GTC Scotland

The General Teaching Council for Scotland

General Teaching Council for Scotland Fitness to Teach Panel Outcome

           

Full Hearing Outcome

10 and 11 March

 Teacher Tracie McGee (present and represented)
 Registration Number 185119
 Registration category Applicant - Primary
 Panel Arthur Stewart (Convener), Michelle Farrell and Helen James
 Legal Assessor Robert Frazer
 Servicing Officer Kirsty McIntosh
 Presenting Officer Catriona Watt
 Teacher's representative Darren Wapplington (NASUWT)

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; and
  • the 'Register' means the GTCS Register of Teachers

Preliminary Issues

Late papers

The Presenting Officer, on behalf of GTCS, made an application for the original Notice of Presenting Officer’s Case Forms dated 17 May 2019 and 12 November to be received late. The Presenting Officer explained these had inadvertently been omitted from the Full Hearing bundle and, in the circumstances, it was appropriate to allowed them to be received late. Mr Wapplington, on behalf of the Applicant, did not object.

Having taken legal and procedural advice the Panel determined that it was fair and reasonable to allow the papers to be received. There was no prejudice to the Applicant, and it would be of assistance to both parties and the Panel in considering the history of the case and the Applicant’s preliminary application.

Cancellation Application

Mr Wapplington, on behalf of the Applicant, made an application to cancel proceedings in terms of Rule 2.5.1. He did so on the basis that the allegations had been changed since the original Notice of Presenting Officer’s Case Form and the decision of the Procedural Hearing on 26 August 2019. He submitted that the allegations as framed in the Notice of Presenting Officer Case Form dated 10 February 2020 were more than 5 years of age and, as such, were caught by Rule 2.1.1(b) which state that allegations of that age should not be considered, unless justified by the public interest. He submitted that there was no such justification in the present case.

Mr Wapplington adopted his written submissions in support of his application. He acknowledged that a previous application to cancel had been refused but the present allegations as contained in the Notice of 20 February 2020 were significantly different in wording to the Notice of Presenting Officer’s Case Forms dated 17 May and 12 November 2019. Whilst the original notice was based on a reference to the decision of the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC), dated 8 and 30 September 2016, there was no such reference in the current notice and it would therefore be necessary for the allegations, as now framed, to be proved in their entirety. Mr Wapplington submitted that this amounted to a fundamental change to the case and the approach that would require to be taken in defending the Applicant. He submitted that this was inherently unfair to the Applicant and, for these reasons, the case should be cancelled. Mr Wapplington further submitted that the Applicant has the opportunity of commencing her provisional registration at the start of the next academic year and there was a real possibility of this being lost if the case were to proceed and not be cancelled.

In response, the Presenting Officer opposed the application. She adopted her written submissions as contained in the bundle of documents. She submitted that the wording of the allegations were not fundamentally different to those in the original notice and, in any event, given that they involved repeated dishonest behaviour towards vulnerable persons it was in the public interest for the case to be determined at a Full Hearing. The Presenting Officer submitted that it was very unusual for a case to be cancelled and such an application required very careful consideration. It was necessary for the Panel to balance the interests of the Applicant against the public interest. In doing so, it was necessary to have regard to the nature of the allegations and the objectives of GTCS in protection of the public and young persons, as well as the wider public interest. Taking everything together she submitted that it was not in the public interest for the case to be cancelled.

In making her submission the Presenting Officer stated that her intention was not to call any witnesses in support of the allegations on the basis that she intended to rely on Rule 1.17.20 to prove them. Rule 1.17.20 made clear that where an applicant has been subject to a previous adverse finding by another regulator it is sufficient for that decision to be proved by means of an appropriate certificate from the regulator concerned. In this case the finding of the SSSC was in September 2016 which was within the 5-year prescriptive period in terms of Rule 2.1.1. The Presenting Officer also referred to the Procedural Hearing decision of 26 August 2019. She submitted that this decision made very clear that the panel at that time had considered that the allegations amounted to Relevant Conduct in accordance with the Rules and were so serious as to be the exception to Rule 2.1.1(b) on the wider public interest grounds.

