GTC Scotland

The General Teaching Council for Scotland

General Teaching Council for Scotland Fitness to Teach Panel Outcome

           

Full Hearing Outcome

28 July, 3-7 August 2020 (Continuation of Full Hearing on 11 and 12 March 2020)

 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
  • the ‘CRO' means Conditional Registration Order
  • the 'IOG' means the Fitness to Teach Conduct Cases - Indicative Outcomes Guidance Practice Statement; and
  • the 'Register' means the GTCS Register of Teachers

Preliminary Issues

At the outset of the hearing the Convener explained that as the hearing was to be conducted remotely it was important that the parties and the Panel adhered to certain procedures to ensure the proceedings were also conducted fairly. This included ensuring that individual microphones were turned off when not speaking, appropriate signals were made when a question was asked or a matter raised, that everyone spoke slowly and clearly to allow proper notes to be taken, regular breaks were to be given every hour and that, at any time, the Applicant was to be able to communicate privately with her Representative if she wished to do so.

The Panel was aware that due to work commitments the Applicant was not present for the duration of the 28 July 2020 but continued to be represented by her Representative. It noted the intention was that the Applicant would be present to give oral evidence on 3 and 4 August 2020.

The Applicant’s Representative made an application for late papers to be received. This was a 24 page bundle which fell into two parts; 22 of the pages related to references and testimonials on behalf of the Applicant for consideration at the second stage of the hearing (on the issue of fitness to teach); the other two pages were part of a witness statement from the SSSC Conduct Sub-Committee hearing held in September 2016.

The Applicant’s Representative explained that the pages of the witness statement had been provided to him by the Applicant and was part of a statement which related to Allegation 1(c) and (d) of the GTCS allegations concerning service user CC. The Applicant’s Representative advised that the statement was taken from the spouse of CC and that he did not have a copy the full witness statement to present. He further explained that the purpose of seeking to introduce the statement was in order to supplement parts of the transcript of the SSSC proceedings which had been obtained in advance and formed part of the hearing papers. He submitted that the document was relevant to the Applicant’s case and her denial of the allegation.

In response, the Presenting Officer did not object to the references and testimonials which were produced. In relation to the other document the Presenting Officer pointed out that it amounted to a partial statement where the witness was not named or identified, nor was it signed and dated. As a result, she could not be satisfied as to its authenticity. She further considered that it was important for the Panel to be aware of the whole contents of the statement in order to understand its full context.

The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. He reminded the panel that the document amounted to a hearsay statement which required to considered on the basis of relevance and fairness. He referred to the cases of El Karout v NMC [2019] EWHC 28 (Admin) and Thorneycroft v NMC [2014] EWHC 1565 (Admin) in considering such matters.

Having carefully considered the position the Panel was content to allow the testimonials and references, comprising 22 pages to be received, albeit late. In relation to the witness statement the Panel was not satisfied that in partial form the document amounted to a witness statement as envisaged by Rule 1.7.23. In order to be relied on the Panel considered that it required to be introduced as a complete statement which showed the name of the witness and was signed and dated by that witness. The Panel also considered that would then allow proper account to be taken of it and, if any part was not relevant to these proceedings that could be redacted in advance, subject to agreement between the parties.

Accordingly, the Panel agreed to allow the papers to be received, subject to the full witness statement being produced and considered in advance.

Background

The Panel had due regard to its decision of 11 March 2020 to adjourn the hearing, part-heard, to allow GTCS to consider its position in light of the Applicant’s change of position in relation to the amended allegations. It also took account of its decisions of 7 May 2020 and 17 July 2020 whereby the Full Hearing was to continue remotely, as a result of the restrictions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. It was conscious of the timescale that was set for the completion of the hearing and, in that regard, noted that it would be able to sit on both 6 and 7 August 2020 should further time be required to conclude the case.

Given the difficulties that had occurred on 11 March 2011 when the Applicant had commenced her evidence the Convener requested that the allegations again be read in full in order that the Applicant’s position could be noted.

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 allegations having been read, the Applicant’s Representative indicated that the Applicant admitted Allegation 1 (a) in its entirety. She further admitted the factual parts of 1 (d) and 1 (e) (ii) but denied acting either dishonestly or failing to meet the relevant standards of practice or put the service user (CC) at risk of harm. She thereafter denied all the other allegations. She accepted that her fitness to teach was impaired at the time of Allegation 1 (a) but she was otherwise not impaired and denied 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. Procedural Hearing decision, dated 7 May 2020
  10. Panel Meeting decision, dated 17 July 2020
  11. Transcript of SSSC Conduct Sub-Committee hearing, dated April-September 2016
  12. Presenting Officer comments on transcript
  13. Applicant’s Representative comments on transcript
  14. Testimonials for the Applicant (late paper)
  15. Statement of BB’s Husband, dated 21 December 2015 (late paper)

Summary of Evidence

The Presenting Officer thereafter opened the case and acknowledged that, having regard to Rules 1.7.15 and 1,7.20, the onus of proof of the allegations that were not admitted lay with GTCS. In relation to Rule 1.7.20 she submitted that this allowed GTCS to rely on the certified decision of the SSSC as prima facie evidence of the facts of the allegations. She therefore proposed to rely on the document along with the written transcript of the SSSC proceedings which had been produced in advance of the hearing and formed part of the hearing papers. She further referred to her written submissions, dated 20 July 2020, which she proposed to use as an aide memoir when taking the Panel to the relevant parts of the transcript when considering the GTCS allegations.

In relation to Allegation 1 (b) (i) and (ii) the Presenting Officer firstly referred to the SSSC decision where, at pages 6 and 7 of the decision, it was stated that it was a matter of agreement between the parties at that time (the SSSC and the Applicant, as the social worker) on 7 March 2015 the Applicant had advised her line manager (ZZ) that she had visited service user, AA, on 6 March 2014. In addition, it was also a matter of agreement in the same SSSC proceedings that the Applicant had advised her line manager (ZZ) that she had previously spoken to AA’s father by telephone to arrange to visit AA on 6 March 2014. In addition, the Presenting Officer referred the Panel to Page 16 of the SSSC decision in which it stated that the SSSC sub-committee had found the witnesses presented by the SSSC to be credible and reliable in their evidence which it preferred to that of the Applicant who it found, for the most part, to be incredible and unreliable. In making these latter remarks the Presenting Officer acknowledged that it was a matter for this Panel of the GTCS to determine issues of credibility and reliability based on the evidence it heard and considered.

In support of the allegation the Presenting Officer referred to the evidence of witness ZZ provided in the transcript in which it stated that the Applicant, at the time, was the social worker for AA, who had suffered a brain injury and was cared for by her family. The witness had been shown and identified a work diary which showed an entry on 6 March 2014 by the Applicant confirming a visit to AA on that date. The entry was recorded on the electronic system known as SwisPlus. Witness ZZ had explained in her evidence that the entry was wrong because it had been recorded before the time when the alleged visit had taken place. As a result, on the following day (7 March 2014) she had spoken to witness TT, her team leader, to advise him of her concerns. Witness ZZ went on to explain that the telephone number for AA as recorded on the system was unobtainable. Witness TT had eventually traced a new number through the care agency who assisted AA and Witness TT then spoke to AA’s father who confirmed that the Applicant had not contacted or seen AA since before Christmas 2013. When witness ZZ challenged the Applicant later the same day the Applicant had maintained that she had visited AA on 6 March 2014 and arranged the visit through the telephone number which was, in fact, unobtainable. The Presenting Officer thereafter referred to the evidence of witness TT in the transcript where he confirmed the conversation he had with witness ZZ and the steps he then took to speak to AA’s father who confirmed the family had not seen the Applicant since December 2013.

