Increasingly the TRA are accepting and investigating referrals brought by members of the public rather than employers. These can be from a hostile parent, carer or relative of a pupil or simply anyone with a gripe.
In early 2023 a small but significant change on the TRA website has caused the numbers of such referrals to take off. This has significantly added to our workload in preparing “case to answer” submissions. The reason? There is now a public portal through which the disgruntled can make a referral of any teacher who displeases them. Perhaps that is as it should be in a democratic society, but it is an open door for cranks and complainers. The TRA attempts a first sift to weed these out, but are increasingly asking their external law firms to carry out a full investigation and frame allegations even when it is clear they lack merit. Sometimes we suspect the TRA do so to pacify serial complainers and litigators from going after them.
So this year we have had to represent dozens of teachers who have faced this preliminary but formal stage of investigation by their regulator. To persuade the TRA there is no case to answer is not easy – we have to show either there is no credible evidence for what is being alleged, or if there is, the alleged conduct is not serious enough to refer given the guidance and that a prohibition order is the only sanction. This involves a lot of work at an early stage for our client (usually on top of the day job as there has been no dismissal). We carry out a forensic analysis of the allegations and evidence then collate witness statements, sometimes with reams of supporting documents.
A glance back over these casefiles this year reveals:
- Several cases of alleged assault which were in fact appropriate restraints or self-defence.
- Alleged serious safeguarding failures that turned out to be technical disputes about systems and paperwork.
- Alleged victimisation which was in fact appropriate sanctioning or exclusion of pupils
- Inappropriate communications that were attempts to support pupils with their issues
We have a good track record, but have to say we think the decision-making of the anonymous TRA case managers (independent panels do not get involved at this stage) is not always consistent or judicious, so both evidentially weak and non-serious allegations are being referred. Everyone working in frontline public service faces unfair complaints or sometimes makes an honest mistake. The TRA should not be creating work for itself out of those cases.