GTC Scotland

The General Teaching Council for Scotland

Comhairle Choitcheann Teagaisg na h-Alba

General Teaching Council for Scotland Fitness to Teach Panel Outcome

           

Panel Meeting - 9 December 2020    

 Teacher Tunde Szombathy
 Registration Number 156859
 Registration category Secondary – Religious Education
 Panel Joanne Sharp, Jacqueline Blair and Alison Reid
 Legal Assessor James Mulgrew
 Servicing Officer Hannah Oakley
 Presenting Officer Laura Bowen, Anderson Strathern
 Teacher's representative John Muir

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 2017 or refers to a provision (or provisions) within them.

Background

The Panel Meeting was arranged to consider the following:

  • An application made by the Presenting Officer that the Teacher’s Full Fitness to Teach Hearing be conducted virtually.

By default, GTCS conducts all its fitness to teach hearings in person in its dedicated Hearings Suite at its office in Edinburgh. However, a Fitness to Teach Panel may order that all or any part of a hearing may be conducted by the use of electronic communications provided the method adopted allows the parties, the Panel and any witnesses to attend remotely, and, where the hearing is in public, allows the public to view proceedings.

Electronic communications are commonly used for witnesses to give evidence by participating from a remote location. In addition, an entire hearing may be conducted via electronic communication. Such a hearing is described as a ‘virtual hearing’.

At present, due to Scottish Government restrictions and guidelines on public interaction and concerns about public safety as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, hearings in person cannot currently take place at GTCS’ office.

An application for use of electronic communications in relation to a participant taking part in a hearing from a remote location or for a virtual hearing can be made by the party who wants to use electronic communication. The relevant procedure and criteria for determining such applications are set out in the Use of Electronic Communications in Hearings Practice Statement.

Evidence

In accordance with Rule 1.7.17, the Panel admitted all the documents and statements listed below as evidence for the purposes of the meeting:

  1. Presenting Officer’s Virtual Hearing Application, dated 16 October 2020
  2. Appendix to Presenting Officer’s application, dated 16 October 2020
  3. Emails between Isobel Allan, John Muir and Laura Bowen, dated 16 October, 4 November and 12 November 2020.

Preliminary Matters

The Panel did not deal with any preliminary matters.

Application

An application dated 16 October 2020 for a virtual hearing was made by the Presenting Officer. The Panel considered the application and submissions made in response which addressed, in particular, the following factors:

  • Is the Teacher represented?

The Teacher is represented by a solicitor. However, the Teacher’s Representative indicated that neither the Teacher nor the representative will engage in the fitness to teach process further.

  • Does the Teacher have any particular needs or vulnerabilities?

The Panel had no information in relation to this particular issue although the Panel note that the Teacher’s Representative indicates that the Teacher will not participate further in the fitness to teach process.

  • How will the Teacher and Representative, if any, communicate during the hearing?

Not applicable. The Teacher and their Representative will not attend the hearing.

  • The nature of the proceedings and issues to be determined at the hearing?

The proceedings will be a Fitness to Teach Full Hearing. The Teacher is understood to have admitted the allegations. Accordingly, the purpose of the hearing will be to determine the Teacher’s fitness to teach and, if appropriate, disposal.

  • The estimated length of the hearing?

The hearing is expected to last 5 days.

  • The extent and complexity of the issues in dispute?

The Panel do not have information bearing upon complexity of issues in dispute. However, the Panel is advised that the Teacher has admitted the allegations. The issues will relate to fitness to teach and, if appropriate, disposal.

  • Will the hearing take place in public or (partly) in private?

The hearing will take place in public.

  • The volume of documentation to be referred to during the hearing and how documentation will be provided to witnesses for reference, if required?

The documentation to be considered by the Panel will include papers for the Presenting Officer and the Teacher. The papers consist of 140 pages.

  • The nature of witnesses to give evidence at the hearing?

The Presenting Officer has 4 witnesses. The Panel are aware that one witness is a pupil witness. The Panel has no information about the other witnesses.

  • How long is each witness estimated to give evidence for?

The Presenting Officer indicates that each witness will give evidence for 3 hours.

  • Do any of the witnesses have particular needs or vulnerabilities?

None of the witnesses have any particular needs or vulnerabilities. There is a pupil witness in respect of whom special measures may be required.

  • What confidence is there that each witness will be able to follow questions easily and any documents being referred to?

It is expected that each participant will be able to follow questions posed and documents referred to easily.

  • How will witnesses be provided with hearing documentation?

An individual witness bundle will be emailed to each witness shortly before they are due to give evidence.

  • Will all participants at the hearing have access to a suitable electronic device?

It is anticipated that each witness to be called has access to a suitable electronic device. Some have confirmed that to be the case. It is envisaged that GTCS and participants will perform checks in advance of any virtual hearing to ensure that such a hearing is at that time viable.

  • Will all participants have a suitable internet connection capable of coping with the requirements of a virtual hearing?

It is anticipated that each witness to be called has access to a suitable internet connection.

  • Will all participants have an appropriate location from where they can participate alone and undisturbed?

It is anticipated that each witness to be called has access to an appropriate location to participate from.

The Teacher’s Representative indicated to the Servicing Officer that neither the Teacher nor the Representative would participate further in the fitness to teach process. Accordingly, the Teacher did not express a position in relation to the application for a virtual hearing.

Decision

The Panel appreciated that it should balance all the relevant factors outlined above, the interests of the parties and the public interest in deciding whether or not to grant the application.

The Panel carefully considered the application and submissions made in response to it. The Panel had regard to the Rules and to the Use of Electronic Communications in Hearings Practice Statement as well as the advice, as required, of the Legal Assessor and Servicing Officer.

The Panel decided that the balance of the various factors and interests to be assessed in determining the application weighed in favour of granting the application made.

The Panel did not consider that there were any personal, evidential, practical or technical reasons to refuse the application. Given the Teacher’s position in relation to ongoing fitness to teach proceedings there were no issues concerning the Teacher’s ability to participate that the Panel required to determine. It appeared that there were no issues that would preclude a virtual hearing. Further, given the ongoing issues caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, there would be a considerable delay in the progress of the present proceedings if the application were to be refused.

Accordingly, for the reasons set out above, the Panel granted the application for the hearing to take place virtually.