GTC Scotland

The General Teaching Council for Scotland

General Teaching Council for Scotland Fitness to Teach Panel Outcome

Procedural Meeting

28 July 2020

 Teacher Redacted
 Registration Number Redacted
 Registration category Redacted
 Panel Christopher Moore, Jacqueline Blair and Gillian Fagan 
 Legal Assessor James Mulgrew
 Servicing Officer Hannah Oakley
 Presenting Officer David Blair
 Teacher's representative Lauren Stain (not present)

Definitions

Any reference in this outcome 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 Rules 2017 or refers to a provision (or provisions) within them;
  • the ‘Register’ means the GTCS Register of teachers; or
  • ‘COPAC’ means the GTCS Code of Professionalism and Conduct.

Background

The Teacher had been the subject of Fitness to Teach proceedings. A Panel at a Panel Meeting on 10 December 2019 had issued the Teacher with a Removal with Consent Order under the Panel Consideration procedure set out at Rules 2.3 and 2.7. The Teacher confirmed that she consented to her removal from the register. The Teacher thereafter submitted an application for anonymity in relation to the Panel Meeting decision.

This Panel Meeting was arranged to consider the following:

An application made by the Teacher to anonymise her name, the name of her former school and personal details in the published version of a Fitness to Teach Panel decision dated 10 December 2019.

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 hearing:

1 Anonymity application dated 11 February 2020, with appendices including:

  • Letter from [redacted]
  • Supporting statement from [redacted]
  • Letter from GP
  • Counselling Request Form
  • Email confirming current place on waiting list
  • Record of medical notes
  • Letter from journalist
  • Messages received from journalists on Facebook.

2 Presenting Officer’s response to application, dated 6 March 2020.

3 Further submissions from Teacher, dated 24 April 2020, with appendices including:

  • Letter from GP
  • References.

Preliminary matters

The Panel did not deal with any preliminary matters.

Submissions

Teacher’s Submissions

The scope of the application was to anonymise the Teacher’s name, the name of her former school, and her personal details in the published decision of the earlier Panel Meeting decision. The Teacher submitted that the application should be granted for a number of separate reasons: the impact of publication on Pupil A, the impact of publication upon her parents, and the impact of publication upon the Teacher and in particular her health.

The Teacher indicated that there had been press interest in Pupil A as his name had been linked to hers previously. She highlighted that GTCS had not pursued the involvement of Pupil A or his family previously in the fitness to teach process due to the potential for distress and anxiety it may cause to them. The Teacher submitted that there would be future press interest in Pupil A if her name were published in the Panel decision.

The Teacher pointed to previous press interest towards her parents. She observed that this had caused them much distress and had impacted upon their wellbeing for months. She was concerned about such interest in the future and its consequences.

Further, the Teacher submitted that anonymisation was necessary to protect her own health and in particular [redacted]. She produced a medical report from her GP, a copy of medical records and a report from her former [redacted]. The GP report dated 6 February 2020 stated that the Teacher had [redacted] and was prescribed [redacted]. The GP stated that the Teacher had reported that the fitness to teach process was having a marked impact upon her stress and was [redacted]. [redacted] report dated 6 February 2020 indicated the Teacher’s [redacted] had been primarily guilt based centring upon feelings of remorse. She had anticipatory fear about how Pupil A could be adversely affected by the process. [redacted]. The Teacher indicated that she had suffered from [redacted] and that was supported by accounts provided by friends and colleagues which were also produced. The Teacher also described what she was currently doing in terms of her education and to maintain her [redacted] health.

Presenting Officer’s Submissions

The Presenting Officer opposed the granting of the application on the grounds of the impact of publication upon the Teacher and her health, and separately the impact upon her parents. The Presenting Officer adopted a neutral position in relation to the impact on Pupil A.

The Presenting Officer highlighted the public interest in principles of openness, transparency and fairness in relation to the arguments made by the Teacher regarding press interest in her and her family. He submitted the public interest of open justice outweighed the private interest of the Teacher and her parents.

