Many of our clients are so desperately worried about what is happening to them, and so concerned to gain a better understanding of how professional conduct panels think, that they read all the published decisions on the Teaching Regulation Agency’s website. This can drive them to despair as it reads like an endless catalogue of misery. They also form the view that everyone is found guilty and the best possible outcome is a declaration that they are guilty but are not prohibited.
But if a teacher is found not guilty, then nothing is published. So even though the hearing took place in public, unless there was a reporter there (and they generally only turn up for high profile cases) there will be no newspaper coverage and no decision on the TRA’s website. So published cases are only the tip of a bigger iceberg made up of many discontinued cases and successful defences.
That said, it is no secret that the bulk of our work involves working with teachers who have made mistakes and done things they regret. We help them develop their understanding of why things went wrong. We then present them to a Professional Conduct Panel to persuade them they should recommend a prohibition is not necessary.
From time to time we come at the problem from the other side. Our client has been told by a variety of HR types that they have done something terrible. They know in their heart that this not true, but they are so worn down by the disciplinary process that they’ve come to believe it is. They arrive in our inbox broken and apologetic, having lost all confidence in their skills and judgement as a teacher. Sometimes they really struggle to engage with the process and just accept that they can never be a teacher again.
One such client was in the National Association of Headteachers who were insistent that we work hard to keep him engaged despite his reluctance. Had he not been in the union he would propbably be lost to the profession. This primary school teacher had sounded off in the staffroom about the poor behaviour of a pupil. He had then gone out to the playground to work in a restorative way with the pupil. He was seen doing so by one colleague. However, there came a point when the pupil bolted and the teacher, fearful that the child could run into danger, acted instinctively to take hold of him. The teacher was off balance at this point of contact and fell, breaking his own foot. The child was uninjured and unconcerned – there was no parental complaint.
A particularly ghastly example of modern HR nonsense followed in which our client lost his job and was referred to the TRA for “inappropriately restraining a child” or what lawyers call an assault. Eventually, the case was heard by a Professional Conduct Panel. They listened carefully to the accounts of all the teachers who had seen different parts of this series of unfortunate events. They listened sympathetically to the teacher and his explanation of why he had acted as he did (a courtesy that his own employer had never extended to him). They concluded that he had acted with the child’s best interest at heart and there had been no assault. Whilst the panel did not approve of his bad language in the staffroom, they had no difficulty in concluding that it did not cross the high threshold required for a finding of Unacceptable Professional Conduct. Finally, they offered reassurance to our client that he was a good teacher who should do his best to get back in the classroom.
Whilst the process of regulation remains unnecessarily unpleasant, be reassured that the Professional Conduct Panel will approach your particular circumstances in an open-minded and essentially sympathetic way. They hold no torch for your employer, and will, where appropriate, completely disagree with the analysis that was used to justify referral in the first place. Not guilty outcomes are possible and were achieved in 25% of our cases in 2023. In other words (and with apologies to Orwell) if there is hope, it lies in the Panel.