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Teacher misconduct hearings delayed for up to eight years

Two teachers have been waiting more than eight years for their misconduct cases to conclude, with the “shattering impact” of lengthy waits having “potentially devastating implications”.

Figures obtained by Schools Week show 31 per cent of the 1,042 active cases on the Teacher Regulation Agency’s (TRA) books were first referred more than two years ago.

The agency has been heavily criticised in the past for delays.

TRA accounts, published last summer, show that teachers accused of misconduct waited 113 weeks on average for their cases to conclude – more than double the 52-week target.

‘Putting people at risk’

Paul Whiteman, the general secretary of the school leaders’ union NAHT, said the regulator was “not just failing, it is putting people at risk … with potentially devastating implications for valued teachers and leaders”.

One teacher – who wasn’t issued with a prohibition order – told Schools Week they were left in “limbo” for years and suffered “psychological damage”.

Paul Whiteman

Another lived “with the fear of public humiliation” for more than two years while waiting for their case to be dropped through lack of evidence.

“It cannot be right that individuals are being left to wait years for a resolution,” Whiteman said.

Our investigation found 32 unresolved cases were referred to the TRA more than five years ago.

Another 336 have been paused, a process called “abeyance”. About 75 per cent are awaiting police investigations, court cases, employment tribunals or other legal action – which are all now taking longer.

The TRA’s two oldest cases are 2,959 days since referral. Both have previously been “in abeyance whilst waiting for information from third-party organisations”.

“A number of other active cases” have also been in abeyance, which “will, in most instances, prolong the amount of time it takes the TRA to conclude them”. 

‘You can’t move on’

A former teacher, who waited three years for his misconduct hearing, said the “psychological damage of being in limbo is really pernicious because you can’t move on. You’re frozen by something frightening.”

They had scores of therapy sessions following fears of “reputational damage” as rumours spread about why they were suspended.

The TRA later found unacceptable professional conduct, but did not issue a prohibition order.

Another teacher had to wait more than two years before they were told there was not enough evidence to proceed.

“It was the most horrendous experience. There was tension, stress, anxiety and the real fear of public humiliation,” they said. “I was working, but the thought, the threat – it was like the sword of Damocles hanging over my head.”

Both would only speak to Schools Week on the condition of anonymity.

Delays ‘hamper heads too’

Teachers facing particularly serious allegations are issued with interim prohibition orders, preventing them from working in classrooms until their case is considered.

But it is sometimes possible to continue working – usually for supply agencies – during investigations.

Pepe Di’Iasio, the head of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that the delays hampered heads who were left to wait for a decision “so they can manage the implications”.

Andrew Faux, of Lawyers for Teachers, wants the government to launch a review of its oldest cases and “discontinue all those where there’s no good reason for the delay”.

Many of his clients felt “tortured” by the process and the long delays. His longest-running case is more than 2,000 days old.

But a Department for Education spokesperson stressed durations varied “for a number of different reasons”, including case complexity, delays receiving third-party information or, where necessary, to await the outcomes of other proceedings”.

The pandemic had also caused disruption.

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