The Panel heard and accepted the legal advice provided. It had regard to the oral submissions together with the full written submissions that had helpfully been provided in advance. It noted the very serious nature of the allegations which involved repeated dishonest behaviour by the Applicant at a time when she was employed as a social worker. It noted that, because of those allegations, she had been the subject of disciplinary proceedings by the SSSC which resulted in an adverse finding being made against her in September 2016. Given that the present case was based on that decision of the SSSC the Panel considered that it did fall within the 5-year prescriptive period and was therefore covered by Rule 2.1.1(b). In addition, the Panel considered that the allegations were sufficiently serious in themselves to justify the matter being considered by the GTCS and it was in the public interest, in any event, for the case to proceed against the Applicant. The Panel was not persuaded that proceeding with the case was fundamentally unfair to the Applicant. She had engaged throughout these proceedings, was represented and in a position to give evidence if she chose to do so.

For all these reasons the Panel refused the application to cancel the case.

Application to Amend

Of its own volition the Panel, with reference to Rule 2.8.4, raised with parties its intention to consider amending the allegations by amending the stem of Allegation 1 to:

‘1  Between January 2013 and December 2014, whilst employed by South Lanarkshire Council as a Social Worker, you did: …’

And, in addition, at the end of Allegation 2 but before the final stem to insert the following:

‘As a result of the above, you were removed from the SSSC Register of Social Workers on 30 September 2016.’

Ms Watt, on behalf of GTCS, did not object to the application but proposed that the words ‘all of’ be added between the words ‘As a result of’ and ‘the above’ where proposed in the second amendment. The Applicant’s Representative, on behalf of the Applicant, did not oppose these proposals.

Having considered matters further, in accordance with Rule 2.8.4, the Panel determined that such amendments were relevant and fair in that they set out more clearly the basis for the allegations brought against the Applicant. It also considered that such amendments could be made without injustice being caused to the Applicant as they did not fundamentally alter the nature of the allegations against her.

For these reasons the Panel agreed to amend the allegations accordingly.

Allegations

The allegations against the Applicant considered at the hearing were as follows:

  1. Between January 2013 and March 2014 whilst employed by South Lanarkshire Council as a Social Worker, and during the course of that employment, you did:
    1. on about 6 March 2014, record that you had undertaken a home visit to service user AA and met with AA prior to any visit having taken place, and in so doing you were dishonest;
    2. on 7 March 2014:
      1. initially advise your line manager ZZ that you had contact with AA on 6 March 2014, which you knew to be untrue, and in doing so you were dishonest; and
      2. advise your line manager ZZ that you had previously telephoned AA’s father on the telephone number recorded on ‘SwisPlus’ and spoken with him to arrange the visit, despite this telephone number being unobtainable; and in doing so you were dishonest;
    3. on about 14 March 2014, initially record that you had visited and seen BB on 14 March 2014 for a Supervising Officer’s visit when you did not conduct a visit to BB on that date, and in doing so you were dishonest;
    4. on 17 March 2014, amend the date of a visit to BB from 14 March 2014 to 24 February 2014 and in doing so you were dishonest;
    5. between about 1 July 2013 and 17 December 2013 in relation to service user CC who suffers from Huntington’s Disease and regarding whom health concerns had been raised by health practitioners:
      1. between 1 July 2013 and 23 October 2013, fail to respond to several messages from a Senior Huntington’s Disease Specialist in relation to CC;
      2. on 5 November 2013, fail to attend a pre-arranged visit with CC and a Consultant Psychiatrist; and
      3. on 17 December 2013, fail to attend an urgent pre-arranged health visit with CC and a Consultant Psychiatrist and in doing so you failed to meet relevant standards of practice and put CC at risk of harm.
  2. Between November 2014 and December 2014, whilst employed as a Locum Social Worker by Service Care Solutions and whilst working for Argyll and Bute Council, you did:
    1. on 9 December 2014, at Compass House, 11 Riverside Drive, Dundee, whilst giving evidence at a reconvened Preliminary Proceedings Sub-Committee and whilst under caution:
      1. state that Service Care Solutions were aware that you were under investigation by the SSSC when this was not the case, and in doing so you were dishonest; and
      2. state that you were advised by a representative of Service Care Solutions that you did not need to inform Argyll and Bute Council that you were under investigation by the SSSC, and in doing so you were dishonest and in doing so you failed to communicate in an open and accurate manner.