In relations to Allegations 1 (c) and (d), involving service user BB, the Presenting Officer referred the Panel to the SSSC decision at page 7 where it was part of the agreed Statement of Facts that between or around 24 February 2014 and 17 March 2014 the Applicant (in her capacity as a social worker at the time) recorded that she met with BB and her husband on 24 February 2014 and, further, on or around 17 March 2014 contacted an IT project manager at the local authority to request that her recorded visit to BB on 14 March be amended to 24 February 2014. The Presenting Officer submitted that this amounted to an admission by the Applicant during the course of the SSSC proceedings. She further referred the Panel to the Sub-Committee’s findings in fact at paragraphs 53 to 62 (pages 12 & 13) of the SSSC decision which confirmed the position in relation to each of the allegations. The reasoning for the Sub-Committee’s findings were set out at page 25 of the decision where it was stated that ‘In relation to your failure to visit BB on 14 March 2014, the Sub-committee did not accept your varying and inconsistent explanations of your whereabouts on that day…’.

The Presenting Officer thereafter referred the Panel to the relevant parts of the transcript of the proceedings which dealt with these allegations, starting with Allegation 1 (c). She referred to the evidence of witness ZZ where ZZ stated that, with reference to the relevant documents, the Applicant had recorded a statutory supervised visit to BB and her husband on 24 February 2014. Witness ZZ went on to say that it was further recorded by the Applicant that she organised a supervised visit to BB on 14 March 2014. This was confirmed by ZZ referring to the Applicant’s diary for 14 March 2014 which recorded, ‘Home visit to Mr B and BB, as arranged, no answer’.

The Presenting Officer then referred to the evidence of witness TT. He further confirmed, when shown the relevant documents, that the Applicant had recorded visits on the system to BB on 24 February 2014 and 14 March 2014. Witness (Gail Robertson) further confirmed in the transcript that the Applicant had recorded use of a vehicle from the local authority carpool on 14 March 2014. It had been booked from 10am to 4pm on the day. The witness further stated that the car appeared to have been taken to Rutherglen where it stopped at 12.23 and appeared to have been picked up at that time and not used further. That suggested a total mileage of 15 ½ miles.

In relation to Allegation 1 (d), the Presenting Officer referred the Panel to the submissions of the Presenting Officer for the SSSC in which she referred to an email, dated 17 April 2014, between to two employees on the local authority which read; ‘The Task Request reads please unlock 161 for Service User 7215240 dated 14 March in order to amend the date of visit’. The Task Request was raised on 17 March 2014 by the Applicant. The Presenting Officer acknowledged that the Applicant accepted the factual element of the allegation but denied that it was dishonest.

In relation to Allegations 1 (e) (i) and 1 (e) (iii), concerning service user CC, the Presenting Officer referred the Panel to pages 16,17 and 18 of the SSSC decision, and in particular, paragraphs 21 to 38 which set out Sub-Committee’s relevant findings in fact. These findings stated that (para 21) the Applicant (as the social worker) had failed to respond to requests from a Senior Huntington’s Disease nurse between 1 July 2013 and 23 October 2013. They further stated (para 36) that the Applicant failed to attend an urgent pre-arranged health visits with CC and the Consultant Psychiatrist at CC’s home on 17 December 2014. The Presenting Officer then referred to pages 18 and 19 of the SSSC decision where it stated that the Sub-Committee had accepted the correspondence from the Consultant Psychiatrist, ‘in relation to these visits’.

In support of these assertions the Presenting Officer directed the Panel to the evidence of Witness ZZ contained in the transcript. Witness ZZ stated in her evidence to the Sub-Committee that she had become aware of a letter from a Senior Huntington’s Disease nurse concerning CC which was written to the Applicant, as CC’s social worker, which she (ZZ) had not previously seen. The letter indicated the nurse had been attempting to contact the Applicant without response. ZZ had spoken to the Applicant about it and she had said ‘it was a load of rubbish…’. ZZ had then contacted the nurse direct who had told ZZ she had been trying to contact the Applicant since June (no year recorded) and had eventually got hold of her in October (no year recorded). Witness ZZ went on to state that an urgent visit had been arranged for the Applicantto visit CC on 17 December 2013 and she had then seen a letter from the Consultant Psychiatrist stating that the Applicant had failed to attend that visit.

In relation to Allegation 2 (a) (i) and (ii) the Presenting Officer referred the Panel to page 15 of the SSSC decision, where the agreed Statement of Facts showed that, at the time of the SSSC hearing, it was agreed between the SSSC and the Applicant that on 9 December 2014 at the locus specified in the Allegation (Compass House, Dundee) the Applicant, whilst under caution and giving evidence to a reconvened Preliminary Proceedings Sub-Committee of the SSSC stated, (a) that Service Care Solutions were aware that she was under investigation by the Council of SSSC and, (b), state that she had been advised by a representative of Service Care Solutions that she did not need to inform the Argyll and Bute Council that she was under such investigation. The Presenting Officer recognised that it was denied by the Applicant that her actions were dishonest but highlighted that the factual element of both parts of the allegation had been accepted by the Applicant.

The Presenting Officer then took the Panel to the findings in fact of the SSSC decision where (paras 87 to 92) the Sub-Committee determined that the Applicant’s actions were dishonest. In support of this assertion the Presenting Officer referred to the relevant parts of the SSSC transcript. She drew attention to quotes from the Preliminary Proceedings transcript of its hearing on 9 December 2014 at which the evidence of the Applicant was recorded. In particular, she referred to an exchange between that panel and the Applicant. In the passage quoted the Applicant was asked if Argyll and Bute Council knew of the SSSC proceedings to which the Applicant responded, in various excepts, as follows:

‘No….I am employed through an agency called Service Care UK  …and I have made them aware of my circumstances. What they said is that they just wanted to confirm the dates of employment that I had done previously and get up to date references.’

‘Service Care UK so I made the agency aware of it.’

‘When I explained the situation to them they said to me it shouldn’t be an issue but we have to check your references.’

‘I think if I can recall the agency said that they didn’t need to be informed as long as my references were substantiated and I can confirm all the dates from where I worked previously, that wouldn’t be an issue was what they said.’

The Presenting Officer then referred to the evidence of witness XX within the SSSC transcript. He was a senior recruitment consultant for Service Care Solutions. He had assisted in placing the Applicant with the Council. He stated in his evidence that it was the duty of a social worker to offer up any information if they were subject to an investigation by a previous employer. If such information was provided then Service Care Solutions, as the agency, would inform any prospective employer of such information as a matter of due diligence. The Presenting Officer noted that the evidence of witness XX was accepted by the SSSC Sub-Committee as credible and reliable.

