Sometimes teachers fall a little short of expected standard. On those occasions AHDS members may need to start competence proceedings…
This article looks at one such case which was recently concluded at the GTCS as there is important learning for all members within it. AHDS had no involvement in this case and the school involved is unknown to us. The case outcome was published on the GTCS website alongside other recent Fitness to Teach hearing results. You can see the latest cases online at: https://www.gtcs.org.uk/regulation/hearings-schedule-and-decisions.aspx
In brief, the situation in this case was that a teacher was deemed not to be meeting the standard for full registration in five regards. The teacher felt that they were being bullied and harassed by the school leadership and resigned. A referral was made to the GTCS on competence grounds.
The point of this article is not to explore whether the teacher was competent or not. Indeed, the GTCS ruled that the teacher did meet the standard for full registration. Rather, the purpose of this article is to highlight the need for openness and clarity in engaging with teachers about competence concerns so that they have an opportunity to improve their practice and so that any case taken to the GTCS can be successful, should it come to that.
The following is an extract from the findings of the GTCS panel which sets out their views on each of the five areas that the teacher’s practice was highlighted as being deficient:
SFR 2.1.3 – ‘Have knowledge and understanding of planning coherent and progressive teaching programmes’
The Panel noted that the bulk of the Local Authority evidence did not relate to the Teacher’s knowledge and understanding of planning but rather to her execution in that plans were often submitted late. The Panel noted particularly that the Local Authority had stated that the Teacher had met SFR 3.1.1. The Panel noted that there were two positive formal observations of the Teacher’s class which had commented that the classes were well planned and well organised. There was no evidence that the quality of her planning was raised with the Teacher. The Panel considered that there was insufficient persuasive evidence that the Teacher fell short of this standard. The Panel concluded that the Teacher met standard 2.1.3.
SFR 3.1.2 – ‘Communicate effectively and interact productively with learners, individually and collectively’
The Panel considered that there was an overall lack of evidence that the Teacher had not met this standard. Although there was mention of statistical analysis, no evidence was produced and in particular there was no evidence related to benchmarking presented to the Panel. It was not clear to the Teacher that she was being monitored in this area. There was no forensic approach, such as identifying any issues, noting discussions which had taken place with the Teacher and setting out an action plan for improvement. There were no signed notes demonstrating issues had been raised with her. The Panel considered that notes should have been contemporaneous and shared with the Teacher rather than backdated. The Panel considered that there was a lack of evidence to satisfy it that this standard was not being met. Ultimately, the Panel concluded that the Teacher met standard 3.1.2.
3.1.4 – ‘Have high expectations of all learners’
Although there was some evidence of poor-quality work in some jotters and some evidence from casual walk-bys that the class had been disengaged and not challenged, the Panel considered that it was not appropriate to make conclusions from this limited evidence. Such informal observations may be a trigger for starting a formal process but insufficient in themselves to evidence a failure to meet the standard. The Teacher in her oral and written evidence had given uncontradicted examples of her high expectation of learners and how she had sought to challenge their learning and those pupils were being pushed to achieve their potential. One observation commented on effective planning and differentiation. There was no evidence of concerns being raised and discussed with the Teacher. No statistical evidence was produced. The Panel considered that there was a lack of evidence to satisfy it that this standard was not being met. Ultimately, the Panel concluded that the Teacher met standard 3.1.4.
SFR 3.1.5 – ‘Work effectively in partnership in order to promote learning and wellbeing’
The Panel noted that evidence from both the Local Authority and the Teacher was that overall her relationships were good. It noted that the Teacher was said not to have participated in professional dialogue meetings. There were some parental concerns including one from a Primary 1 parent whom the Teacher did not teach. Although there were said to be concerns from classroom assistants, these were not evidenced. The Panel considered that if her communication with pupils did not meet the standard, that would be easily evidenced but no sufficient evidence was placed before the Panel. The Panel noted that the Teacher had said that her personal circumstances had led to a deterioration of relationship particularly with the then Head Teacher. Despite the partial admissions from the Teacher, the Panel ultimately concluded that there was insufficient evidence to persuade the Panel either way in respect of this standard.
3.2.1 – ‘Create a safe, caring and purposeful learning environment’
There were no concerns at all about the health and safety of pupils. The pupils were well looked after. Although the classroom was said to be cluttered and untidy at times, the only photos available to the Panel did not evidence this. There was nothing to suggest that the classroom was unsafe or that learning could not take place there. The Panel considered that there was a lack evidence to satisfy it that this standard was not met. Ultimately it concluded that SFR 3.2.1 had been met.
Accordingly, the Panel determined that the Teacher had met the SFR in relation to all the Standards for Full Registration.
There is a common thread running through the GTCS panel’s response to each of the five elements. That thread is an apparent lack of clarity about the process being undertaken and a lack of evidence to support assertions made about the teacher’s competence. In this case it may have been due to changes in the management team in the school at hand with different perspectives on the competence of the member of staff. Despite that, the need for clarity, evidence and precision are relevant to all situations where competence is being called into question.
For example, to take the final point above (3.2.1). If the teacher’s classroom was dangerously untidy on a regular basis, not only would that be something which it would be essential to raise with the teacher, it would be imperative to keep clear records of the concerns raised and the advice given to support the teacher to successfully address the issue. Evidence is the watchword when it comes to competence cases – evidence must be recorded at all stages, from the ‘informal’ preliminary stage onwards.
The moral of this particular story is that GTCS proceedings are time consuming and onerous for all concerned. They should not be entered lightly. If you have concerns about the competence of a member of staff then competence procedures need to be followed to the letter. GTCS referrals are not the starting point, they are a possible end point of a supportive process if, following support, the teacher is still unable to meet the standard. The 4 stage competence process is very clearly set out in the GTCS Framework on Teacher Competence (https://www.gtcs.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/framework-on-teacher-competence.pdf) – this should be reflected in local guidance and procedures.
If you feel that you have a competence situation arising with a member of staff, your line manager should be able to help and advise you. If not, your AHDS Area Officer will be happy to reflect on your situation with you and to talk about next steps (and will clearly be there for you if you are subject to such proceedings).
Finally, if you are pressed to refer a case to the GTCS but do not feel that the case has merit or that the evidence is not there to properly support the charges being levelled (and to demonstrate that the full process has been gone through openly and constructively) then to do so will only use up your precious time and resources and should be avoided.