As a result of all of the above, you were removed from the SSSC Register of Social Workers on 30 September 2016.

And in light of the above it is alleged that your fitness to teach is impaired and you are unfit to teach, as a result of breaching Parts 1.3, 1.4, 1.5 and 1.6 of the General Teaching Council for Scotland’s Code of Professionalism and Conduct.

Applicant’s Admissions

The Applicant thereafter admitted the allegations in full and admitted that her fitness to teach was impaired. She denied, however, that she was unfit to teach.

Hearing Papers

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. Investigation Report (final)
  2. Copy of decision of Scottish Social Services Council Conduct Sub-Committee, dated 30 September 2016
  3. Response to Notice of Investigation, dated 20 March 2018
  4. Character references, dated June 2018
  5. Notice of Panel Consideration, dated 11 July 2018
  6. Response to Notice of Panel Consideration, dated 8 August 2018
  7. Letter from [redacted] regarding SSSC, dated 1 August 2018
  8. Notice of Full Hearing, dated 10 February 2020, with email delivery/read receipts
  9. Cancellation application by the Applicant dated 27 February 2020
  10. Presenting Officer's submissions on cancellation application dated 4 March 2020
  11. Procedural Hearing Decision dated 26 August 2018
  12. Emails from Servicing Officer to Parties regarding outstanding procedural issues dated 23 December 2019 and 6 January 2020
  13. Notices of Presenting Officer's Case dated 17 May 2019 and 12 November 2019 (late)

Summary of Evidence (Fitness to Teach)

Given that the Applicant admitted the allegations the Panel initially found them proved by reason of her admissions.

The Applicant then elected to give evidence in relation to her fitness to teach. She outlined her career history as a Social Worker which commenced in 2010. She explained that she was employed in the Adult Care Team responsible for a number of service users, including children and families. She stated that she enjoyed her job but following a change of Team Leader she found it increasingly difficult to cope and she accepted that ‘she let everyone down’. At this point in her evidence the Applicant started to become upset. Whilst she continued to give evidence it became apparent that she did not accept many of the allegations and, where she did accept them, she did not always accept that her actions were dishonest.

As a result, the Convener specifically took the Applicant through each of the allegations one by one and asked her to admit or deny each of them individually.

The Applicant thereafter admitted allegation 1 (a) and accepted that this was dishonest. She admitted the factual part of allegation 1 (d) but denied she had acted dishonestly. She admitted the factual element of allegation 1 (e) (ii) but denied that she had failed to meet the relevant standards of practice or put service user CC at risk of harm.

The Applicant denied all other allegations in their entirety, namely; 1 (b) (i), 1 (b) (ii), 1 (c), 1 (e) (i), 1 (e) (iii), 2 (a) (i) and 2 (a) (ii). She thereafter denied that her fitness to teach was impaired or that she was unfit to teach.

As a result of this change of position the Panel determined that, with the exception of allegation 1 (a), all the other allegations would require to be proved by GTCS.

Application to Adjourn

Following this change of position by the Applicant, the Presenting Officer made an application to adjourn the Full Hearing in terms of Rule 1.7.12. She submitted that due to the change she would require to lead evidence in support of the all the allegations, with the exception of allegation 1 (a). She explained that she had been unaware of the Applicant’s position until the commencement of the Hearing and had assumed that GTCS would be entitled to rely on the certificate from the SSSC in accordance with Rule 1.17.20 to prove the allegations. Given the Applicant’s position as stated to the Panel it may now be necessary for witness evidence to be led in support of the allegations which were denied. In order to do so the Presenting Officer requested that the Full Hearing, at this point, be adjourned to enable her to make enquiries of the relevant witnesses and take steps for them to be cited. She also wished the opportunity to see if a transcript of the SSSC tribunal hearing could be obtained and potentially used in these proceedings.

