GTC Scotland

The General Teaching Council for Scotland

General Teaching Council for Scotland Fitness to Teach Panel Outcome

           

Panel Consideration Outcome

15 July 2020

 Teacher Greig Ratcliff
 Registration Number 123476
 Registration category Secondary Education - Music
 Panel Michele Knight, Catriona McDonald and Christopher Moore
 Legal Assessor Gareth Jones
 Servicing Officer Kirsty McIntosh
 Teacher's representative Laura O'Neill (EIS) (not present)

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
  • the "Rules" (and any related expression) means the GTCS Fitness to Teach and Appeals Rules 2012 or refers to a provision (or provisions) within them
  • the ‘Register’ means the GTCS register of teachers.
  • "COPAC" means the GTCS Code of Professionalism and Conduct

Notification of Meeting

The Panel had before it a copy of the Notice of Panel Consideration dated 25 June 2020. The Panel was satisfied that the Teacher had been provided with notice of the meeting in accordance with Rules 1.6 and 2.3.1. Accordingly, the Panel proceeded to consider the case.

Preliminary Matters

There were no preliminary matters for the Panel to consider.

Allegations

  1. Whilst employed as a Teacher by Stirling Council at Balfron High School, during the 2018-19 academic session,the teacher did:
    1. Edit 15 assessments for National 5 Music candidates;
    2. Edit 10 assessments for Higher Music candidates, including that of candidate A;
    3. Submit the edited assessments referred to at allegations 1 (a) and 1 (b) to the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) without the knowledge or consent of the candidates in question;
    4. On 13 June 2019 submit a statement for SQA to the SQA Co-ordinator in the knowledge that the content of that statement was false and inaccurate; and
    5. In the belief that candidate A had been asked to submit a false statement for SQA by the [redacted] with regard to the candidate’s Higher assessment, which the Teacher had edited without her knowledge or consent, fail to report this matter to the Headteacher.
  2. The Teacher’s actions at allegation 1 (c) were dishonest, in that the Teacher sought to represent that the work submitted was that of the pupils in question, when in fact it had been edited by the Teacher.
  3. The Teacher’s actions at allegation 1 (d) were dishonest, in that the Teacher sought to represent that the information provided in the statement was true and accurate.
  4. The Teacher’s actions at allegation 1 (e) lacked integrity.

In light of the above it is alleged that the Teacher’s fitness to teach is impaired, and he is unfit to teach as a result of breaching Parts 1.3, 1.4, 1.5, 1.6, 2.2 and 2.3 of the General Teaching Council for Scotland’s Code of Professionalism and Conduct (COPAC) 2012.

Information Available to the Panel

  1. Final Investigation Report, dated 15 June 2020, with appendices including:
    1. Investigation Report from Local Authority, including appendices
    2. Teacher’s Response to the Notice of Investigation, dated 29 July 2019, including appendices
    3. Teacher’s Response to Interim Report, dated 25 May 2020, including appendices
    4. Email communication between Investigating Officer and Teacher’s Representative
  2. Notice of Investigation, dated 15 July 2019
  3. Notice of Panel Consideration, dated 25 June 2020

In response to the notice, the Teacher provided a response to the Final Report on 25 June 2020 for the Panel’s consideration.

Teacher’s Response

In response to the Notice of Investigation the Teacher admitted the allegations in full and submitted a detailed response.

In his response the Teacher explained that he did not allocate adequate time to work with pupils on the ‘composing review’ aspect of the National 5 Music assignments which were sent to SQA for external marking. He set a first draft deadline of 15 April 2019, which was the first day back after the Spring holiday, and whilst that was met by the majority of candidates there were a number of other candidates who submitted it late.

The Teacher acknowledged that he did not forward-plan effectively throughout this time and that he failed to realise on return to school after the Spring holiday that he would have limited opportunity to work with candidates. This meant that that he did not have enough time to work with the vast majority of the National 5 and higher candidates on their composing reviews.