In relation to the impact on the Teacher’s health, the Presenting Officer submitted that the material produced by the Teacher did not meet the requirements of the Health Matters and Medical Evidence Practice Statement. He highlighted that it appeared that previous publicity had not been the cause of the Teacher’s [redacted] and that fitness to teach proceedings will cause emotional and psychological difficulty for many teachers. He submitted that factor alone was not sufficient to overturn the presumption in favour of open hearings.

The Presenting Officer did not make any positive submission in relation to the impact of publication upon Pupil A. However, he helpfully identified and analysed competing interests and factors which existed in relation to that part of the application.

Decision

The Panel had careful regard to the application, the written submissions made by both parties and the supporting papers. The Panel also took account of the provisions within the Rules and guidance provided by GTCS Practice Statements, in particular the Privacy and Anonymity Practice Statement and the Health Matters and Medical Evidence Practice Statement.

The Privacy and Anonymity practice statement states:

‘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. One potential reason narrated is ‘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 decided to grant the application and tailored its order to address the particular circumstances of the case. The Panel granted the application solely on the basis of the impact that publication may have upon Pupil A as a result of jigsaw identification. The Panel would not have granted the application on the basis of the impact of publication upon the Teacher, her health or her parents, as they did not consider that these reasons alone would result in the public interest of open justice being outweighed by the interests of the Teacher.

The Panel carefully considered the submissions and supporting material that had been provided in relation to impact upon the Teacher and upon her parents. The Panel noted that the Privacy and Anonymity Practice Statement states:

‘The fact that the Teacher and his/her family will be distressed by the proceedings being held in public or that a private hearing/anonymity would save him/her (and/or his family) from embarrassment are not sufficient reasons for such an application to be granted. Nor is the fact that a private hearing/anonymity could prevent damage to the Teacher’s reputation, unless his/her reputation would suffer disproportionate damage as a result of the hearing being held in public/his or her name being made public. Panels must be satisfied that there is a compelling reason for granting such an application in order to protect an individual’s private life.'

The Panel were sympathetic to the submissions made regarding the impact upon the Teacher and her parents. The Panel acknowledged that the earlier Panel had chosen a time period of 6 months before the Teacher could seek to register again. The Panel could see the Teacher had taken steps towards remediation. Further, the Panel understood that the Teacher’s parents would be placed under stress as a result of publication.

The Panel reflected upon the terms of the Practice Statement narrated above. Further, the Panel had regard to the terms of the Health Matters and Medical Evidence Practice Statement. The Panel considered that the material provided did not have the necessary weight to justify the application sought in this regard. No medical evidence was provided in relation to the Teacher’s parents. The Panel concluded that the medical evidence provided in relation to the Teacher was not sufficient to outweigh the public interest in open justice. The Panel acknowledged that fitness to teach processes would provoke a range of psychological reactions in many teachers. In the Teacher’s case, her condition had not been categorized nor presented as being in the severe range. A high bar required to be met to justify a departure from the default position of publication. The material presented by the Teacher in this respect did not meet that high bar.

However, the Panel judged that when balancing the interests of Pupil A against the public interest in publication, there were compelling reasons to justify the grant of the application. The Panel noted Pupil A’s age and status at the time of the allegations. [redacted]. Further, the Panel had information that there had been press interest in the Teacher as well as Pupil A and his family around the time of the allegations and were provided with examples of the nature of that interest. The Panel noted that the previous Panel had similarly been conscious of that. Whilst Pupil A’s name had already been anonymised, the Panel’s view was that publication of the details specified in its order would nevertheless allow for and lead to indirect or jigsaw identification of Pupil A. Having regard to the factors identified the Panel decided that the balance of the competing interests on this occasion weighed in favour of protecting the private interests of Pupil A over the public interest in openness and transparency.

Accordingly, the Panel ordered that particular information be anonymised in the published version of the Panel meeting decision on 10 December 2019. The information to be anonymised is:

  1. The Teacher’s name and registration number;
  2. The name of the school and local authority; and
  3. Personal details about Pupil A.

The Panel concluded, for the reasons set out above, that there were compelling reasons in the particular circumstances of this case to justify anonymising those details in order to prevent the indirect identification or jigsaw identification of Pupil A.