Column – The headteacher with Steve Woodhouse

Steve Woodhouse - Executive headteacher of the Wolds Federation of Schools.
Steve Woodhouse - Executive headteacher of the Wolds Federation of Schools.

The vast majority of teachers who work in our schools are trustworthy, reliable role models for all of our young people.

However, there will always be the exceptions who need to be removed from the system. So, what happens when a teacher falls short of the profession’s high expectations?

Education secretary Nicky Morgan.

Education secretary Nicky Morgan.

Education secretary Nicky Morgan recently wrote to me, offering me a place on the Government’s Professional Conduct Panel. I accepted. In order to be considered I had previously endured a rather intense application and interview process in Darlington.

The unpaid role is in addition to my headteacher responsibilities and is something I have always been keen to learn more about.

All schools in England are required to have a published complaints procedure. In the first instance, schools will follow this internal guidance.

In cases of serious teacher misconduct, where schools have already been through all the local complaints procedures, they can make a referral to the National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL), which is an executive agency of the Department for Education.

NCTL is responsible for regulating the teaching profession in England. They investigate cases of serious teacher misconduct and decide whether to refer a case to a professional conduct panel.

The panel then investigates whether a prohibition order should be issued.

Panel members are recruited through a public appointments process. A panel consists of three members, and will include: a teacher, or someone who has been a teacher in the previous five years; and a layperson, specifically not from the teaching profession. The DfE appoint one panellist to act as chair.

A legal adviser is present to advise the panel on the legal process. They can’t be a member of the Department for Education and take no part in the decision-making process.

I have to say that I have been very impressed with the set up so far and I am proud to have been accepted as a panellist. So far I have observed two hearings and I have been selected to sit on a panel later this year.

The process is both rigorous and fair, with decisions being carefully considered throughout. Serious misconduct is exactly how it sounds; cases can cover many issues including grooming, radicalisation, inappropriate relationships and bullying.

The hearings remind me of small court rooms. Hearings are usually held in public and can be observed by members of the press and the public.

However, they may sometimes be held in private, for example to protect children or vulnerable witnesses. The teacher may appear in person and/or be represented by someone else. Both the teacher and the person presenting the case may call witnesses.

In certain circumstances, where the teacher agrees the facts of the case, the case may be considered without a hearing.

As a panel we consider all the evidence and decide whether there has been:

l unacceptable professional conduct

l conduct that may bring the profession into disrepute

l a conviction, at any time, of a relevant criminal offence

As a panel, if we decide that there has been any of the above, we make a recommendation to the Secretary of State. Deciding whether to recommend a full prohibition order is often a difficult call.

A prohibition applies for life and means that the person can’t undertake teaching work in any school, sixth form college, children’s home or youth accommodation in England.

However, under some circumstances and after a minimum of two years, the Secretary of State may allow a teacher to apply for the prohibition order to be removed.

This would only be possible following a recommendation by the panel. You can read the outcomes for any of the hearings on the DfE’s website; some of them make very interesting, if unpleasant, reading.

With the pressures of my ‘normal’ day job, I don’t expect to be involved in many panels; most of my experiences will probably be in the school holidays. I feel fortunate to be involved in such an important safeguarding process and each of my three schools benefit financially as the DfE pay for my release time.