What can teachers be ‘struck-off’ for?

The new Education Secretary has announced that teachers who “fail to protect children from extremism” will face being struck off the teaching register without appeal. That seems right doesn’t it? We can’t have teachers “promoting extremism” can we?

Of course not! Where would be then?

A couple of decades ago, teachers were also told not to promote things. Then it was “homosexuality”. In 1986 the Thatcher government introduced Section 28 of the Local Government Act and made it illegal for teachers “to promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.” Now that law is generally considered “extreme” and  “intolerant” though the law itself was only repealed in 2003.

For some years I worked at the now defunct General Teaching Council, which at the time had responsibility for both registering and regulating the profession. It was a thankless task with the 550,000 teachers in England – most of whom thought it was a pointless organisation and resented paying the modest fee – but we heard some interesting disciplinary cases.

Here’s one – a head teacher embezzled nearly £30,000 from school funds because she used the money to pay for the hospice care and specialist drugs for her terminally ill mother.

You can’t have head teachers fiddling the books even for reasons that might rend the heart. Strike her off!

These things always seem so straightforward until you get into the detail.

Actually she wasn’t caught taking the money out of school funds. She was caught putting it back in – and just at the point where she had re-paid almost all of it in the months after her mother had died.

What would you have done? Struck her off the register, never to teach again?

Here’s another – a teacher used the school’s computer and internet during lunchtimes to post comments on a political chat room. Not the worst crime in the world surely? Everyone uses work computers for personal use don’t they? I certainly did. Have you never read the BBC news website, booked cheap flights or even up-dated your Facebook status? And so what if it was political… we live in a democracy don’t we? Free speech and all that?

This teacher was a member of the BNP and posted offensive remarks about ethnic minorities and immigrants.

What would you have done? Struck him off? Are you sure your judgment isn’t biased because of his political views? Would you have been so damning if a friendly colleague had done something similar on the website of a mainstream political party – like those nice Liberal Democrats or those lovely Greens trying to save the planet?

In the talks I do around the country with thousands of new teachers, many ask me what are the circumstances where they might be “struck-off”.  Invariably they are surprised at the leniency displayed by the disciplinary panels at the former GTC and those that now deal with such cases at the National College for Teaching and Leadership.

So here’s a little exercise for you…

For which of these heinous crimes would you be certain to get a life-time ban? (Answers at the end… so don’t peek)

  1. A caution for being drunk and disorderly in a public place.
  2. Being an alcoholic.
  3. A caution for possession of recreational ‘dance’ drugs’.
  4. A caution for possession of a Class B drug (eg marijuana).
  5. A conviction for speeding at 100mph on a motorway.
  6. A conviction for domestic violence.
  7. A sexual relationship with a pupil over the age of 18 who is at your school.
  8. A sexual relationship with a 16 year-old pupil not at your school.
  9. Active membership of an extreme political party.

While you might not get permanently “struck-off” for some of these,  a conviction or caution might result in your employer dismissing you on the grounds you have “brought the school into disrepute” – especially these days.

My advice is: read your employment contract (particularly if you work at an Academy or Free School) and join a union.

 

Alan Newland worked as a teacher, teacher-trainer and headteacher in London for over 20 years and then for a decade with the DfE and the GTC. He now lectures on teaching and runs the award-winning social media network newteacherstalk.

You can follow him on Twitter at @newteacherstalk and book him for a talk.

His new book “Working in Teaching” (Crimson Publishing) was published in March 2014.

 

Answers:

Probably only Number 7 would result in a substantial or life-time ban – and even that is only as recent as the Sexual Offences Act 2003. Until then it would only have been considered ‘unprofessional’ but it was not illegal. Bizarrely, Number 8 is neither ‘unprofessional’ nor illegal. While most of the others may be illegal, they can be mitigated. Number 2 is considered a health issue, though turning up for work drunk would obviously be a disciplinary matter. As a matter of interest, the teacher disciplined for posting offensive comments on a far-right website is now the leader of the BNP.

 

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8 thoughts on “What can teachers be ‘struck-off’ for?

    1. No problem with a 21 year old ex-pupil – it would be neither unprofessional (how can it be? you’re not their teacher) nor illegal. That’s not to say that some people would think it unseemly if they were to know about it, but that would be their moral standpoint – a rather lofty one in my view. See also my blog on “What’s the problem with inappropriate relationships?’ Thanks for your post Cathy.

  1. I am on my teacher training placement. Recently an 18 year old sixth former began emailing me one night. The emails were of a flirtatious nature. I replied and not only was i foolish enough not to dissuade the pupil but actually reciprocated (flirty- close to the knuckle but not overtly sexual) . There has been no sexual contact and we have not met outside of school. I was suspended as a result of this being picked up by the academy safeguarding filter. In your experience, is this likely to result in a ban/lifetime ban?