The Presenting Officer concluded her submissions by referring to the SSSC decision and the findings that the Applicant’s actions amounted to misconduct where she was found to have abused the trust of and placed service users AA, BB and CC at risk of harm. In making these submissions the Presenting Officer recognised that it was a matter for this GTCS Panel to determine the facts based on the evidence at this Full Hearing, including that of the Applicant. It was the GTCS case that a combination of the certified SSSC decision, together with the transcript of those proceedings and the other hearing papers contained in the bundle were sufficient to prove the allegations, all in accordance with Rule 1.7.20.

Following the conclusion on the GTCS case on evidence the Applicant elected to give evidence under Oath.

The Applicant started by explaining she had qualified as a social worker in May 2010 and had begun to work in September 2010 for South Lanarkshire Council. By 2013 her role involved her working with older adults, carrying out care assessments and transitioning young persons to adult services. She explained that there was a lot of pressure her on her to manage her caseload and deal with certain service users who did not want to engage.

The Applicant was then taken through each of the allegations individually.

Allegation 1 (a), involving service user AA, was admitted by the Applicant. She stated that she had attempted to visit AA on the 6 March 2014 but there was no answer. She had recorded the visit on the SwisPlus system before she had travelled to the house. She stated that her motive for recording the visit which had not taken place was done in order to be efficient rather than for any dishonest purpose at the time. She accepted that in retrospect her actions were dishonest but at the time she was not coping with her job and she did not consider that she was being supported by her line manager, ZZ, with whom she did not have a good relationship.

In relation to Allegation 1 (b) (i) the Applicant stated that she had spoken to AA’s father by telephone at about 9.30 am on 7 March 2014. Witness ZZ had asker her to come into the office to ask if she (the Applicant) had visited AA the day before and she had tried to explain her position but was told to stop by ZZ. She was told not to contact AA or his family, but she had already spoken to AA’s father. She stated that the evidence ZZ gave to the SSSC Sub-Committee was not what happened, and she had never stated to ZZ that she had visited to AA only that she had attempted to do so. She explained that she recalled that it was raining heavily when she had arrived at AA’s house and that there was no answer. She had not left a note to say that she had called.

In relation to Allegation 1 (b) (ii) the Applicant maintained that she had called AA’s father on a second number that was stored on the SwisPlus system. This was because AA’s family were in the process of moving tenancy and the home number had been changed. As a result, it was necessary to look for the second number in a separate tab on the electronic file. She stated that the original number was still working and could not explain why witnesses ZZ and TT stated it was unobtainable.

In relation to Allegation 1 (c), involving service user BB, the Applicant stated that she had visited BB on 24 February 2014 and that this was classed as a Supervising Officer’s visit as it was legally required to be done in terms of the Guardianship Order which applied to BB and her spouse. The Applicant stated that she had intended to carry out a follow-up visit to BB on 14 March 2014 and this had been recorded on the SwisPlus system. The Applicant stated that she went to the address on 14 March 2014 but there was ‘no answer at the door’. She stated that she had not acted dishonestly.

In relation to Allegation 1 (d) the Applicant stated that she amended the date of the attempt to visit BB from 14 March 2014 to 24 February 2014 in order to accurately reflect when she had visited BB and her spouse. By doing so she did not act dishonestly. She stated that this was done on or about 17 March 2014 as she had not noticed her mistake in not recording the visit of 24 February 2014 until then.

In relation to Allegation 1 (e) (i), involving service user CC, the Applicant explained that as a social worker she was not office based and that her role was autonomous. She spent most of her working day on visits and would attempt to return telephone messages on her return to the office later in the day. She accepted that she did not always manage to speak to callers who had left messages and that this sometimes took several days to catch up. She maintained that she did not ignore messages. She stated that the Senior Huntington’s Disease nurse for CC was in the  process, at the time, of moving abroad and she (the Applicant) felt that the nurse was trying to get all her paper work in order before she left. The Applicant did not accept that she had failed to return messages to the nurse over the period from July to December 2013. CC was very vulnerable but had a ‘robust’ care package in place which included provision for two carers. CC lived in a flat below her family in the same block who also provided her with a lot of support. The Applicant was in the habit of seeing CC twice a week. If the nurse had an urgent concern about CC it would always have been possible to contact a duty social worker for assistance.

Allegation 1 (e) (ii) was admitted. The Applicant accepted she was unable to attend the visit to CC with the Consultant Psychiatrist on 5 November 2013 and that she had explained in advance it would not be possible for her to do so as she was the duty social worker at the time.

In relation to Allegation 1 (e) (iii) the Applicant could not give a specific reason for her non-attendance with the Consultant Psychiatrist on 17 December 2013. She explained that CC was a ‘complex’ case and that she never put CC at risk of harm. She would not have wilfully not attended the visit.

In relation to Allegation 2 (a) (i), involving her attendance at the SSSC Preliminary Proceedings Sub-Committee (PPSC), the Applicant explained that after leaving her role as a social worker at South Lanarkshire Council she had applied for other jobs in social work. She had engaged Service Care Solutions (SCS) who were a recruitment agency and had completed an application form for them. She could not recall the form requesting any information in relation to an applicant being the subject of any investigation process. She had made SCS aware that she did not have a good relationship with witness ZZ and that she had taken out a grievance against her former employer. She had explained to SCS that she had been subject to a ‘fact-finding exercise’. SCS told her that it was not an issue. She was unsure when she became aware of the SSSC investigation, but she disclosed this to the individual she dealt with at SCS as she wanted to be ‘upfront from the start’.

In relation to Allegation 2 (a) (ii) the Applicant stated that she was told by her lawyer at the time and SCS that she did not require to disclose the SSSC investigation to her new employer, Argyll and Bute Council, as the investigation process was ongoing and had not been concluded. In doing so she had acted on that advice and was not dishonest.

The Applicant concluded her evidence in chief by stating she had not been properly supported by ZZ at South Lanarkshire Council and this had a negative impact on her. She had been subjected to a stalking campaign by a service user allocated to her which had been very traumatic for her and her family. It affected her confidence and impacted on her [redacted]. She had felt much more supported in her role at Argyll and Bute Council, but the job had finished due to cuts in the financial budget. She had subsequently taken on a role with a care provider for Argyll and Bute.

The Applicant had since retrained as a teacher at Glasgow University. She believed she had much to offer the teaching profession. She had learned from the entire experience with the SSSC proceedings and was now a more confident person who was much better at coping. She maintained that she is open and honest and had not acted dishonestly in relation to the SSSC allegations which she continued to deny.

