If a teacher is referred for disciplinary measures relating to an act of serious misconduct, the National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) will set about a process of investigating and, if required, imposing sanctions.
In the second of our of series of blogs on legal services for professionals, we will help you to understand what constitutes an offence, the process of sanctioning, and provide clarity on the support available for you as a teaching professional.
WHO ARE THE NATIONAL COLLEGE FOR TEACHING AND LEADERSHIP?
The NCTL is an executive agency for the Department of Education in the UK. One of its key tasks is to manage over 1,000 referrals made each year that include allegations of serious misconduct made against teachers. It holds case hearings to consider whether the teachers referred to them should be sanctioned and, in extreme cases, restricted from being able to teach in England again.
WHAT SORT OF OFFENCES ARE CONSIDERED AS MISCONDUCT?
Misconduct is used to describe offences for which a verbal or written warning from the school/college will normally suffice. These include minor incidents of:
- unsatisfactory time-keeping
- unauthorised absence from place of work
- unprofessional conduct to pupils, staff, parents or visitors
However, repeated offences of the list above can be considered to be serious or gross misconduct, which in turn can increase the severity of the discipline.
Serious or gross misconduct also applies to offences that would normally warrant dismissal from your job, such as:
- physical violence – actual or threatened.
- malicious damage to property belonging to the school, its employees or others
- harassment, including sexual harassment, of other staff, pupils, parents, visitors etc
- attending school under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs
- corrupt or improper practices
WHAT ARE THE SANCTIONS THAT CAN BE IMPOSED?
The NCTL considers sanctions of three types, of escalating severity.
- temporary suspension
- dismissal from your current job.
- a prohibition order: meaning that you are banned from teaching for life and cannot teach in any school, sixth form college, 16-19 academy, relevant youth accommodation or children’s home in England. This includes academies, free schools and independent schools. It is possible to have interim prohibition orders assessed during periods of investigation.
The most common outcome of hearings in the last year were prohibition orders for serious/gross misconduct.
WHO ELSE IS PRESENT AT A HEARING?
At a hearing, there will be an independent panel of three people who will review the case, an NCTL lawyer (known as a presenting officer), an independent legal advisor to ensure a fair hearing. You are also welcome to bring someone, a lawyer, as your representative.
IS IT POSSIBLE TO AVOID THE PUBLICITY OF A HEARING?
NCTL hearings are, in general, held in public.
The details of forthcoming hearings appear as a notice on the government website five working days before it is due to take place. Members of the press and the public are able to attend professional conduct panel hearings and a small number of observer places are available for this purpose.
However, hearings may sometimes be held in private, for example to protect children or vulnerable witnesses, and not at the teacher’s request.
The outcomes of each case are also published on the website.
WILL MY UNION OR INSURANCE COVER MY LEGAL FEES?
If you find yourself in need of legal support, you should check the terms of your relevant policy.
You may have a household policy which covers legal fees or you may have legal expenses insurance.
You should be aware that some insurers will state in their terms that you must use one of their prescribed solicitors, however, the true position is that you do not have to go with their choice. The Insurance Companies (Legal Expenses Insurance) Regulations 1990 allow you to choose which solicitor will be appointed in respect of any proceedings conducted on your behalf.
Some unions may offer preliminary help and legal advice and provide you with financial assistance towards your legal fees.
It is worth noting that legal rights have time limits, so it is worth checking with your union and insurers as soon as possible.
HOW WE CAN HELP WITH DISCIPLINARY PROCEDURES FOR TEACHERS
If you are subject to a disciplinary hearing from the NCTL, they will have explained their reason for doing so in a letter. We will review your case and advise you on your chances of success. We will explain the processes and advise you on the best way of proceeding, and set about gathering evidence to support your case.
At your hearing we will represent you and argue that you are fit to practise and show how this is supported by the evidence obtained.