Upholding trust in teaching


What do Fitness to Teach Panels do and how do they reach decisions? We spoke to a Fitness to Teach Panel member to find out.

What is the role of Fitness to Teach Panels?

Panels are there to uphold public trust and confidence in Scotland’s teaching profession and GTC Scotland as a registration and regulation body. Teachers can make such a crucial difference to learners’ lives – it is important that we uphold trust in them. They are there to make sure that Fitness to Teach processes are fair, transparent and proportionate.

Who sits on Panels?

Two teachers and one lay person. It’s important to have a lay person as they bring a different perspective. They are supported by a GTC Scotland Servicing Officer, who advises the Panel on any procedural matters, and a Legal Assessor to advise on legal matters.  

What is the Panel Convener’s role?

The Convener sets the tone for a hearing, both in the public and private sessions. They explain the process to hearing attendees and make sure they are listened to and supported. It’s an anxious time for teachers and witnesses and the Convener tries to make them feel at ease so they can participate fully in the process. They make sure that material issues are discussed in the private pre-meetings and debriefs.

What happens during private sessions?

Private sessions are time and space for the Panel to talk through and consider aspects. It could be formulating questions to put to witnesses or discussing points they would like clarified. Panels will also go into private session when they are examining the oral and written evidence before them to determine if allegations or shortfalls in meeting the Standards for Full and Provisional Registration have been proved and what evidence supports this.

If a Panel decides that any allegations or shortfalls have been proved, it will also go into private session to consider if the teacher is currently fit to teach based on all the information presented to it. Finally, the Panel needs to talk about what the outcome in any case should be where it has decided that the teacher’s fitness to teach is impaired.

How do Panels decide what happens to a teacher when allegations are proven?

We use Practice Statements which outline the factors Panels should consider when coming to a decision and help ensure how we make decisions is open and fair. In the most severe case, when a teacher falls significantly short of the standards expected, they are unfit to teach and must be removed from the Register of Teachers.

How does the Panel reach their decision?

There’s a lot involved. Decisions are based on the evidence heard on the day, written evidence provided in advance, the weight given to particular bits of evidence for example hearsay may not have as much weight as direct evidence, relevant case law and the discussion the Panel has in private session.

All decisions are reached according to the principles of proportionality and fairness, and with the rationale for fitness to teach in mind in terms of upholding the public’s confidence in the teaching profession and the reputation of GTC Scotland as its regulator.

Are decisions portrayed accurately in the media?

If you read through a Panel decision (you can find these on the GTC Scotland website), it will underline how complex cases are. Sometimes tabloid headlines don’t reflect that – they often simplify and can sensationalise situations. Panels reach their decisions based on evidence presented to them. Previous knowledge or anything picked up elsewhere needs to be put out of mind.

Why did you decide to get involved with FTT Panels?

I was Principal Teacher of Modern Languages at Carluke High School when I first joined a Panel. I was doing Into Headship and my headteacher, who was a member of GTC Scotland Council, recommended applying to become a Panel member as a professional development opportunity.

I think it is a privilege to sit at a national level and help maintain public confidence in the teaching profession. It allows me to contribute to what the teaching profession means in Scotland.

About the author

Kathleen McCormick is a Fitness to Teach Panel Convener and Quality Improvement Officer in South Lanarkshire Council.