In cross-examination the Applicant denied that she had interfered with the phone numbers on AA’s file and that she had successfully contacted AA’s father on 7 March 2014 before she spoke to witness ZZ. In relation to BB the Applicant accepted that when she visited on 24 February 2014 this was ‘unofficial’ and was not prepared as a Supervising Officer visit. She accepted that it was recorded on 14 March 2014 as a Supervising Officer visit which was what she initially intended it to be. She insisted she amended the dates to ensure the information was correct and ‘up to date’. In relation to CC the Applicant accepted that CC was a high risk but that all that could be done had been put in place and social work could do ‘no more’. She explained that she and the Senior Huntington’s Disease nurse ‘kept missing each other’. She was unable to attend the visit on 17 December 2014 and, she ‘could not be in two places at once’ but she asked to be kept up to date. She had not disregarded CC and had ‘done everything she could for her’.

Regarding Allegation 2, in cross-examination the Applicant accepted that, with reference to the transcript of the SSSC hearing, she had stated to the PPSC that SCS were aware of the allegations against her. Whilst she had a memory of Witness XX she could not recall the detail of any conversation she had with him. She maintained that she had been open with SCS from the start and had kept them updated. This had included advising them of an interim order that the SSSC had put on her practice. She maintained that she was advised that she should not disclose the ongoing investigation to her employer, Argyll and Bute Council, and that she followed that advice. She concluded by stating that she did not accept the outcome of the SSSC hearing and that supervision notes she had when working as a social worker, and which would have assisted her, had been destroyed by ZZ in advance of the hearing.

The Applicant thereafter answered certain questions from the Panel. She firstly confirmed that she did not have a work mobile phone whilst working at South Lanarkshire Council. She had an office direct dial number and she could be reached either by that number or via the switchboard. Her voice message made clear that in the event of an urgent matter contact required to made with the switch board to be put in touch with the on duty social worker, which operated on a 24-hour rota basis.

In relation to Allegation 1 (a) (service user AA) the Applicant accepted that recording the visit before it had taken place was wrong and that, in doing so, she now recognised that her actions were dishonest. She explained that she did so in a misguided attempt of being efficient.

In relation to Allegation 1 (b) she had not put a note through AA’s door as she did not have a note pad with her as she had not expected there to be no answer. In relation to Allegation 1 (b) (ii) witness ZZ had not asked her about the specific phone number she had used to contact AA’s father and when asked by ZZ if she visited AA on 6 March 2014 she had tried to explain that no one had answered but ZZ had closed her down. She was unable to explain why ZZ and TT could not access the second number through AA’s file.

In relation to Allegation 1 (c) (service user BB) she believed the visit which was recorded for 14 March 2014 as a Supervising Officer’s visit as this would have ‘pulled through’ the SwisPlus system as re-populated itself for such a visit to occur every 6 months. She confirmed she had asked IT to amend this entry but was unsure if it had happened as she did not have access to her computer thereafter.

In relation to Allegation 1 (e) (service user CC) she was unsure if the Senior Huntington’s Disease nurse had her direct dial number to contact her. She did not recall the nurse making any contact by email. Given that there was a multi-agency approach to CC’s care, as the designated social worker it was the Applicant’s responsibility to co-ordinate the various professionals involved with CC. In that way appointments could be made at very short notice. In relation to Allegation 1 (e) (i) she explained that she would have tried to contact the nurse but could not say when she had managed to speak to her. If for any reason she could not attend a meeting for CC, the Applicant would have sent apologies in advance. That is what would have occurred on 5 November 2014. In relation to Allegation 1 (e) (iii) she believed she would have spoken to the nurse in advance to explain that she would attend the meeting if she was able to do so and that she expected to be contacted after the meeting if there was anything for her to follow-up on.

In relation to Panel questions around Allegation 2 the Applicant explained that she understood that South Lanarkshire Council would take no further action against her at the end of the fact-finding exercise when, in any event, she was leaving her post. She further understood that she was not to disclose anything that had been discussed at the PPSC hearing which included the content of the allegations. She recognised that the notice of the hearing was a public record. When she was made subject of an Interim Order, she disclosed this to Argyll and Bute Council with whom she continued to work. By doing so she believed she was following the advice given to her by SCS and her lawyer.

The Applicant thereafter answered questions from the Panel in relation to her fitness to teach as she was unavailable to attend the majority of the remainder of the hearing. She explained that she is currently working in an administrative role with the Scottish Government. She has tried to keep up to date with her teaching knowledge by reading and attending webinars. She had also assisted her daughter, a secondary school pupil, during the Covid-19 lockdown period. She enjoyed mentoring young students and for a long time had wanted to become a teacher. Through working in social work, she believed she had good experience of managing challenging behaviour as well as empathy with and understanding of young persons. She stated that she was not offended by criticism and would always work with others to resolve a problem. She had never experienced accusations of dishonesty or issues around her integrity since the allegations brought by the SSSC. She considered herself an honest person and would always conduct herself in an open and honest fashion. Whilst she recognised that her fitness to teach was impaired by her conduct at the time of allegation 1 (a) (i) that was no longer the case and she was now fit to teach.

The Applicant’s Representative concluded the Applicant’s case by referring to various parts of the SSSC transcript which he submitted supported the Applicant in relation to the allegations that she denied. In addition, he referred to the letter supplied by [redacted], the Applicant’s legal representative at the time of the SSSC hearings as well as the various testimonials supplied for the SSSC hearing which spoke to the Applicant’s honesty and integrity.

Findings of Fact

The Panel gave careful consideration to all of the evidence presented and the submissions made by the parties. It was greatly assisted by the written submissions that both the Presenting Officer and the Applicant’s Representative produced in advance of their oral submissions. The Panel also took account of the Legal Assessor’s advice in relation to its approach to the evidence including the test of dishonesty it should apply, as set out in Ivey v Genting Casinos [2017] UKSC 67.

The Panel had in mind that the burden of proof rested on GTCS and that the standard of proof required is that used in civil proceedings, namely the balance of probabilities.

The Panel noted that this was an unusual case which had been, for the most part, conducted remotely. In addition it was mindful of the fact that the case was brought under Rule 1.7.20 whereby GTCS relied on the certified decision of the SSSC which had found identical allegations proved against the Applicant when she had previously worked as a social worker. In terms of the Rule the Panel noted that GTCS relied on the decision as prima facie evidence of the allegations but accepted that they were not conclusively proved by that decision. The panel noted that GTCS had therefore presented the written transcript of the oral evidence and submissions made at the SSSC hearing in order to support and corroborate the decision. No objection had been taken to the transcript or the accuracy of the recording. In these circumstances the Panel considered it was necessary for the Applicant to rebut the presumption which otherwise favoured GTCS in terms of the rule.

In relation to the Applicant, the Panel considered that she had tended to provide somewhat vague answers which did not always address certain questions directly. As a result, the Panel did not consider her evidence to be wholly reliable. It also considered that she had a tendency to attempt to deflect blame from herself and not accept responsibility for her actions as a social worker. The Panel further considered that she had difficulty in understanding the concept of dishonesty which tended to undermine her credibility. It noted, however, that she was consistent in her position that she was not a dishonest person and that she became genuinely upset on a number of occasions during the course of her evidence when discussing this aspect. The Panel also accepted that she had been the victim of a stalking incident and this, together with difficulties she experienced with her case load and relationship with her team leader (ZZ), had affected her [redacted], at the time.

