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Fitness to Practise - Guidance for Schools

This Guidance is intended to provide assistance for members of staff involved in the Fitness to Practise Procedure. This Guidance should be read in conjunction with the Fitness to Practise Procedure. Where there is any doubt, the Fitness to Practise Procedure will take precedence over this Guidance.

1. General Information

  • General Information

    Concerns about a student’s health or conduct may be raised by anyone, including a colleague, a placement supervisor or a member of the public. Any condition or conduct which may affect a student’s ability to practise safely or effectively or which may pose a risk to the safety or interests of children, patients or clients will be deemed to be a fitness to practise issue and will normally be dealt under this Procedure.

    Students may be considered unfit to practise on the grounds of, for example:

    i. Physical or mental health difficulties.

    ii. Criminal or other serious misconduct.

    iii. Professionally inappropriate behaviour.

    iv. Danger to children/patients/clients.

    (This list is not exhaustive.)

    The concerns may arise from a pattern of behaviour over a period of time, rather than one single incident. They may also relate to the student’s conduct before admission to the University. Academic offences (eg plagiarism or cheating in an examination) may also be considered to be a fitness to practise issue, particularly where concerns are raised about truthfulness or probity.

  • Fitness to Practise and Health Issues

    Health conditions or disabilities, including mental health difficulties, should not affect a student’s fitness to practise, providing that they are appropriately addressed and managed. In such cases, the Fitness to Practise Procedure will only be invoked as a last resort if reasonable adjustments and other interventions have failed to address the behavioural issues. Where it is considered that a student’s behaviour may relate to physical or mental health, or to addiction problems, the University will also consider fitness to study.

    In cases where there are possible health, drug or alcohol related problems, a student may be required to attend the Occupational Health Service, either before or after a Fitness to Practise Panel meeting. In addition, the University may require the student to attend an appointment with an independent expert (eg, a psychiatrist); this report must be provided to the student. A student may withhold specialist reports about their health from the investigating officer or the Fitness to Practise Panel. However, unwillingness to disclose medical reports may prevent the investigating officer or the Fitness to Practise Panel from making a decision about the student’s fitness to practise, which may impact on progression.

  • Truthfulness and Probity

    Students should be advised at the outset of the procedure about the importance of being truthful and the emphasis put on probity both in written submissions and in meetings.

  • Support and Guidance

    Going through the Fitness to Practise Procedure can be a stressful experience for students; they should be advised of the advice and support available to them.  

    Advice and guidance is available:

    • within their School from your Personal Tutor, Adviser of Studies, Year Student Support Lead or other senior member of staff
    • from the Student Wellbeing Service
    • from the Students’ Union
    • legal advice and representation. Students are entitled to be accompanied to any meeting by:
      • a registered student of the University (including a Sabbatical Officer from the Students’ Union)
      • a member of University staff
      • a member of staff of the University Chaplaincy.

    The University will not pay for a student’s legal representation. However, if a student is a member of a union or association, they may be entitled to free representation and should be advised to contact their union or association without delay:

    If the student decides to obtain professional legal representation, you should ensure that you obtain the student’s signed written consent before discussing their case with the legal professional. Otherwise, the University will be prohibited from doing so under the GDPR.    

    Students should be advised that, if they intend to bring legal representation, they must give the University at least 48 hours advance notice and the University will also be represented. This may also lead to a delay to allow time for the University to obtain legal representation.

2. General Principles

  • General Principles

    Procedural fairness - Stick to the Regulations.

    Neutrality – investigating officers must not have a personal stake in the outcome of the investigation or pre-judge the issue. They must not know the student or be aware of their circumstances.

    Fairness – all parties involved must have the opportunity to provide all relevant information and to have the investigator consider it. Give the student time to present their version of events and/or explain their conduct, including any mitigating circumstances.


    Thoroughness – get the facts clear before interviewing the student. The investigation must uncover all information necessary to make the proper decision and to ensure that conclusions are supported

    Timeliness – the investigation must be concluded in a timely manner. The student should be advised of any delays.

3. Investigation

  • Investigation

    See also Fitness to Practise Investigation Meeting Guidance

    When a concern or concerns are raised about a student’s behaviour, the Director of Education (or equivalent) (DE) should be notified immediately in writing. The DE will, normally within five working days, refer the matter to the Head of School (HoS) who will decide whether the FtP Procedure should be invoked.

    If the HoS decides to invoke the FtP Procedure, the HoS will:

    • (in consultation with the Director of Academic and Student Affairs) decide whether the student should be suspended. Students will normally be suspended immediately from placement or clinical practice until the conclusion of the Fitness to Practise proceedings. Students who are due to go on placement or clinical practice will not normally be permitted to do so. The decision to suspend must be made to protect children, patients or clients and must be proportionate, fair, documented and reviewed regularly.
    • nominate an investigating officer to investigate the allegations against the student. The investigating officer will be a senior member of academic staff or a senior member of staff who is registered with the regulatory body and from the same discipline as the student. Before appointing the member of staff, the HoS should ensure that:
    • they have the competency and capacity to undertake the investigation
    • they are impartial (ie they do not know the student or the student’s circumstances)
  • Appointment of Investigating Officer

    1. The Investigating Officer shall be:

    a. A senior member of academic staff in the relevant School; or

    b. A senior member of staff who is registered with the regulatory body and from the same disciplinary background as the student.

