QUEEN'S BENCH DIVISION
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL
B e f o r e :
| MR AZAM ZIA
|- and -
|(1) NATIONAL COLLEGE FOR TEACHING AND LEADERSHIP ("NCTL")
(2) SECRETARY OF STATE FOR EDUCATION
Ravi Mehta (instructed by Government Legal Department) for the Secretary of State for Education
Hearing date: 17th January 2018
Crown Copyright ©
MRS JUSTICE LAMBERT :
Proceedings before the PCP
Grounds of Appeal:
i. Mr Zia informed me, unsolicited, that he had been advised by his Union throughout his preparation for the hearing. It is common ground that he was represented by Counsel at the hearing. In the weeks before the hearing Mr Zia had been sent letters referring him to information available on the Department of Education website which explained the disciplinary procedure. This information made plain that, if misconduct was established, then the PCP was obliged to consider the possibility of imposing a prohibition order and that evidence in mitigation could be called at that stage of proceedings, including calling witnesses. It is common sense that relevant evidence would include evidence of reputation and regard within the profession and the parent community and common sense that assertions as to reputation and regard carry less weight than evidence from those who are said to hold those views. Although Mr Zia was prevented from contacting school colleagues or pupils during the course of his suspension, the suspension ended when he resigned in March 2016, over a year before the hearing before the PCP.
ii. No application for an adjournment was made on Mr Zia's behalf (save for the short delay in the start of the proceedings) although the possibility of an adjournment, upon application, was stated by the Panel Chair on two occasions during the course of the hearing. Had there been a need for an adjournment, the PCP would have been fully entitled to conclude that one would have been sought, but it was not.
iii. Nor was there anything in the evidence available to the PCP to suggest to it that an adjournment would necessarily have borne fruit. Mr Zia's witness statements describe in detail the atmosphere of professional hostility towards him at the school, his poor relationship with his head of department and his developing sense of isolation and loneliness. Such evidence would not have suggested to the PCP that positive testimony concerning Mr Zia's teaching skills would have been readily available from colleagues. Mr Zia, in response to the Panel Chair's querying the absence of evidence from teachers and parents, qualified his immediate response by describing his embarrassment at approaching witnesses. In so doing, Mr Zia did not suggest that such embarrassment no longer existed. In his submissions on appeal Mr Zia explained that he still felt uncomfortable about approaching witnesses and the appeal statements had been obtained, not by a direct approach to witnesses, but by having set up a website to which contributions might be loaded. In short, there was nothing available to the PCP which would have suggested that an adjournment, possibly lengthy owing to the need for the same panel members to re-group, would have had any practical value.
iv. Further, I accept the Respondent's submission that it is unlikely that the statements served in conjunction with this appeal would have altered the outcome for Mr Zia. Those statements (all save for two) are from students. However, it was not in dispute before the PCP that Mr Zia had attracted a devoutly loyal following within a section of his student cohort. That, to some students, he was a charismatic figure, both because of the content of his lessons and his informality in communication, was already in evidence before the PCP in the pupil statements obtained during the investigation. The substantiating evidence that the PCP was looking for was from adults who would, against a backdrop of serious concerns over safeguarding and professional boundaries, be able to comment upon Mr Zia's qualities and insight as a teacher rather than his ability to forge close relationships with his pupils. Such evidence is not to be found in the appeal statements. Although one statement from a colleague has been provided by Mr Zia, that testimonial comments centrally upon Mr Zia's relationship with his pupils. Likewise, the additional material which Mr Zia relied upon in his appeal (concerning his entrepreneurial work before qualifying as a teacher and his professionalism as a Project Manager since the imposition of the prohibition order) add nothing relevant to the picture available to the PCP and the Secretary of State.
v. Although Mr Zia submitted that I should not, in this appeal, consider the likely impact of those statements on the balancing exercise undertaken by the PCP and the Secretary of State, I reject that submission. I am confident that I can safely and fairly do so. There is nothing in either the decision of the PCP or of the Secretary of State to suggest to me that the decision was a marginal one (such as in Wallace). The new testimonial evidence adds nothing to the body of material which was before the PCP. It would not have altered the recommendation of the PCP or the decision of the Secretary of State.