Case Study – Learning Support (FD) and Ability to Empathise

Case study about a trainee teacher who had experienced mental health difficulties which raised concerns about her fitness to teach. Although this study focuses on training teachers, it is recommended that information on Fitness to Teach is applicable to trainees who are studying to become Higher Level Teaching Assistants

This case study is taken from Able to Teach, the Teacher Training Agency guidance to providers of initial teacher training on disability discrimination and fitness to teach, (information extracted and accessed January 2007)

A candidate applied for a place on a primary ITT programme. On her fitness questionnaire she disclosed a history of clinical depression. She informed the tutor at interview that she had had a short period of depression relating to a relationship breakdown.

The provider’s occupational health adviser sought further information from the candidate’s GP about the candidate’s condition, for example, she asked whether the condition was temporary or likely to persist; how far the candidate’s condition was treatable; whether any treatment had been prescribed and, if so, how far it had been successful in regulating the symptoms that were giving concern. The GP’s report, which included relevant medical evidence, including consultants’ reports, showed that the candidate had had a 18-month history of bi-polar affective disorder, with a significant number of episodes of excessive mood swings.

Applying the fitness criteria

The occupational health adviser considered particularly how far the candidate’s bi-polar affective disorder and its effects might:

  • affect the quality of her insights and her ability to make sound judgements;
  • affect her ability to communicate effectively with children, parents and colleagues;
  • pose a potential risk to the health, safety or well-being of children in her care;
  • and how far the candidate could be enabled, by reasonable adjustment, to meet the fitness criteria.

Considering the candidate’s ability to meet the QTS Standards by the end of the programme of ITT: In this case study issues arising from aspects of Standards 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 3.3.1 and 3.3.11 were considered.

To qualify as a teacher, trainees must demonstrate that they:

1.2 treat pupils consistently, with respect and consideration, and are concerned for their development as learners;

1.3 demonstrate and promote the positive values, attitudes and behaviour that they expect from their pupils;

1.4 can communicate sensitively and effectively with parents and carers, recognising their roles in pupils’ learning, and their rights, responsibilities and interests in this;

3.3.1 have high expectations of pupils and build successful relationships, centred on teaching and learning. They establish a purposeful learning environment where diversity is valued and where pupils feel secure and confident;

3.3.11 can take responsibility for teaching a class or classes for a sustained and substantial period of time. They are able to teach across the age and ability range for which they are trained

Outcome 1: fit to teach

The GP reported that the candidate had been undergoing a variety of treatments to help her manage her condition for over a year and that this had been successful in regulating her mood swings. The occupational health adviser therefore concluded that her behaviour would be unlikely to pose a potential risk to pupils, and that the candidate had every chance of meeting the QTS Standards by the end of the programme. She therefore declared the candidate fit to teach and informed the provider of this decision. In her report to the provider, without disclosing the candidate’s medical history, the occupational health adviser suggested that the provider should write to the candidate to inform her about the counselling and support services available to trainees.

Outcome 2: unfit to teach

The GP reported that the candidate had been offered a variety of treatments for bi-polar affective disorder, but had refused to accept them, and in his opinion, without such intervention, the candidate would continue to experience excessive mood swings. The occupational health adviser therefore concluded that the candidate’s behaviour would be likely to pose a potential risk to the well-being of young pupils. She considered what adjustments the provider might make to minimise the potential risk, for example, ensuring that the trainee was supervised at all times. The occupational health adviser decided to talk to the candidate about ways of reducing the risk, for example, through medication or counselling. The candidate was adamant that she did not need treatment and would be all right once she was on the programme. The occupational health adviser decided that the candidate was unfit to teach because, without treatment, her condition was likely to affect the well-being of young pupils. She made it clear to the candidate that were she to consider treatment she would be pleased to look at a new fitness questionnaire as part of a future application

Outcome 3: unfit to teach

The GP’s response to the request for further information was that the candidate had just started a course of treatment that was likely to help her to regulate her behaviours, but it was too early to judge the success of this. The occupational health adviser considered that the potential risk to the well-being of pupils was too great at this time. She declared the candidate as unfit to teach and recommended that the candidate defer her application for a year

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