Schools

New DfE powers to ban online teachers amid grooming fears

The government plans to close a series of loopholes in its teacher misconduct regime

The government plans to close a series of loopholes in its teacher misconduct regime

29 Apr 2022, 17:29

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The government will close a series of loopholes in the teacher misconduct regime, after sector leaders broadly welcomed a proposed shakeup.

In February it began consulting on widening its sanction powers to cover individuals not currently working as teachers, as well as teachers at online, post-16 and further education providers.

The Department for Education also proposed letting its own officials refer cases for investigation by the Teaching Regulation Agency, such as exam cheating or fraud uncovered in their work.

The DfE’s consultation response published today confirms it will implement all the plans “at the next legislative opportunity” after receiving feedback from 80 organisations and individuals.

Three-quarters backed plans for new powers allowing the TRA to investigate and impose bans or other sanctions on individuals who taught previously but commit misconduct while not working in teaching, such as anyone between jobs.

The DfE has highlighted its limited powers over misconduct carried out even a day after someone stops working, and even when it knows they are likely to return to teaching.

A small number of respondents suggested it was too “far reaching”, and should only affect individuals “active in education” when misconduct occurs, have a time limit and not be applied retrospectively.

9 in 10 back powers over online providers

Some 88 per cent of respondents backed extending misconduct powers to cover online education providers. They noted the rise of remote learning due to Covid and “various education recovery programmes”, highlighting a “greater risk of pupils being groomed in the online space”.

Some also said teaching in person and online should be “treated the same”, as individuals are in a position of trust.

The DfE said it would consider how its proposed online education accreditation scheme could be used to define which providers and staff fall under its misconduct regime.

Expanding misconduct powers to cover post-16 and FE settings was also backed by 86 per cent of respondents, and allowing DfE officials to refer cases by 70 per cent.

Some said this would “close the gap where there was potential for cases to be left unheard or referrals not being made by schools”, and “may help to support whistleblowing cases”.

Fears ed sec ‘becomes referrer and decision-maker’

But 15 per cent disagreed, concerned about undermining the misconduct regime’s independence – as the education secretary will “ultimately be the referrer and the decision-maker” over teaching bans.

Some said it could undermine school leaders’ authority, as well as leave scope for “malicious” or “political” cases.

The DfE vowed to ensure decision-makers remain “impartial”, and only matters uncovered during DfE officials’ normal duties will be referrable – a move also backed by most respondents.

It also concluded its response by saying it “would like to reassure respondents that only cases of serious misconduct should be considered by the TRA” – with other matters including “incompetence” dealt with locally by employers.

Respondents included Ofsted, unions NAHT and NASUWT, and several academy trusts, schools and councils.

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