This was the anguished response of a teacher to a recent decision to end his teaching career and prohibit him for the minimum two year period. And I struggled to give him a good answer.
Unlike factual findings which rest with the panel, the final decision on sanction is made by one of two or three senior TRA executives on behalf of the Secretary of State for Education. They never even meet the teacher or hear the evidence. They are aloof and faceless and it feels completely wrong – imagine sentencing in a criminal court being a paper exercise by a judge who was never even present at the trial!
This was a conscientious client who had followed our advice precisely. He was an accomplished industrial chemist who also had a love for teaching. Out of the blue a former pupil started messaging him. These became flirty and he responded by sending some very foolish messages back when at a very low ebb. These were then used to attempt to blackmail him and extort a pay-off. When he refused they were posted on social media to huge embarrassment. He then bravely explained his indiscretion to literally everyone in his life and community, did the therapy and was forgiven by all. Consequently we had excellent evidence of his reflection and insight to take to the Panel who listened to him with compassion and found:
“[He] had not sought to minimise his conduct or place any blame on anyone else but himself during the school’s investigation. …. The panel was satisfied that [he] has demonstrated meaningful insight and genuine remorse into the harmful conduct he undertook, including the effect it had on Miss A and the wider school community, and how he had let that behaviour occur. [He] was also able to evidence the tangible steps he has taken to make sure it would not happen again. In light of the above evidence, the panel considers the risk of repetition of such conduct in this case to be very low.
“The sexual misconduct was at the lower end of the spectrum of seriousness … [His] positive contribution to the profession is that of an effective and committed teacher … [He] has been successfully employed at his current school and there has been no suggestion of any concerns in the last two years … The careful balancing of these factors taken together with the wider public interest meant that a prohibition order would neither be a proportionate nor necessary response.”
We had achieved the best we could at the hearing, but it was only a recommendation. And the decision did not mention the context of a blackmail attempt. A few days later we found out Sarah Buxcey of the TRA disagreed:
“I have concluded that the panel have given disproportionate weight to the references provided and [the] contribution to the profession. Due to the seriousness of the findings, which involved sending messages to a former pupil for sexual gratification, which itself was not an isolated incident, and took place over a number of months, the panel could have given greater weight to the negative impact on the public’s perception of the profession. … In my view, it is necessary to impose a prohibition order in order to maintain public confidence in the profession. “
Our client was so frustrated with this and the imminent loss of his career that he instructed me to lodge an appeal at the High Court within the 28 days available to do so. But I had to advise that this was (as the panel said) a finely-balanced outcome and a minimum two year ban. We could not change the shape of the system as, unfair as it may feel, it was so designed by parliament and unfortunately the courts have not found it incompatible with Article 6 rights to a fair trial. So when a much better paid job back in industry soon came up our client abandoned his appeal and left teaching.
I still wonder what Ms Buxcey would have decided had she actually ever been at the hearing…