application made.
Accordingly, the Panel granted the application for the hearing to take place virtually.