Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-39)



  20. There is a code at the moment, but it is not a code of conduct.
  (Ms Adams) It is not, no.

  21. That will appear at a later stage.
  (Ms Adams) That is right. Beginning the work now, we are learning how cases operate and what kind of code of conduct would be helpful and informative.

  22. Within the organisation, how many people, or what proportion of your total resource, is allocated to the regulatory work as opposed to the promotional work?
  (Ms Adams) A considerable amount. I can give you figures outside the meeting, but I do not have them to hand.

  23. Can you give a broad indication?
  (Ms Adams) I think it could be getting on for a sixth of the budget. It is a fair-sized budget because there is a lot of detailed work involved in making sure that the paperwork is correct, that teachers and witnesses are called and members are trained, and that the hearings are conducted adequately.
  (Lord Puttnam) The training component has been a big issue, getting that up and running and making sure all members likely to be called to deal with disciplinary cases have received the same level of excellent training.


  24. How does a case get to you?
  (Ms Adams) Chairman, they are referred by employers in the case of teacher competence. If it is a matter of teacher misconduct, at the moment they are referred to the Department, which then refers on to the Council all cases, except those involving child protection issues. So there are two different routes.

  25. Would it be the head, the local education authority, the Department and then you?
  (Ms Adams) That is right, in the case of misconduct.
  (Lord Puttnam) Unfortunately, there is no read-across, no comparability with the old process, because the Department still does child protection cases. The task list has been sliced, so we can only work on year-on-year figures.

Mr Chaytor

  26. In view of the dual role of the organisation, have you felt over the last 18 months that there has been a tension between the two roles? We all think of the British Medical Association and the general view that over the years it has been more interested in promoting the regulator. Has that been the issue for you?
  (Lord Puttnam) My feeling is that it is a very, very good thing. To me, it is part of growing up. To be a mature, adult organisation, you ought to have no problem at all in being able to self-regulate and also promote the aspirations for your profession. Not only do I not see them as conflicting, but I see them as complementary. Carol is at the sharp end and may feel slightly differently.
  (Ms Adams) I think we anticipated that the disciplinary role would be seen as being something that was rather negative. In fact, as we have undertaken the cases, it has been interesting to see the response of those involved who have seen it is a fair process and have commented on that; and also the comments made more widely that this is an indication of a profession that is self-regulating, setting and maintaining standards. We now have more confidence now that we have seen how the process works, and it has made us realise that it is a very positive aspect of the Council's work.

  27. If members increase and there is a series of high-profile cases splashed over the front pages of the tabloid newspapers, will that not inevitably undermine the general impression of the profession?
  (Lord Puttnam) We have always felt that real success is synonymous with not having tabloid headlines. You are quite right: if you get into tabloid headlines, it means that your processes are not quite working.

  28. Are you happy to reconcile with that the need for transparency?
  (Lord Puttnam) The tragedy we have already found is that in the only high-ish profile case at present, the tabloid headline that was attracted had nothing whatsoever to do with that case, in view of the fact that in evidence it also turned out at one point that this teacher had been found drinking, but it had nothing whatsoever to do with the disciplinary case. As long as we stick to the need to do our job properly, we cannot stop tabloid newspapers or anyone else making up or creating a furore where none exists. The key is whether our systems are good and consistent. That is tremendously important. We have to ask whether they work for the benefit of the profession.

Ms Munn

  29. You mentioned that a number of cases had gone through. I note from the information we have had that one teacher had received a reprimand and that it was to lie on their record and the register for two years. When some disciplinary measure has been taken and that stays on somebody's record, if something else happens within the period there is then a cumulative effect, which would make a difference. Is it the case that after two years nobody would have to know that that had taken place? The reason I am asking is because in many other professions, for example doctors or social workers, there is a tradition that when a disciplinary sanction no longer applies, sometimes the record is removed altogether. I wanted to clarify whether in your procedures it remains on the record, but that it no longer has any impact.
  (Ms Adams) I do want to give absolute clarification on that. At the moment it is on there for two years and that is the end of it. The more serious conclusion, for example, of a teacher being removed from the register, would have a much more devastating impact. The teacher would have to apply to be re-registered. When it is for a two-year period, that is the end of it.