The Teacher accepted that he had failed to set fair deadlines to allow candidates to refine drafts of their composing reviews before they were submitted to SQA, which resulted in him editing a number of the reviews in order to better reflect work done by pupils and to compensate them for the lack of time they had to refine their drafts in class with teacher assistance. He described some of the changes made to candidates work as ‘minimal’ but recognised that he also made substantial changes to some work, including changes to word choice and/or phrasing.

The Teacher explained that he fully realises that any adjustment to candidates’ work, regardless of the amount, is wholly unacceptable and he stated that he is ashamed and remorseful for his actions.

The Teacher then went on to explain that on 11 June 2019 an SQA malpractice investigation was brought to him by the Deputy Head Teacher in which it was asserted that one candidate’s composition was exactly the same as an existing piece of music. The candidate explained that she had made reference to the piece of music as a stimulus in her composing review however there was no evidence of that in the composing review submitted to SQA.
The Teacher said that it was on 13 June 2019 that he realised that when adjusting the candidate’s composing review, he had removed certain aspects in order for the final review to fit on the one-page template. He later explained the situation to [redacted], who suggested telling the SQA that the candidate had removed the sentence under the Teacher’s direction, as part of a drafting process. Following this discussion the Teacher accepts that he agreed to write a false statement however following completion of the statement the candidate’s father made contact with him by email to say that he did not wish his daughter to sign a statement that was untrue.

Thereafter, on 17 June 2019, the [redacted] asked the Teacher to provide an honest statement to SQA, which he did. Whilst he also made the [redacted] aware of the submissions that he had altered for each of the candidates, the [redacted] advised him to do nothing regarding the 15 National 5 composing reviews and to instead focus on the 10 Higher composing reviews. The Teacher felt that all of the assessments should have been re-submitted to SQA to be marked as the candidates’ work however the [redacted] did not follow that up.

It was on 20 June 2019 that the Teacher was advised that Stirling Council would be conducting an investigation to explore the situation and the extent of any malpractice.

In the conclusion to his response the Teacher emphasises that the motive for his actions was to help the candidates submit work that reflected their potential because his poor preparation, forward planning and setting of deadlines had prevented them from doing so. He maintained that he has been open and honest about the situation since the meeting on 17 June 2019 and recognises that his actions fall beneath the standards expected of a registered teacher. Although he cites stress and family health concerns as factors that might have affected his decision-making at the time, he does not offer that as an excuse for his behaviour.

Having addressed each of the allegations the Teacher then outlined in detail the steps that he has taken to remediate his conduct.

He said that in future he will share his concerns with his line managers whenever he feels overburdened or not able to cope or if he has misjudged pupils’ progress in relation to an agreed deadline. He said that on return to work he will immediately begin the process of finding a mentor with whom he can liaise and described searching online for various courses to undertake in order to reinforce the importance of the standards and timescales. 

The Teacher concludes by saying that he is an enthusiastic and passionate teacher who is utterly committed to working with young people in developing their musical education and learning and in preparing them for the challenges of life. It is as a result of his dedication to teaching that these allegations have caused him so much shame, disappointment, regret and remorse, and it is why he can assure GTCS it will never happen again.

In response to the Interim Report, the Teacher also provided a list of mitigating factors, as well as a detailed note of his remediation to date.

In the note the Teacher explains how he has sought to improve himself as a person by studying stress management, by learning from his mistakes, volunteering in organisations and learning from their training. He highlights the fact that he has reflected in some detail about the GTCS Standards and submits that he has shown insight into the steps that he intends to take once back in the classroom to ensure that his professional ethics are at the forefront of his everyday practice. He states in particular that he is engaging in mentorship arrangements and that he has undertaken a substantial amount of reading so that he is equipped with the relevant tools to ensure that there is no risk of recurrence of his actions.

The Teacher refers to a total of 23 testimonials from individuals who know him personally and professionally, which he suggests collectively paint a picture of an exceptional, dedicated and passionate teacher of good character and standing in the community.

The Teacher also highlights the fact that he has already received a severe punishment for his actions because he was dismissed by his employer shortly before the government’s decision to close all schools. He is now employed by West Dunbartonshire Council as a supply teacher.