Mr Wapplington opposed the application to adjourn. He submitted that it was for GTCS to prove its case and given the length of time that had been taken in the matter reaching the date for a Full Hearing it would be unfair to the Applicant to adjourn the case at this point. He submitted that the Applicant was very anxious abut the matter and concerned that her prospects of employment as a probationary teacher later in the year would be affected by a further delay to her case being heard.

The Panel carefully considered all matters, including the change in the Applicant’s position once she had started to give evidence on her fitness to teach. It had regard to the nature of the allegations and the history of the case. It took into account the parties’ submissions together with the legal advice provided. It had regard to Rule 1.7.14 when considering the application to adjourn. It also took particular account of the general objectives of GTCS which, included protection of the public and young persons, as well the wider public interest. It further noted, in terms of Rule 1.3.7, that the purpose of the Rules which were to allow cases to be dealt with ‘fairly and justly’, with reference to Rule 1.3.8.

The Panel firstly determined that the allegations were very serious involving potentially vulnerable service users when the Applicant was working as a social worker. The allegations spanned a considerable period of time and also involved instances of alleged dishonest conduct.

The Panel considered that whilst Rule 1.17.20 allowed GTCS to rely on a certificate from the SSSC in relation to its findings in September 2016 this was simply to the effect that it amounted to evidence of a prima facie case against the Applicant, as opposed to a conclusive one. This could be contrasted with Rule 1.17.18 where an extract conviction in a criminal case does amount to conclusive proof of the conviction on which an allegation was made. The Panel therefore considered that in order for the allegations to be capable of proof by GTCS to the necessary civil standard, evidence would require to be adduced in support of them and that the certificate from the SSSC was unlikely to be sufficient for that purpose. It accepted that the Presenting Officer was not in a position to lead such evidence at this time and would require some time to contact witnesses and thereafter cite them to attend a hearing.

The Panel next took account of the history of the case to date. It noted that the matter had been referred to GTCS in early 2018, which was just over 2 years ago. It noted the Panel Consideration decision of 8 August 2018 and the Procedural Hearing decision of 26 August 2019. It took account of the position as had now been stated by the Applicant. Taking everything together it considered that whilst the matter had taken some time to reach a Full Hearing, part of the delay was attributable to the Applicant’s previous application to cancel (which was refused) and her very recent change of position in relation to the allegations themselves.

The Panel was now satisfied that the Applicant had properly stated her position in relation to the allegations and that it was in the public interest that they be determined in accordance with the GTCS process. The allegations were serious and public confidence in GTCS would be undermined if the allegations were not properly examined at a Full Hearing.

Having balanced the GTCS position against that of the Applicant the Panel determined that it was appropriate and proportionate to adjourn the hearing to enable GTCS to lead evidence in support of the allegations. In doing so it considered that any prejudice to the Applicant was outweighed by the need to ensure that public protection and the wider public interest was maintained by the ongoing regulatory process.

For the above reasons the Panel agreed to grant the Presenting Officer’s application to adjourn. It was conscious of the history of the case and the need for the matter to be brought to a Full Hearing as soon as practically possible. It therefore also determined that the Presenting Officer should be given (i) until 18 March 2020 to see if it was possible to obtain a transcript of the evidence from the SSSC tribunal hearing; (ii) until 25 March 2020 to contact prospective witnesses and ascertain their availability to attend the hearing; and, (iii) to disclose such information to the Applicant by 8 April 2020.

In addition, the Panel confirmed that the Servicing Officer will liaise with parties and the Panel to consider new dates for the Full Hearing between 8 April and 30 June 2020. The Panel hoped that this would be sufficient time to enable new dates to be fixed and the matter concluded within a realistic timescale.