  30. I know that it is a completely different profession and hopefully out of scale to what you do, but there is the Dr Shipman example where there were clearly some disciplinary concerns in the past; and the danger of expunging the record altogether is that people are not able to go back at some stage and establish a pattern. That is an issue that perhaps we should be taking up.
  (Ms Adams) I should like to emphasise that we are learning from this process. We are going to reflect on these matters following the first six or twelve months of hearing these cases, when we will consider how effectively the process is operating and what lessons there are to learn for the future.

  Ms Munn: I would strongly urge, having had experience of disciplinary issues in a different field, that even though it may not count cumulatively in terms of registration, that information should not be lost because that is where professions do get into difficulties, where perhaps a pattern emerges and people are not able to go back and say, "we have had that before five years ago" so that they can see there is an issue that is more serious than the one-off incident would indicate.

  Chairman: It all sounds a bit Stalinist to me, Lord Puttnam, but I am one of the old school.

Mr Pollard

  31. Lord Puttnam, did I understand you to say that there were no measurable standards for any of these disciplinary hearings in the sense that you made it up as you went along? That is the impression I got.
  (Lord Puttnam) No.

  32. If so, is that not subjective? Is there a right of appeal, judicial review for example, and have you got the confidence of the teaching profession when you are doing this disciplinary service?
  (Lord Puttnam) What is interesting is that in many, many years of the Department carrying out precisely this same sort of process, there were very few cases that ever came before the public gaze. It is up to us to learn from case history, which we have tried to do. We have not started on day one with no knowledge. We have tried to learn from the past. You are dealing with peer review. Teachers can see themselves in these situations, which was not always the case in the past. I think you would have to reflect on and review this in five years' time and look back and ask if on balance we have been more lenient than the Department, or whether we are being more Stalinist, as the Chairman seems to be concerned we might be. I do not know. We are learning and I think it is a remarkable and very beneficial thing that the profession is stepping up and taking responsibility for its own professional standards in conduct cases.


  33. When we met you before we made a comparison with the General Medical Council. What is coming from Kerry Pollard and Meg Munn is whether there is a parallel here. Is that where you are looking to for the sort of thing GTC would be in terms of discipline?
  (Lord Puttnam) In answer to the discipline question years ago, I suggested there was a lot to learn from the GMC's experience, and we would be more than foolish not to learn from it. It would not be a good thing for the profession if, two or three years from now, someone could prove evidentially that the profession had gone soft on discipline. On the other hand, I think it would be quite mad to rush to judgment and claim that we should be swinging one way or another. At the moment, all I can tell you is that the training we have given the individual council members, their attitude to doing the job and their professional approach, is only encouraging, and I think that probably, if pushed, Carol and I would both say we have been delighted with the way the Council have taken these responsibilities on board.

Mr Pollard

  34. Is there a right of appeal? Presumably, you have a period of appeal and then perhaps judicial review. When you were talking about evidence before, you said that you had not really got any measures yet, and that is really what I was bothered about. How do you decide if somebody is guilty or innocent as charged, if you do not have any measurable performance standards that you can call upon?
  (Ms Adams) If we look at the procedures, it might be helpful. The teachers referred to the Council have already been dismissed, or they have resigned in circumstances where they would have been dismissed, for example, for professional misconduct—and we are talking about a very tiny minority of teachers, which is important to remember. In each case there has already been a body of evidence and a decision made by employers. The Council's job—and this is where we are different from the GMC because of the employment position of teachers—is to decide if this person is fit to carry on practising. The Committee holding the hearing has to decide whether the teacher's behaviour was an aberration, whether they were under extreme duress. Was there a reason for what happened, or do they feel that this person, based on the evidence, is not fit to carry on as a teacher? I hope that sheds a bit of light on it. We would look at the circumstances of the teacher's dismissal, assuming that procedures were properly followed, and look at the surrounding circumstances. Was there anything mitigating in that situation? The kind of standard referred to would be that of qualified teacher status, and general knowledge in the profession of what you would expect of a teacher in a school.