In light of the steps taken towards remediation the Teacher considers himself fit to teach however acknowledging the significance of his conduct the Teacher goes on to say that he would be willing to accept a Reprimand and/or Conditional Registration Order.

Decision

The Panel considered all of the information available to it as described above. The Panel had a range of options open to it, as set out at Rule 2.3.2 (a) to (f). The Panel had regard to the factors set out in the GTCS Panel Consideration Practice Statement.
The Panel did not consider it appropriate to dispose of the case in accordance with Rule 2.3.2(a) because the allegations amount to Relevant Conduct (misconduct) and there is on the face of it, a real prospect of a finding that the Teacher’s fitness to teach is impaired. Not only were the Teacher’s actions wholly undermining of pupil assessment procedures, his conduct involved an abuse of a position of trust and was both dishonest and lacking in integrity. The Panel also identified a number of breaches of COPAC relating to Parts 1.3, 1.4, 1.5, 1.6, 2.2 and 2.3.

Other relevant factors included that the matter is not over 5 years of age and it is in the public interest for the matter to be considered; the matter has not already been considered; the matter is not frivolous or vexatious and the allegations have not been made anonymously or by a person who has failed to cooperate with the investigation.

The Panel did not consider it appropriate to dismiss the case on the basis of an insufficiency of evidence as provided for by Rule 2.3.2 (b). The allegations have been fully admitted by the Teacher and are therefore proved by admission. 
In light of the Teacher’s full admissions the Panel went on to consider the issue of fitness to teach.

Fitness to Teach

In considering the issue of fitness to teach, the Panel had careful regard to all of the available information and to Part A of the GTCS Fitness to Teach Conduct Cases – Indicative Outcomes Guidance (IOG). 

The Panel considered that the Teacher’s conduct at the time fell significantly short of the standards expected of a registered teacher, as reflected by the multiple breaches of COPAC that the Panel identified. In his response to the Notice of investigation the Teacher also acknowledged that his conduct was ‘wholly unacceptable’ and fell short of the expected standards.

The Panel recognised however that the fitness to teach test involves an assessment of whether the Teacher is currently fit to teach, meaning as at the date of the meeting. In carrying out that assessment, as emphasised by the IOG, it was important for the Panel to take account of any evidence of the Teacher’s remorse, remediation and insight. In particular the Panel should consider whether the conduct found proved is remediable, whether it has been remedied and the likelihood of the conduct being repeated.

The Panel considered that the conduct found proved is remediable. It was apparent from the Teacher’s explanation that he failed to set proper deadlines or to discuss the difficulties that he was having at the time with colleagues. With better planning and greater discussion with colleagues, the situation could have been avoided.

The Panel also considered that the Teacher had taken significant steps towards remediation. He had not only cooperated with the investigation into the allegations but expressed a great deal of remorse and contrition throughout the process, identifying in clear terms why he had fallen short of the standards expected of a registered teacher.

It was equally apparent from the written information provided that as well as showing significant insight, the Teacher had sought to improve himself by enrolling on appropriate courses and by undertaking reading to ensure that he is up to date with the standards and SQA literature.

The Teacher also provided a large number of testimonials from various individuals who know him personally and professionally, all attesting to his positive character. Having carefully considered these references together with the other information provided, including the Teacher’s detailed responses, the Panel was satisfied that that the risk of repetition was significantly lower than as at the date of allegations.

However, whilst the Panel was satisfied that the Teacher had taken commendable steps towards remediation, the Panel noted that he is currently working as a supply teacher and has not yet had the opportunity to put all of the work he has completed since the allegations came to light into practice.
The Panel also considered the public interest when deciding whether the Teacher is currently fit to teach.

As set out in the IOG Practice Statement, the public interest includes the maintenance of the public’s confidence in registrants and in the integrity of the teaching profession; the maintenance of the public’s confidence in GTC Scotland as a professional regulator; the need to declare and uphold proper teaching standards, and, the deterrent effect that the determination may have upon other GTC Scotland registrants.

