Regulating the Teaching Profession
Teachers can face allegations of many offences – ranging from breach of trust to allegations of sexual offences (please see our Abuse of Position of Trust and Sexual Offences page for information on these particular offences).
In this blog, we look at how the teaching profession is regulated and the key steps involved in any investigation. It is important to have access to high quality, knowledgeable legal advice throughout any regulatory procedure. At Tuckers Solicitors, we have extensive experience in this field and are here to guide you through the process.
In England, the Secretary of State is responsible for the regulation of the teaching profession. In reality, the Secretary of State acts through the Department of Education’s executive agency – the National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL).
The NCTL receives referrals from employers, members of the public and the police, amongst others, in cases involving teacher discipline.
The NCTL, upon receipt of a referral, will ensure that the complaint relates to an English teacher and that the case involves serious misconduct. It may be at this stage that no further action is taken. Alternatively, the case may proceed to investigation.
The Investigation Stage is a three-stage process. First, the NCTL will complete an initial assessment. The purpose of this is to decide if a case involves potential unacceptable professional conduct, behaviour that may bring the profession into disrepute or if the case involves a teacher who may have been convicted of a relevant offence. If a prohibition order may be appropriate, the NCTL will begin an investigation. Again, at this stage it may be decided that there is no need for further investigation.
If there is further investigation, the second stage involves considering whether an Interim Prohibition Order (IPO) should be made. An IPO means that the teacher in question will not be able to teach until the case in hand is resolved. In making this decision, the NCTL will consider the seriousness of risk to pupils and the public and will balance this against the interests of the teacher. Any decision must be proportionate.
The third stage of the investigation involves the full formal investigation. The teacher and referrer have 28 days in which they can submit evidence, which will be considered by the NCTL. Experts will be consulted – including legal professionals – and a decision will be taken as to whether to proceed to a hearing.
After investigation, a case may be referred to a professional conduct panel, which is generally comprised of three persons, who will be made up of professionals and lay members. At least one of the members will be a teacher or have been a teacher in the five years prior to their appointment to the panel system and who will have actively taught in the last seven years. The lay member will never have worked as a teacher. One member of the panel will be the chair.
At the proceedings, the teacher can represent themselves or be represented by someone of their choosing – which can include a lawyer.
The NCTL will also make a legal adviser available to support the panel. The legal adviser will advise on questions of law, mixed questions of law and fact, procedural matters and any other relevant legal matters. The legal adviser can also ask questions of witnesses.
At the panel hearing, further evidence can be submitted and witnesses can address the panel. Witnesses will take an oath and be required to tell the truth. A child or vulnerable witness will only give evidence if the welfare of the child or vulnerable witness will not be prejudiced. Measures can be adopted to protect the interests of a child or vulnerable witness, ranging from the use of video link, to the use of pre-recorded evidence, to the use of an intermediary.
If the offence in question is a sexual offence, the teacher cannot examine or cross-examine the witness who is the alleged victim.
A professional conduct panel can exclude the public from the hearing or form part of the hearing. This can only be done where it is necessary in the interest of justice, the teacher requests a private hearing and that panel does not consider that to be contrary to the public interest, or it is necessary to protect the interests of children or vulnerable witnesses.
The panel will then decide whether to recommend to the Secretary of State that a prohibition order should be granted. The decision then rests with the Secretary of State and the relevant parties will be informed of the decision in writing.
The granting of a prohibition order will mean that the teacher will not be able to undertake unsupervised teaching work. The order amounts to a lifetime ban. The NCTL guidance on these orders states: “[a] prohibition order is likely to be appropriate when the behaviour of the person concerned has been fundamentally incompatible with being a teacher.” In short, the orders are designed to protect pupils, maintain public confidence in the profession and uphold proper standards of conduct.
Contact our Regulatory Law Experts in Manchester and London
At Tuckers, we understand the sensitivities involved in any regulatory investigation. We have extensive experience of working with teachers and their regulator. Any investigation can be deeply distressing – particularly when your career is in jeopardy. At Tuckers, we have experienced, knowledgeable lawyers ready to guide you through the process, protect your interests and ensure the best possible outcome for you. Please contact Stuart Sutton on 0808 169 5980 or firstname.lastname@example.org.