In relation to the GTCS case the Panel considered that it was not assisted by not hearing from any of the witnesses who had given live evidence at the SSSC hearing. Whilst accepting it was not necessary for GTCS to lead such evidence the Panel did not have the advantage of hearing their oral evidence and could not assess issues of credibility and reliability in the same way as that of the Applicant. It also considered that the certified decision of the SSSC lacked clear and proper reasoning for some of its findings. For example, in parts of the decision it appeared that whilst the SSSC Sub-Committee had not accepted the Applicant’s evidence it did not go on to explain why it preferred the evidence of the other witnesses or make reference to the relevant documentary evidence. This therefore made it difficult for the Panel to place much reliance on the findings which lacked such precision. In addition, the Panel did not have any of the documentary evidence which had been spoken to and so it was unable to consider that evidence in the same way as the SSSC panel had done.

The Panel then looked at each allegation individually in order to determine if they were proved to the necessary civil standard bearing in mind the nature of Rule 1.7.20.

Allegation 1 (a) – Proved by reason of admission

The Panel considered that whilst it was not necessary to comment on this allegation it noted that the Applicant maintained in her evidence that it was only in retrospect that she now recognised that her actions at the time were dishonest. This was an example of the Applicant not accepting responsibility for her actions despite the fact she had recorded a visit to service user AA when this had not taken place. Rather than accept responsibility it noted she attempted to explain her actions on the basis of ‘being efficient’. This had the effect of undermining her credibility even where the allegation was admitted by her.

Allegation 1 (b) (i) – Proved

The Panel considered that the evidence in support of this allegation was found firstly, in the SSSC decision in which it was an agreed Statement of Facts that the Applicant had recorded undertaking a home visit to AA on 6 March 2014 and had then told her line manager (ZZ) on 7 March 2014 that she had contact with AA on 6 March 2014 when this was not the case. Secondly, the Panel noted that in the reasoning of the SSSC decision it was determined that in acting in such a way the Applicant’s conduct was dishonest, albeit with reference to a different test for dishonesty which was now superseded by the case of Ivey. Thirdly, the Panel noted that from the transcript of evidence ZZ stated that she had asked the Applicant on 7 March 2014 if she had visited AA the day before (6 March 2014) and she had replied ‘yes I did’. ZZ then stated that the Applicant had left the office but then returned a few minutes and said, ‘right fine I did go but they weren’t in’.

The Panel noted that in her oral evidence to it the Applicant explained that she had attended at AA’s address on 6 March 2014 but there had been no answer. She had not spoken to AA or any of the family and had left. She maintained that it was raining heavily and she did not have either a mobile phone or a note pad with her to make contact or leave a message that she had called. Given that this was a visit the Applicant had already recorded on the system ‘to be efficient’ the Panel found this assertion very unconvincing. She did not deny that when asked by ZZ the following day that she initially stated she had visited AA. She stated that she had been ‘cut off’ by ZZ and could not give her full explanation.

The Panel considered that when she stated to ZZ she had visited AA the previous day this was plainly untrue. There was no record of any telephone call to arrange the visit. It accepted that she subsequently spoke to ZZ but it considered that, on the balance of probabilities, her actions in advising ZZ she had had contact when she had not were dishonest and that an ordinary and decent person would consider such a statement to be dishonest. Accordingly, the Ivey test was met and the allegation found proved.

Allegation 1 (b) (ii) – Proved

The evidence in support of this allegation the Panel noted that it was an agreed Statement of Facts in the SSSC decision that the Applicant had advised ZZ she had previously telephoned AA’s father and spoken to him to arrange the visit to AA on 6 March 2014. In the transcript TT, a team leader, who had been spoken to by ZZ who had contacted AA’s father on 7 March 2014. The number that was recorded on the SwisPlus electronic file was ‘dead’. He had managed to get an alternative number through AA’s care agency. AA’s father told TT the family had not seen the Applicant since prior to Christmas 2013.

The Applicant stated in her evidence that there was a second number on the SwisPlus system which she had used to speak to AA's father. Whether that was correct or not was, the Panel considered somewhat irrelevant. The issue was whether the Applicant had spoken to AA’s father to arrange the visit. The transcribed evidence of TT was very clear; AA’s father had explicitly stated that the family had not seen the Applicant since December 2013. The Panel considered that would not have been said if AA’s father had recently spoken to the Applicant, who maintained she had spoken to him early on 7 March 2014. The Panel preferred the evidence given by TT to the SSSC hearing. In doing so it considered that the Applicant’s actions in advising ZZ she had spoken to AA’s father to arrange the visit when she said she did were untrue. It considered, with reference to the case of Ivey, that an ordinary and decent person would consider such an assertion to be dishonest. It accordingly found the allegation proved.

Allegation 1 (c) – Not proved

The evidence in support of this allegation was, in the Panel’s consideration, somewhat lacking. There was no direct evidence to support the allegation. It was a matter of agreement that the Applicant had visited BB and her husband on 24 February 2014 which the Applicant maintained was a Supervising Officer’s visit. The written statement of BB’s husband that was admitted by the Panel as a late paper clearly stated that he had a record of such a visit taking place although he could not recall the detail of it. He had no record of any visit by the Applicant on 14 March 2014.

The Applicant’s electronic diary recorded an entry for 14 March at 1.00 pm as ‘Home visit to Mr BB and BB arranged. (No Answer)’. This was consistent with the Applicant’s evidence that she had attempted to visit BB on the date but there had been no response when she had called at the address. The allegation was that she had recorded that she had visited and seen BB on the 14 March 2014 for a Supervising Officer’s visit when she did not conduct a visit to BB on that date. The Panel did not have sight of the diary entry. None of the witnesses at the SSSC hearing had spoken to a different record for the date. ZZ had confirmed the diary entry as recorded. There was no evidence to indicate that it was recorded that BB had been visited and seen (Panel emphasis) on 14 March 2014. There was evidence that the Applicant had access to a car from the car-pool on the date and the time taken and mileage recorded was consistent with travel to BB’s address. That was also consistent with the Applicant’s explanation that she had gone to the address but there was no answer.

The Panel considered the SSSC Sub-Committee reasoning for finding this allegation proved to be badly lacking. Other than stating that it found the Applicant’s explanations for her whereabouts on the day to be varying and inconsistent it did not explain on what evidence it found the allegation to be proved. In these circumstances the Panel was not satisfied there was any real evidence to support the allegation and accordingly found it not proved.

Allegation 1 (d) – Not proved

It was a matter of agreement that the Applicant retrospectively amended the diary entry from 14 March 2014 to 24 February 2014 for her visit to BB. It was an agreed matter of fact that BB was visited by the Applicant on 24 February 2014. The evidence of the diary entry for 14 March 2014 showed that a visit had been arranged for that day but there was ‘no answer’. The Applicant explained that the diary entry would have been automatically entered by the electronic system following the last Supervising Officer’s visit 6 months earlier as such visits required to take place on such a frequency. It was evident no actual visit with BB had taken place on 14 March 2014, despite the Applicant’s attempts. Whilst the Panel considered the entry for 24 February 2014 should have been properly recorded at the time it did not consider, in the circumstances, the amendment to the correct date of the visit could, in any way, be viewed as dishonest. It accordingly found the allegation not proved.