    2. The Investigating Officer should:

    a. Have no prior knowledge of the concern raised.

    b. Not have a close working relationship with the student (e.g. Advisor of Studies) or the individual who raised the concern.

    c. Not know the student socially.

    d. Not have been involved in any previous Fitness to Practise cases against the student.

    e. Be appropriately trained.

    3. If the appointed Investigating Officer becomes aware of a conflict of interest/bias, they should cease work on the investigation and notify the Head of School (or nominee) who appointed them.

  • Terms of Reference for the Investigation

    Before commencing the investigation, the investigating officer should agree the terms of reference of the investigation with the HoS. The HoS and the IO should address any preliminary issues before embarking on the investigation interviews. 

    Objective - ensure both the HoS and the investigating officer are clear about the objective of the investigation from the outset. This guides the investigating officer’s work and reduces the likelihood the investigation will deteriorate into a fishing expedition.

    Scope - determine the scope of the investigation: limited to factual findings, extends to drawing conclusions and includes recommendations to inform the HoS’s decision

    Timing - start and complete the investigation as soon as possible, but strike a balance between a speedy investigation and a thorough one.

  • Preliminary Issues

    Assessment – assess the allegations against the student, considering the nature of the allegations, the parties involved and whether there are children/patient/client safety issues.

    Other student concerns – if the allegations have been made by another student, that student may be reluctant to participate in an investigation for various reasons. However, if there is reason for FtP concerns, the School must investigate the matter – and the reporting student should be informed that the matter will be investigated and that they will be expected to co-operate.  

    Disclosure – those involved are entitled to differing degrees of disclosure before they are interviewed as part of the investigation:

    1. Student is entitled to know that allegations of misconduct have been received in which they have been named, the complainant’s identity and sufficient detail to allow them to know generally what matters will be discussed in their interview.
    2. Witnesses are often the most curious about the investigation but have no rights respecting either privacy or disclosure during the investigation and no need to know the nature of the allegations before their interview. 

    Privacy – all parties involved have a right to confidentiality; the more sensitive the subject-matter, the more care the investigating officer should take to protect confidentiality. However, there are limits because it is necessary to share certain information during the investigation for the process to be fair and thorough, such as the student’s right to know the particulars of the case made against them. The investigating officer must, however, handle the investigation in a confidential manner and make every effort to avoid unnecessary, and perhaps inadvertent, disclosure, only sharing information about the facts of the investigation – particularly names of those involved and the subject matter – with those who need to know.

  • Preparing for interviews

    The interviews are often the most crucial stage of the investigation because the investigating officer will usually obtain most of their information here.

    Preparing - advance preparation is key:  

    • Who - decide who to interview. Initially, the interviewees might be limited to the person who made the allegation and the student. Following the initial interview, it may become apparent that other people need to be interviewed. The main factor determining who the IO needs to interview is whether the person has information relevant to the objective of the investigation. There is no requirement to interview everyone the parties put forward; the more witnesses the IO interviews, the greater the likelihood of compromising confidentiality. Generally, the investigator should interview witnesses to the more significant events set out in the allegations against the student, not necessarily those with knowledge of more trivial incidents, but should interview any witnesses named by both the person making the allegations and the student.
    • When - It is usual to interview:
    1. the person who made the allegations;
    2. then the witnesses named by the person making the allegations;
    3. then the student;
    4. then the witnesses named by the student;
    5. lastly any required follow-up interviews.
    6. However, the IO should remain flexible when deciding the order; the facts or concerns that witnesses might try to falsely corroborate each other’s stories might suggest a different order. 
    • What - before the interview, prepare general questions based on the understanding of the incident. The interview should start with “open” questions to the interviewee to give them the opportunity to provide their own account of the incident and possibly provide new information of which the IO may not be aware. Inevitably, the interviewee’s answers will lead to additional clarification questions. It is important that the IO seeks very specific details with respect to times, dates, locations, individuals involved, and other witnesses.
  • Setting up an investigation meeting with an accused student

    advise the student of the reporting requirements of their regulatory body relating to them and to the UniversityThe investigating officer will write to the student to:

    1.  explain that concerns have been raised about the student’s conduct and that they have been nominated investigating officer 
    2. invite the student to meet with them – informing the student of the date, time and venue for the meeting and giving the student at least five working days’ notice. The investigating officer should ensure that they allocate sufficient time for the meeting.
    3. provide the student with a copy of the FtP Procedure and the Guidance for Students (or the links)
    4. set out the terms of any suspension or limitations on the continuance of the student’s studies
    5. advise them of their right to be accompanied and/or legally represented 
    6. ask whether the student considers that they have a disability and requires any reasonable adjustments
    7. set out the allegations against the student, giving sufficient detail to ensure that the student understands the case against them and sending copies of any relevant documents. NB it may be necessary to redact documents.
    8. advise the student of the reporting requirements of their regulatory body relating to them and to the University.
  • Interviews: Conducting & Preliminary Matters

    Conducting: Conduct the interviews as soon as possible, while memories remain fresh. The investigating officer will gather information and may speak to any other person involved or anyone who may have information to contribute to the investigation. The investigating officer may:

    • request the Head of School and/or members of staff connected with the case, including clinical staff, where relevant, to provide written comments on the student’s conduct and/or health, explaining why there is concern about their fitness to practise.
    • gather factual information about the student’s progress on the programme and any other relevant information and/or documentation.
    • interview relevant individuals
    • require the student to attend the University’s Occupational Health Service in order that advice on their fitness to practise on medical grounds may be sought.

