Monday, 23 July 2007

New Suitability Declaration

I found an interesting post on the TES Staffroom about the new suitability declaration that the GTC are preparing, this from 'Serving member' -

The new suitability declaration: currently this will be trialed for 1 year for student teachers. Next year existing teachers will have to sign the declaration.

Soon every teacher in the country will have to declare any indiscretions, even those which happened in childhood or early adulthood, or those which are entirely personal, on a GTCE form. Failure to do so will risk a sanction from the GTCE, up to and including a prohibition order.

GTCE council members have been concerned for some time about the public perception of the GTCE intruding into the personal lives of teachers. Such concerns were first raised in council meetings in Autumn 2004. Recently concerns have been raised again on the members’ extranet, in the lights of the proposed suitability checks which have been railroaded past council members at the behest of the GTCE management.

Recently there have been two cases where ‘affairs’ between two consenting adults have been judged to be unacceptable professional conduct. There are three more such cases in the pipeline for hearings. Many council members are worried that the GTCE management’s determination to pursue such cases are irrevocably undermining the GTCE’s regulatory reputation amongst the teaching profession, and beyond.

Furthermore there is a real concern that the statements underpinning the code of conduct are being subverted. These statements are due to be reviewed during the next year, but council members are asking whether teachers will really have an opportunity to voice their views or whether changes will simply be railroaded through by the GTCE management.

In particular, paragraph one of the code of conduct currently reads: “Registered teachers may be found to be guilty of unacceptable professional conductwhere they: Seriously demean or undermine pupils, their parents, carers or colleagues, or act towards them in a manner which is discriminatory in relation to gender, marital status, religion, belief, colour, race, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation, disability or age”.

Under the proposed review, this statement will now read:“Registered teachers may be found to be guilty of unacceptable professional conduct where they: Cause upset or distress or undermine pupils, their parents, carers or colleagues, or act towards them in a manner which is upsetting or distressing in relation to gender, marital status, religion, belief, colour, race, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation, disability or age”.

This statement is now so vague, almost any allegation will now meet the test for a hearing – i.e. a prima facie case to answer against the teacher and a good chance of a sanction being found against a teacher. This is deeply disturbing.

Recent hearings and investigatory committee discussions we have had sight of have also raised a number of key areas were such loose language is likely to be exploited. Already allegations are being made against lesbian, gay and bisexual teachers based on remarks they might have said in relation to their sexuality which have been alleged to have been discriminatory or demeaning. Under the new clause, any behaviour which can be argued to have caused upset or distress could merit an investigation. If the trickle of recent referrals is anything to go by, there will be a barrage of lesbian, gay and bisexual members before the council in 2008/2009 charged with simply asserting their sexuality and thereby committing acts of unacceptable professional conduct. Such a code of conduct has no place in our society, or in the teaching profession. All the teachers in England have a right to contribute to the new code of conduct - not just the privileged few.

Another real concern is the proposed suitability check, which if successful, the GTCE management plan to extend to all existing teacher members. Concerns in the past regarding the declaration of driving offences were raised, but at previous council meetings the decision was made to pursue only serious drunk driving offence convictions. However, this will now to be extended to dangerous driving. In fact any motoring offences other than 3 point fixed penalties are now to be considered as a relevant conviction in terms of unacceptable professional conduct. These convictions will be considered retrospectively.

The concern is, and there is much recent evidence at GTCE hearings to support this, that some LEAs keep knowledge of such allegations in reserve, especially for headteachers. Since the GTCE does not, and never has enforced the statutory 30 day deadline for allegations, allegations can be unearthed years later. Since the registration requirement does not apply for convictions or police investigations, this means that events which occurred well before the inception of the GTCE will be considered, as has already been the case. Already this practice is common with criminal convictions and a useful way for LEAs to prune their pool of headteachers. Now it will be extended to minor offences and investigated allegations, regardless of the outcomes.

We understand that every teacher member will have to sign the suitability declaration after the 1 year trial for new members.

We also understand that the GTCE management intend to use the declaration to bar from teaching anyone who has had an abuse allegation made against them, as part of post Bichard framework. This act would be swingeing and unfair on those maliciously accused. We hope the GTCE management will reconsider for the sake of the integrity of self-regulation within the teaching professions.

This really is 'deeply disturbing' the case of teachers being disciplined for having an affair? As one post noted John Prescott is caught 'in flagrante delicto' with his diary secretary and that is viewed as a perk of the job. Yet, when it comes to teachers...

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