Schools

DfE clamps down on loophole allowing fraudsters in classrooms

New banning powers would also apply to ex-teachers and those in online schools

New banning powers would also apply to ex-teachers and those in online schools

1 Feb 2022, 15:40

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The government plans to crack down on loopholes enabling fraudsters to keep working in classrooms despite evidence of misconduct.

Proposed reforms to widen government powers to ban teachers from the classroom would also apply to those who have left the profession, are between jobs and people working in online schools.

Changes would mean department officials investigating fraud or exam cheating can formally trigger misconduct probes into teachers, rather than having to wait for schools, police or others to refer cases.

Closing loophole will speed up fraud bans

The move could see bans for such misconduct imposed faster, and follows a recent Schools Week investigation revealing “inordinate” delays of several years for the completion of TRA cases.

Current rules prevent officials in bodies like the Education and Skills Funding Agency or Standards and Testing Agency from referring cases to the Teaching Regulation Agency – even if their investigations uncover fraud or serious exam malpractice.

Cases have to be referred to the TRA to itself investigate and hold panel hearings before teaching bans or restrictions can be imposed.

ESFA or STA referrals currently count as “self-referral”, which is not allowed.

Only employers, the public, police or other non-DfE agencies can make referrals. Yet schools often delay such referrals until their own probes have finished – and don’t complete those until often-lengthy criminal or other external investigations have been completed.

The TRA then needs to complete its own probe and panel hearings before classroom bans can be imposed.

Wider powers will apply to former teachers

The proposed shakeup of misconduct rules, which it began consulting on today, also include widening official powers to ban more individuals from teaching.

Currently the TRA cannot consider cases against people who are both not currently working as a teacher and commit misconduct outside their work.

The TRA would be allowed to consider all referrals involving serious misconduct by individuals who have at any time been employed or engaged to undertake teaching work in a relevant setting.

This would allow the regulator to probe more cases involving staff only working infrequently in teaching and those on career breaks.

No cap is planned for the length of time that may have passed since someone last worked in schools.

“An artificial time limit may prevent consideration of extremely unsuitable people,” the consultation documents state.

“Our guidance will allow TRA caseworkers to carefully consider each case on its merits, by weighing up the length of time a person has been away from the profession, any child protection considerations and the likelihood of them trying to return to the classroom.”

Online schools could also be in scope

A third reform would see the TRA able to ban staff from more settings.

Current rules cover those working in schools, sixth-forms, children’s homes and some youth accommodation. Online education providers, further education colleges and other post-16 providers would be added to the list.

“Given the increase in online education over the last two years of the Covid
pandemic, we are also considering how we might include online education providers within the teacher misconduct regime.”

The consultation asks whether this regulation should extend only to providers registered under Ofsted’s new accreditation scheme, or whether it should be wider – and “how we might achieve that”.

The consultation runs until March 14, and changes will be made “when a suitable legislative opportunity becomes available”.

DfE confirms wider reforms

Meanwhile the DfE also confirmed separately today stalking, upskirting, revenge porn and controlling or coercive behaviour have been added to a list of offences for which teachers can be banned.

The DfE has also made clear other behaviours beyond listed offences can be dubbed unacceptable conduct, and updated “incompatible” behaviour to include failures protecting children, and breaching exam rules – or colluding in or concealing it.

The DfE said some of the reforms previously consulted on would “deal with inappropriate use of off-rolling”.

The largest change to initial proposals involves adding child cruelty to offences which should “weigh in favour of not offering a review period” – added partly in light of “recent tragic cases”.

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