Allegation 1 (e) (i) – Proved

The evidence in support of the allegation was found firstly, in the SSSC decision’s findings of fact and its brief reasons for doing so. Secondly, but more persuasively, the Panel took account of the evidence of ZZ in the transcript where she stated that she inadvertently came across a letter on the Applicant’s work desk from the Senior Huntington’s Disease nurse which expressed ‘significant’ concerns about service user CC and ‘not having contact from Tracie to discuss the concerns for a number of months’ even though she had left telephone calls for her. ZZ explained that she (ZZ) appeared to have been copied into the letter which she had not previously seen. As a result, she contacted the nurse by telephone who advised that she was concerned about a deterioration in CC’s ‘living circumstances’. ZZ thought she spoke to the nurse around mid-November 2013. The nurse had told ZZ she had been trying to contact the Applicant from June but had not got hold of her until October. When ZZ spoke to the Applicant about the matter she stated that the Applicant had disregarded or minimised much of what the nurse had said.

The Applicant in her evidence had accepted there were occasions where, because of her workload, she was unable to return all her phone calls. She accepted that, on occasions, this might have included the nurse but she had attempted to and that they had for a period played ‘phone tig’. The Applicant had also explained that she was the social worker directly responsible for CC and her role in the multi-agency team which delivered CC’s care was as co-ordinator. As such, the Panel considered that there was a clear responsibility on the Applicant which included ensuring the other professionals involved were able to contact and update her on CC’s health and welfare. On this basis the Panel was satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, that the allegation was proved.

In making this decision the Panel noted the very specific dates mentioned in the allegation (1 July to 23 October 2013). It had found no evidence to indicate why they were so specified. The Panel was satisfied that, with reference to ZZ’s evidence and the nurse’s letter, the Applicant had not responded to calls between July and October 2013. In these particular circumstances it did not consider it necessary to amend the allegation to reflect that fact given it made no difference to the seriousness or otherwise of the allegation itself.

Allegation 1 (e) (ii) – Proved by reason of admission

The Applicant admitted the allegation in its entirety. The Panel noted her explanation that she was the duty social worker at the time although it had seen no independent evidence to verify that statement.

Allegation 1 (e) (iii) – Proved in part only

The Panel considered that the allegation was proved in relation to facts but not the failure to meet relevant standards of practice and/or put CC at risk of harm.

The Panel noted that the Applicant had admitted the factual element of the allegation namely that she did not attend an urgent pre-arranged visit with CC and the Consultant Psychiatrist on 17 December 2013. The Applicant in her evidence could not explain why she had not attended other than she would have tried to, but there would have been some work-related reason why she was unable to do so.

The Panel considered that the real issue was whether her failure to do so constituted a duty on the Applicant as a social worker and, if so, she failed to the meet the relevant standards of practice and put CC at risk of harm.

The Panel considered the evidence in support of the allegation was provided by witness ZZ. In the SSSC transcript of her evidence ZZ was referred to a letter from the Consultant Psychiatrist in which he has stated that the Applicant had not attended the visit with CC on 17 December 2013. ZZ was the asked the following question:

‘Would Tracie McGhee have been expected to attend this meeting?’

ZZ answer was as follows:

‘If the psychiatrist had asked her to we would often attend joint meetings with families, but sometimes you’ll will (sic) attend them some time not it just depends on the circumstances but I think the fact that we has specifically asked for this and also as well with the service user we would on occasion use a translator with her so if you weren’t used to her speech it could be difficult to understand so I would be expected that the social worker would go along but not in all cases.’

The Panel considered that, at best, the answer was equivocal. It indicated that a social worker would attend such visits but not always. As ZZ explained it depended on the circumstances and would not happen in all cases. Based on this evidence the Panel was not satisfied that it was established that there was a duty or obligation that the Applicant attend the visit. That being so the Panel did not consider that there was a failure to meet the relevant standards of social work practice or that CC was out at risk of harm. Indeed, the Panel considered that given CC had been seen by her Consultant Psychiatrist on the day she would have received the appropriate examination and treatment regardless of the Applicant’s absence from the meeting.

For these reasons the Panel found the factual element of allegation proved but did not consider it amounted to a failure to meet the relevant standards or put CC of risk of harm.

Allegation 2 (a) (i) – Proved

The Panel noted that it was an agreed Statement of Facts at the SSSC hearing that the Applicant admitted that she stated that Service Care Solutions (SCS) were aware that she was under investigation from the Council (i.e. SSSC). She had also confirmed this in her oral evidence to the Panel. The issue for the Panel was therefore whether in doing so she acted dishonestly on the basis that it was alleged that SCS were unaware of an investigation. The Panel took account of the SSSC Sub-Committee’s findings in fact in support of the allegation. It had regard to the limited reasoning provided in the decision which it did not consider to be particularly helpful. It took more account of the evidence of witness XX in the transcript. He was a senior recruitment consultant with SCS. He did not deal with the Applicant directly but he had spoken to her by telephone. Witness XX made clear that SCS would carry out due diligence on any applicant it was attempting to place in a position and if it became aware of ongoing proceedings against an applicant it would carry out its own investigation and, if needs be, inform the employer immediately. TH (who was not a witness) had dealt directly with the Applicant and XX was explicit in his evidence that if he (TH) had been made aware of the SSSC investigation he would have brought this to the attention to XX.

The Panel contrasted this evidence with that of the Applicant who maintained she had advised SCS of the fact finding investigation by SSSC and had been told by SCS (although it was not clear who she referred to) that she did not need to disclose this. Having considered the conflicting accounts the Panel, on the balance of probabilities, preferred the evidence of XX on the basis it considered it more likely than not that the Applicant had not disclosed the information to SCS. Accordingly, when she gave her evidence at the PPSC under caution she did so in the knowledge that SCS were unaware of the investigation. In doing so the Panel considered that, with reference to the Ivey test, the Applicant was dishonest.

For these reasons it found the allegation proved.

Allegation 2 (a) (ii) – Proved

The Panel again noted that it was an agreed Statement of Facts at the SSSC hearing that the Applicant stated she was advised by a representative of SCS that she did not need to inform Argyll and Bute Council that she was under investigation by the Council (SSSC). The Panel noted that the Applicant confirmed this in her oral evidence to the Panel. The issue for the Panel was therefore the same as in Allegation 1 (a) (i) namely, whether in doing so, she had acted dishonestly and so failed to communicate in an open and accurate manner.

The Panel again had regard to the transcribed evidence of witness XX. It noted his comments as described in relation to the preceding section of its consideration of Allegation 1 (a) (i). This evidence could be contrasted with that of the Applicant who maintained she had been advised by SCS there was no need to inform Argyll and Bute Council of the ongoing SSSC investigation. Whilst the Panel accepted the letter provided by [redacted], the Applicant’s former legal representative, that he had told her not to discuss the content of the SSSC hearing process with anyone it did not accept that this extended to not advising her employer that she was under investigation by her professional regulator. The Panel considered that any professional person would recognise the need to be open with their employer in such circumstances.