    1. Hi Tony,

      If you have read my other blogs on this subject, you’ll know that I take a sympathetic view of young teachers being in a vulnerable position themselves, especially if they are close to the age of their students, perhaps lonely, away from home or relatively immature. You do not say what your age or personal circumstances are but to me, they may be relevant.

      The paradox here is that you have sent a flirtatious email to an eighteen year old adult – and on the face of it – people do that millions of times a day and it’s nobody else’s business. If you were a qualified teacher (or another professional like a doctor or lawyer) and you were flirting with a client, you would almost certainly be disciplined by your employer and your professional body. It is obviously unprofessional and unethical, though of course on the face of it, it is not illegal.

      However, you are training to be a teacher and though you are not qualified, you are being trained and judged by the Teachers’ Standards and you are required to abide by appropriate professional boundaries. You have clearly crossed that boundary and you need to be counselled – at the very least – about where they are and why they matter. In my view, that’s why your age and personal circumstances matter. So for example, if you were 42 years old I would be much less sympathetic than if you were 22 years old.

      The additional factor here – unique to teachers – is that the Sexual Offences Act of 2003 has made sexual relationships with a student, even if they are 18 years old – illegal (though in contrast it wouldn’t be either illegal or deemed unprofessional if the 18 year old student was at another school). The fact is that this student is at your school where you are training and, while you have not done anything illegal, your employer or training centre might have grounds to interpret your actions as in the process of “grooming” the student for sexual activity. On the basis of one email, that you say had no explicit sexual content, then the evidence they have for this is very flimsy – but you have obviously put yourself in a position where your poor judgment has now brought into question whether you can be trusted with people over whom you have a “duty of care”.

      My advice is that you literally throw yourself at the mercy of the school and the training provider (university) and fully acknowledge how stupid you have been, what poor and immature judgment it showed, how you are deeply sorry for the trouble it might have caused the student, the school and the university and that you have learnt a lesson from it all. Ask also if you can have a personal interview with the Headteacher or the Head of Teacher Training at the school and the Programme Leader at the university to express these feelings to them personally and that you would like to make a personal appeal to them to save your teaching career. Obviously promise that it will never happen again.

      I would hope they would see that you are a young person (if that is the case) and that you still have a bit of growing up to do and that you will learn from this mistake. Good Luck.

      1. Thank you for your advice. (In response to your question I am 25 years old) –

        A)Is it still illegal if there has been no sexual contact or meeting up? If words have been exchanged but little else?
        B) would the Gctl investigate this matter as I am not yet qualified or is it up to the university/ consortium to withhold reccomemdation for QTS/ dismiss me/ discipline me?

        Many Thanks

        Tony

      2. Hi Tony,

        as you are not yet a Qualified Teacher and there has been no ‘sexual contact’ then you have not done anything illegal. There will be no police involvement and there will be no police caution let alone a conviction as no offence has taken place.

        However, it will be considered an internal disciplinary issue and the university / consortium might dismiss you from the course as if you were an employee of a company. They may consider your judgment so poor that they now deem you unsuitable to be in the “duty of care” of young people.

        That is why I suggested you now throw yourself at the mercy of the university / consortium and say that you realise it was “a very stupid thing to allow yourself to be flattered by a young woman when you should have known better blah blah blah…” You’ll need to convince them that you are genuinely remorseful, that you would not have “groomed her” for sex and that you have learnt from the experience. If you have a regular girlfriend or partner, tell them that – and that it was a silly moment of weakness where you felt flattered etc etc.

        Most universities and schools will take your age into account and give you a second chance – but these days, many are extremely sensitive about this issue and will not. You will need to take the initiative here.

        I also suggest you become a member of a teacher union. I recommend the NUT.

        Good Luck.

  2. Hi, this is an update. Today the fitness to practice internal investigation was concluded. I have been informed that neither the school nor the university regard the email discourse between the student and I as sexual in nature or intent. It has unexpectedly been considered unprofessional and inappropriate. I am to sit a formal fitness to practice panel soon. There are no external agencies involved at the moment. The university are taking my previously exemplary character and performance as a teacher on board in their report to then panel and have documented the mitigating circumstances substantiating my contention that I was under a significant amount of stress which impaired my judgement (circumstances but not excuses, I am responsible for my own actions). that being said I am concerned that so close to the end of the course, if I am found fit to practice then I won’t have enough time to complete a deferred placement in time to start my new job at the begining of the next academic year. Of course clearing my name and rebuilding my reputation is of the utmost priority to begin with.

    Thank you for your advice, it has been much appreciated

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