We all know that the majority of staff in schools are highly committed to enhancing the teaching and learning experience for children and young people, but from time to time, issues of misconduct can and do occur.
These may vary from minor issues such as poor timekeeping to serious acts of gross misconduct, for example theft or even assault.
How can we ensure that staff conduct themselves in a professional manner?
Schools should have clear rules and standards of behaviour so managers and employees know what is expected of them. This can include codes of conduct, for example a dress code; policies and procedures, for example absence reporting or the use of social media; and of course, a clear and transparent disciplinary procedure which sets out how breaches of discipline will be managed.
Effective management of disciplinary issues
School leaders should pick up issues of concern as and when they occur, where possible dealing with matters of minor misconduct informally. A suitably senior person should be nominated to carry out an initial investigation to establish the facts before deciding whether to initiate disciplinary proceedings. Managers should ensure that employees are informed of the allegations against them and have the opportunity to respond as part of the initial investigation. Be aware though that if you carry out the formal investigation it will preclude you from hearing any subsequent disciplinary case. (See Roles and Responsibilities below).
Deal with issues promptly and do not unreasonably delay meetings and decisions. Be aware that formal meetings can take time to arrange so don’t delay unnecessarily and provide decisions in accordance with the timescales in your disciplinary procedure.
In cases of potential gross misconduct, avoid knee jerk reactions, for example immediate suspension; consider alternative action if appropriate and take HR advice where necessary.
Where the initial investigation suggests that there is a case to answer, a full investigation should be carried out. This will require all witnesses to be interviewed and where appropriate asked to provide a written statement. The employee should be informed in writing of the allegations and of the requirement to attend a formal investigation meeting. They should also be informed of their right to be accompanied by a trade union representative or a work colleague. Having completed the investigation you will need to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to proceed to a disciplinary hearing.
Where there is sufficient evidence to proceed to a hearing, the employee must be provided with written notification of the hearing and written copies of any documentation that may be referred to during the hearing.
Ensure, in accordance with your disciplinary policy, that those hearing the case have the authority to act. In particular, anyone involved in the formal investigation process cannot participate in the decision making process. Normally for gross misconduct cases only, the headteacher/principal or a panel of governors can hear the case. Where the allegations are against the headteacher, the case must be heard by a panel of governors. Depending on the severity of the case, independent HR advice should be available to the decision maker(s).
Consider if the employee has a protective characteristic as described in the Equality Act 2010, including race, sex, sexual orientation, is transsexual, religious belief, disability, marital status or civil partnership, is pregnant or on maternity leave. If in doubt seek professional advice from your HR provider.
Ensure that the decision makers act consistently and follow the disciplinary procedure. Whilst each case should be considered on the merits of the facts, the decision makers need to be mindful of previous decisions to ensure consistency.
Wherever possible the employee should be informed of the outcome on the day of the hearing and it should be confirmed in writing in accordance with the timescales in your disciplinary policy.
In accordance with the rules of natural justice, the employee should be informed of their right of appeal and the timescale for doing so.