The Panel noted that the allegation was that the Applicant stated that she had been told by SCS not inform the Council. For the same reasons as given above (Allegation 1 (a) (i)) the Panel preferred the account of XX and therefore considered, on the balance of probabilities, that in making the statement whilst under caution at the PPSC hearing the Applicant acted dishonestly. Whilst the Panel considered that in doing so she failed to communicate in an open and accurate manner it did not consider that this part of the allegation added anything to overall seriousness of it and for the purposes of the next stage of the proceedings (fitness to teach) could be disregarded.

The Panel accordingly found the allegation proved.

Findings on Fitness to Teach

Having found Allegations 1 (a), 1 (b) (i) and (ii), 1 (e) (i), (ii) and (iii) (in part) and 2 (a) (i) and (ii) all proved the Panel went on to consider whether the Applicant’s fitness to teach is currently impaired.

In doing so it had regard to the submissions of the parties together with the Legal Assessor’s advice. It took full account of the IOG. In particular, it recognised that it must first consider whether any or all of the allegations found proved amounted to misconduct. If so, then it should go on to consider whether the Applicant fell short of the expected standards of a registered teacher with reference to the GTCS Code of Professionalism and Conduct (COPAC).

The Panel considered that the allegations found proved fell into three separate parts: Allegation 1 (a) and (b) involving service user AA over the period from 6 March to 7 March 2014; Allegation 1 (e) (i), (ii) and (iii) involving service user CC over the period from 1 July 2014 to 17 December 2014; and Allegation 2 (a) (i) and (ii) concerning the Applicant’s evidence to the PPSC on 9 December 2014. The Panel noted that Allegations 1 (a) and (b) and 2 (a) involved dishonest conduct on these occasions and Allegation 1 (e) was concerned with failures in the Applicant’s professional practice as a social worker.

In relation to Allegation 1 (a) and (b) the Panel considered the Applicant’s dishonest conduct amounted to a clear breaches of Parts 1.4 and 1.5 of COPAC in that by falsely recording a visit to AA before the event and thereafter lying to her line manager (ZZ) when confronted about it the following day she did not uphold the standards of honesty and integrity expected of a registered teacher. The Panel accepted that the events occurred at a time when she was not a teacher but, given her present circumstances, it considered that anyone entering the profession, as she wishes to do, required to be judged by those standards. The Panel was not persuaded that the Applicant had actually attempted to visit AA on 6 March 2014 as she alleged and this therefore increased the overall seriousness of the matter, particularly in relation to what she stated to ZZ on 7 March 2014.

In relation to Allegation 1 (e) the Panel considered that there was a clear failure by the Applicant to carry out professional duties to be expected of a social worker. This was particularly true in relation to Allegation 1 (e) (i) where over a period of several months she had failed to respond to messages from the Senior Huntington’s Disease nurse in relation to the care of service user CC who suffered from serious health concerns. In her evidence the Applicant had indicated that, as the social worker directly responsible for CC, she was required in her role to co-ordinate the work of the other professionals involved in the multi-agency team. By failing to return calls or respond to messages from one of the medical professionals she clearly failed to uphold the standards expected of a social worker. In doing so she had placed CC at potential risk of harm. By the standards of COPAC this would amount to a failure to uphold standards of professional conduct by which registered teachers are judged (Part 1.5).

The Panel considered that Allegations 1 (e) (ii) and (iii) were less serious in the sense that whilst the Applicant had failed to attend pre-arranged visits with the Consultant Psychiatrist it did not consider that she was under a duty to do so. CC had still been seen and treated by the doctor concerned and was not placed at risk of harm by the Applicant’s absence.

In relation to Allegation 2 (a) (i) and (ii) the Panel considered that lying to a professional panel while giving evidence at a regulatory hearing was serious. The Panel accepted that at the time she was affected by other matters which had impacted on her mental health, including being the victim of a stalking campaign and a poor relationship with ZZ, her former line manager. At the time of the hearing however she no longer worked at South Lanarkshire Council and as a registered practitioner she had a duty to engage and co-operate with her regulator (SSSC). The Panel considered that, by acting as she did, she had showed a disregard for that regulatory process. The Panel accepted that she had not experienced any difficulties in her role at Argyll and Bute Council and had received positive testimonials from colleagues attesting to her professionalism and integrity. This however, did not excuse her conduct in failing to be open, honest and transparent at the PPSC hearing and in doing so she had potentially undermined the reputation of SCS, the recruitment agency who had assisted her in obtaining the job at Argyll and Bute. In doing so she clearly breached the expected standards of a teacher in terms of Parts 1.4 and 1.5 of COPAC.

Taking all of the above together the Panel concluded that the Applicant’s conduct in relation to the allegations found proved amounted to misconduct. In addition to breaches of Parts 1.4 and 1.5 of COPAC the Panel also considered that the Applicant had failed to maintain the expected standard of acting as a role model (Part 1.6) and, in doing so, she had failed to avoid situations which, at the time, called her fitness to teach into question (Part 1.3).

Having concluded that the Applicant’s actions and omissions amounted to misconduct. The Panel went on to consider if, by reason of that misconduct, her fitness to teach was impaired.

With regard to the questions posed in the case of Cohen v GMC [2008] EWHC 581 (Admin) the Panel considered that the various elements of her misconduct were remediable. This included her dishonest behaviour. The Panel considered that dishonesty, whilst difficult to remediate, can be remedied by evidence of subsequent good character and insight. In the present case the Panel was not satisfied that the Applicant had developed the necessary insight to demonstrate her understanding of her behaviour. The Panel accepted that the proven allegations occurred approximately 6 years ago and there was no evidence of repetition. It took account of the positive testimonials in support of the Applicant’s character and integrity which had been prepared for the SSSC hearing in 2016. However, the Panel was not satisfied that she had shown a full understanding of her conduct at the time nor the impact this had on the service users in question, the reputation of the social work profession or the SSSC as its regulator. In these circumstances the Panel could not be satisfied there was no risk of repetition of the identified misconduct.

The Panel therefore concluded that for all the above reasons the Applicant’s fitness to teach is currently impaired as she fell short of the expected standards of a registered teacher, by which she is to be judged.

Having concluded that the Applicant fell short of the expected standards the Panel finally considered whether she fell ‘significantly’ short of the standards so rendering her unfit to teach. With some hesitation, the Panel concluded that she did not fall significantly short of those standards. In reaching this decision the Panel was influenced by the Applicant’s evidence in relation to its questioning of her in relation to her fitness to teach. The Panel was impressed with the passion she displayed in answering its questions and the determination she had shown in moving on from her work as a social worker in order to qualify as a teacher. The Panel accepted that she had learned lessons from this and the SSSC regulatory experience. It accepted that she was now in a better place emotionally and her [redacted] had improved. It accepted that she had life experiences and qualities that could assist young persons and pupils in their education. For these reasons the Panel was prepared to see if she could develop such qualities by looking at the various disposals that are available at stage 3 of the regulatory process.