Whilst the Panel was satisfied that the Teacher had made significant progress since the date of the allegations such that he is no longer falling significantly short of the standards expected of a registered teacher, the Panel was equally satisfied that it was in the public interest to make a finding of current impairment. Given the seriousness of the Teacher’s conduct not to make a finding of current impairment would, in the Panel’s assessment, result in public confidence in the teaching profession and in GTCS as a professional regulator being undermined. In reaching that conclusion the Panel also considered the importance of upholding proper teaching standards and the deterrent effect of the determination upon other GTCS registrants.
For all of these reasons the Panel determined that the Teacher’s fitness to teach is currently impaired.

Disposal


As the Panel concluded that the Teacher’s fitness to teach is currently impaired, it moved on to consider what disposal would be appropriate. In considering that issue the Panel had regard to Part B of the IOG, which makes it clear that the available sanctions should be considered in ascending order of severity starting with the least restrictive sanction first and that any decision should be proportionate to the circumstances of the case.

Following that guidance, the Panel first considered whether a Reprimand was appropriate but decided that it would not be, given the serious nature of the Teacher’s conduct. The Panel noted again that the Teacher’s conduct amounted to an abuse of a position of trust, was undermining of the assessment procedures in place at the school and had the potential to cause educational harm to pupils. For all of those reasons, whilst the Panel recognised the Teacher’s timely admissions and expression of remorse, the Panel considered that a Reprimand alone would not appropriately indicate to the profession and to the public the seriousness of the matter in issue. 

The Panel next considered whether a Conditional Registration Order was appropriate.

The Panel identified areas of the Teacher’s conduct that are remediable and could be effectively, appropriately and practically controlled or restricted by imposing a Conditional Registration Order. The Teacher’s conduct involved concerns in the areas of the SQA and pupil assessment. The Panel also noted the Teacher’s willingness to engage with conditions placed on his registration and considered that he had shown sufficient insight that he would comply with any conditions imposed.

In deciding what conditions should be imposed the Panel recognised that any conditions should be measurable and workable and should address the concerns surrounding the Teacher’s conduct.

Having carefully reflected on the matter the Panel decided that the following conditions were both appropriate and proportionate:

  1. You must inform the following parties that your GTC Scotland registration is subject to these conditions and provide them with a copy of the Decision Notice that resulted in this order being imposed upon you:
    1. Any organisation or person employing you as a teacher or in a post for which GTC Scotland registration is required (whether on a permanent, temporary or supply basis); and
    2. Any prospective employer covered by (a) above at the time of making your application for employment.
  2. You must inform GTCS within 7 days if changing/taking up employment for which GTCS registration is required. You must also provide the Regulation and Legal Services Team with contact details for your new employer.
  3. You must obtain a report from your Head Teacher confirming that there have been no concerns in terms of your SQA pupil assessment conduct and submit this to Regulation and Legal Services Team by 1 June of each academic year.
  4. You cannot be the sole signatory to any documentation being submitted to SQA for the purposes of pupil assessment.
  5. You must attend a relevant ‘SQA: Understanding Standards’ event. You must provide evidence of such attendance at this event along with a reflective piece of writing outlining what you have learned from the course and how you will take it forward in your practice, and submit this to the Regulation and Legal Services Team by 1 June 2021.

Given the serious nature of the Teacher’s conduct the Panel also considered that the case should be marked with a Reprimand. In the Panel’s view, a Conditional Registration Order and Reprimand would indicate to the profession and the public the seriousness of the matter in issue, therefore maintaining public confidence in teachers and the teaching profession.

Furthermore, on the basis that it might take some time for the Teacher to secure a permanent teaching position, the Panel determined that the Order should be for a period of 3 years.

Having identified the appropriate disposal, the Panel decided to issue a consent order in accordance with Rule 2.7. The terms of the consent order are set out in the separate ‘Consent Order’ document. Should the Teacher fail to provide his consent to the order, the case will be referred on for Full Hearing proceedings.