  35. The man on the Clapham omnibus.
  (Ms Adams) It is not entirely in the dark that these judgments that are being made, and it is a two-stage process.

  36. My concern is about Meg Munn's point about keeping it on the record. I have a great deal of experience in the social work area, where these things are very sensitive in terms of knowing that somebody might be a repeat offender, in terms of professional misconduct; but that is very different. You are saying the Department still holds the responsibility for that sort of issue. You do not get involved in that.
  (Lord Puttnam) In child protection cases? We do not get involved at all. You asked about the relationship with trade unions. One thing that has impressed me is how much wisdom resides within unions because they have the responsibility to defend the individual teacher. We have found them to be extremely wise in terms of understanding these cases. They pretty well know from experience which way these cases are going, and I have been very, very impressed by their expertise.

Mr Shaw

  37. Do you have a view on teacher supply agencies? We heard from Ofsted—Mike Tomlinson before he retired gave evidence to this Committee—that they have no role in inspecting supply teacher agencies. One of your jobs is to promote the profession and professional teachers. We do know that there are 20,000 supply teachers in circulation, and that standards vary enormously. If a teacher has a view on a particular supply teacher and thinks they are the best thing since sliced bread, they will make jolly sure that they have them back time and again. Obviously, the reverse is the case: if they are not satisfied with someone, that teacher would effectively be barred from going back to the school again the next day and will be sent to another one; and that could happen time, after time, after time. At the moment, there is no inspection regime to ensure standards. Do you have a view on that?
  (Lord Puttnam) The direction in which I think the question is going is this. We have made retention a very significant issue, principally through the enormous amount of work Carol and her staff have done on continuing professional development. We believe that professional development is core to those issues, particularly the issues that you are raising—the willingness and often the opportunity for supply teachers to take advantage of opportunities made available to them. Retention is a vital issue, and something we are working on with the Teacher Training Agency. To my absolute amazement, when we came into office as a Government in 1997, I discovered that no department of government had actual responsibility for retention. It did not lie anywhere, and yet clearly it is fundamental to our ability as the GTC to be effective. So retention and the CPD component of retention is probably our best way of addressing the issues you have just raised.

  38. Do you have a view as to whether training agencies have a responsibility to monitor performance of teachers and to ensure that they are getting the necessary training and support?
  (Lord Puttnam) I feel very strongly that there is a more benign version of that. I think training agencies ought to be encouraged to perform a very important alumni service. In the first five years of service we lose 45 per cent of teachers. I think trainers ought to remain in touch with the teachers they have trained and do everything they can to ensure that those teachers remain within the profession. If that requires them to be incentivised and encouraged, so be it. They are crucial access through to the retention during those first crucial five years.


  39. Does that go to the heart of the role? I am not sure, listening to what you have to say, that anyone is quite clear about the role. On the one hand, you do not want this to be a high-profile organisation. You said you do not need headlines. I got the feeling that at the one end you want the GTC to be a quiet, professional organisation, doing the business, not worried about the teachers' unions having headlines in the tabloids and so on—in fact, the reverse; but on the other hand, if you want to do something about raising the profile of the profession, if you are really going to tackle the issues like retention, there is a bit of you that is saying, "we want to play a high-profile role". Which is it? Can you have both?
  (Lord Puttnam) I am enormously informed by my experience of being President of the Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) for seven years. It is a high-profile but unbelievably effective organisation that probably has more to do with planning policy and issues than any other organisation. If you want high profile, the smart answer would be to join Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth. The more intelligent thing to do is to work through the CPRE. I have always seen the CPRE as an interesting analogy for the GTC—a really influential research based authoritative organisation, not necessarily anything flashy. It is very important in retention and recruitment areas for us to put our head above the parapet. It is easier for me to say that because, as Chairman of the Teaching Awards Trust, that is exactly what the teaching awards are positioned to do. This week, as last week, we are in every region of the country promoting teaching as a profession. These things are not incompatible, but were I to advise the Council regarding the future, I think the respect gained over a number of years of doing the job really well, for example the conduct and competence cases—I know this may be counter cultural, but it might be that that is where the GTC in the long run will prove to be most effective and, as it were, an immovable component.


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