Accordingly, for all the above reasons, the Panel determined that the Applicant fell short of the standards expected of a registered teacher and that her fitness to teach is therefore impaired.

Disposal

Having concluded that the Applicant’s fitness to teach is currently impaired the Panel went on to consider the various disposal outcomes available to it in terms of the IOG. In doing so it had regard to the parties’ submissions and the legal advice provided. It was reminded that the public interest, including protection of the public and the upholding of proper standards of conduct and performance, was to be at the forefront of its decision making. It was further reminded of the need to act proportionately and ensure that any disposal that was imposed was the least restrictive which enabled public protection and the wider public interest to be addressed. In making this assessment the Panel also took full account of the history of the case, the nature of the allegations, the evidence of the Applicant and the testimonials presented on her behalf.

The Panel then went on to look at the various options in ascending order of severity.

The Panel firstly concluded that this was not a case which justified no further action. Whilst acknowledging the age of the allegations found proved and the length of time that the Applicant had been subject to these proceedings and those of the SSSC it did not consider that allegations involving dishonest conduct could be disposed of in this manner. To do so would undermine public confidence in the GTCS regulatory process.

The Panel next considered a Reprimand. It noted that this is a formal order which remains on a teacher’s registration for a specified period of time. In considering the appropriateness of such an order the Panel commented on the following bullet points contained in the IOG:

  • The allegations did involve abuse of trust in the sense that the Applicant, in her role as a social worker, had been dishonest in her behaviour towards her line manager and regulator as well as failing to adhere to her professional duties to a service user and a nurse;
  • No harm had been caused to a child or pupil but there had been the potential for harm to two vulnerable service users;
  • The Applicant has shown some remorse for her actions but has not developed full insight;
  • The three separate matters could not be regarded as an isolated incident but were confined to a period of approximately 18 months from 2013 to 2014;
  • There has been no repetition of such incidents since; and
  • There is evidence of good character but it is not recent and was prepared for the previous regulatory hearing of the SSSC.

In all the circumstances the Panel was not satisfied that such an order was sufficient to address the concerns it identified and it would not properly address the wider public interest with regard to the nature of the allegations themselves.

The Panel then went on to consider a Conditional Registration Order (CRO). The Panel noted that this required the imposition of certain specific conditions on a teacher’s practice in order to assist in developing areas of weakness or failure and to ensure that issues of public protection and the public interest are addressed. It could also act as a method to support the teacher towards ensuring compliance with standards of practice and performance.

The Panel went on to consider whether, in the circumstances of this case, such an order would be appropriate and proportionate having regard to the nature of the allegations found proved and the Applicant’s current situation. The Panel noted that she is hoping to take up the offer of a probationary placement that has been offered to her.

The Panel noted the evidence given by the Applicant when asked questions on her fitness to teach and the positive impression this had created. It considered that in that regard she was likely to respond positively to the imposition of conditions designed to develop her insight into her failings and, at the same time, allow GTCS to continue to monitor her development and progress. The Panel therefore considered that conditions could be formulated which would allow the Applicant to develop her teaching skills but, at the same time, address the dishonest conduct and lack of professionalism displayed in the allegations found proved. The Panel also considered that in doing so such conditions could adequately address the public interest issues caused by her misconduct. In addition, it considered it was able to identify specific areas of practice in which she had fallen short.

The Panel therefore went on to consider the specific conditions which it considered would be appropriate and proportionate in the particular circumstances of the case.

Firstly, the Panel considered that it was necessary to address the Applicant’s level of insight into her misconduct. This centred around her lack of honesty and integrity at the time of the incidents and her failures in time recording and communication issues. The Panel considered that these could be addressed by the Applicant undertaking specific training in relation to the topic of ‘Professional Ethics’ and thereafter demonstrating, to the satisfaction of GTCS, what she had learned from such training with particular reference to the impact her behaviour had on others concerned with the allegations, including the service users and their families, work colleagues and the social work profession.

Secondly the Panel considered this could be properly achieved by the writing and submission of two separate reflective papers dealing the issues of honesty and integrity together with respect and trust with reference to her teaching practice and the allegations themselves. Such papers would require to be evidence based with proper reference made to case studies and other research.

Thirdly, the Panel considered that the Applicant would benefit from support in her practice as a probationer in order to ensure that such misconduct was not repeated. It recognised that this was would be achieved to some extent by the mentoring system that is likely to be in place when she starts her planned placement. However, it also considered this could reinforced by a report from her Head Teacher to GTCS confirming there had been no issues in relation to her honesty or integrity whilst working at the school.

Finally, the Panel considered that it was necessary for the Applicant to inform any future or prospective employer of the formulated conditions to which was subject. In doing so she would be placed in a position where she would be required to notify such an employer and, if needs be, discuss the nature of the conditions and the reason for their imposition on her practice.

Having considered the GTCS Conditions Bank and discussed the issues at length the Panel determined the following specific conditions to be 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:
    (a) 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
    (b) Any prospective employer covered by (a) above at the time of making your application for employment.
  2. You must inform GTC Scotland within 7 days if you cease to be employed by your current employer or take up any other or further employment as a teacher or for which GTC Scotland registration is required. You must also provide GTC Scotland’s Regulation and Legal Services Team with contact details for any new employer within that same timescale.
  3. You must inform GTC Scotland within 7 days of commencement of any disciplinary or fitness to practise proceedings against you by your employer or any other professional regulatory body.
  4. In the event that you are the subject of enquiry or investigation in relation to alleged criminal conduct, you must inform GTC Scotland's Regulation and Legal Services Team of such enquiry or investigation within 7 days of the date upon which the relevant authorities first contacted you.
  5. If you are employed as a teacher or in a role for which GTC Scotland registration is required, towards the end of each academic year and immediately before the end of the period of these conditions, you must obtain a report from your Head Teacher confirming that there have been no issues concerning your fitness to teach during that year, with specific reference to the issues of your honesty and integrity.
  6. You must complete a course of your choice on the topic of ‘Professional Ethics’ and provide proof of successful completion of that course by no later than 30 June 2021.
  7. You must research, write and submit to GTCS two separate reflective pieces addressing the professional values of ‘Honesty & Integrity’ and ‘Trust and Respect’ based on your reflections of the allegations found proved and your teaching practice as a probationer. The first paper is to be submitted by no later than 31 January 2021, and should refer to research you have undertaken, and be annotated with a relevant bibliography. The second paper is to be submitted by no later than 31 July 2021, and should refer to examples of how you have implemented these values in your teaching practice as a probationer. Both papers should be approximately 5,000 words in length.

The Panel considered that these conditions were achievable and proportionate and would allow the Applicant’s insight and learning into her past failures to be developed and addressed. The Panel considered that the length of such an order will be from this date until 31 December 2021 in the hope that all issues around the Applicant’s fitness to teach will have resolved by then. It will also allow for the Applicant to complete her probationary placement and move to a registered teaching role whilst still being subject to this order. The Panel noted that in the event of the order not being complied with GTCS could take steps to bring the Applicant back before a Fitness to Teach Panel for further consideration as to this proposed disposal.