    Preliminary Matters: at the beginning of each interview, the IO should:

    • explain that they have been asked to investigate allegations which have given rise to FtP concerns;
    • explain they want to learn what, if any, relevant information the interviewee might have;
    • the student against whom allegations have been made should be given the opportunity to give their version of events and set out any mitigating circumstances
    • advise they are looking for facts, not personal opinion;
    • describe the nature of the allegations, providing only those details necessary to make the interview meaningful;
    • advise the interviewee the investigation process is confidential and the interviewee should not discuss it or the interview with anyone;
    • remind the interviewee of the importance of providing honest and accurate responses. 

    Note-taking a note-taker should be present during the interview to take notes; record the date, time and the names of the interviewee and anyone else present at the interview. All interview notes may be used later in the FtP procedure: they must be credible, comprehensive and comprehensible and avoid any comments or notes that could be construed as prejudging the issue. Get the handwritten notes typed as soon as possible and check the accuracy of the typed version with the IO. They should also be sent to the student to check that they agree that the notes are a true reflection of the meeting. 

  • Interviews

    Interviews the interview is intended to provide a clear understanding of what happened so the IO can prepare a report to inform the decision of the HoS – so obtain all relevant information from those interviewed. Before concluding each investigation interview, review the draft interview questions and notes to determine whether they require any further information or clarification from the interviewee. 

    • Person who made the allegations - obtain a clear understanding of the view of the person who made the allegations of what happened before, during and after the incident(s) and whether there were any witnesses and their names.
    • Witnesses – advise witnesses about their impartial role in an investigation and provide enough information so the witness can comment on the incidents they may have observed, while limiting information that would reveal names and identities of those involved, if at all possible. Once again, highlight the confidentiality of the investigation. While it is not necessary to share full particulars of the complaint with witnesses, it may be necessary and justifiable to share some information to determine whether the witness has relevant information.
    • Student – assure the student that the matter will be investigated as confidentially as possible and advise the student to maintain that confidentiality. Tell the student the allegations and any material facts or evidence gathered during the investigation.

    The investigating officer should ensure that the student is given a fair opportunity to explain what happened, to give the investigating officer the name/s of any witnesses or people who may have relevant information or to let the investigating officer know of any factors which affected their behaviour. The investigating officer should note

    • whether or not the student accepts any allegations, criticisms or concerns;
    • what explanations the student has given for their actions;
    • any steps the student has taken to address their behaviour;     
    • how the student plans to change / manage their behaviour in the future (if they accept that change is needed);
    • information about mitigating circumstances (events beyond the student’s control, like a health problem, or financial, accommodation or personal difficulties);
    • favourable information such as previous good behaviour or evidence that the student’s behaviour has improved;
    • in cases of ill health, how the student plans to address the concerns raised and manage their health problems in the future.

    Take Stock note divergences in the evidence, consistency with other evidence, corroboration by other testimony. Ask more questions if necessary but do not challenge the truthfulness of the witness. The demeanour of the witness is irrelevant and should not be taken into account. Stick to the facts, do not interpret or assign meaning to non-verbal behaviour. This is when the investigating officer should determine whether they require any follow-up or additional interviews and schedule and conduct them accordingly.

  • Finalise the Investigation

    Factual Findings - The investigating officer’s role is to make findings of fact that lead to a conclusion and a recommendation for consideration by the Head of School. Factual findings in an internal investigation are based on a “balance of probabilities” standard: based on all of the evidence is it “more likely than not” (greater than a 50% chance) the alleged fact actually happened? Consider corroboration and the adequacy and consistency of the facts the parties and witnesses allege.

    Outcomes there are three typical outcomes of an investigation:

    i. substantiated (on the balance of probabilities, the evidence substantiates the allegations against the student);

    ii. not substantiated (on the balance of probabilities, the evidence does not substantiate the allegations against the student); and

    iii. inconclusive (the conduct or allegation(s) may have happened but the evidence is insufficient to prove, on the balance of probabilities, that they occurred).

  • Outcome of the Investigation

    Report - the investigating officer should provide a report to the Head of School, normally within 15 working days of appointment (however, there may be delays due to the unavailability of staff or the need to gather more information. If there is a delay, the student must be notified). The report should:

    • present all the relevant information identified during the course of the investigation;
    • present an analysis of the information obtained; and
    • contain findings of fact and a recommendation.
  • Decision

    The Head of School (or nominee), in consultation with the Director of Academic and Student Affairs (or nominee), will consider the investigating officer’s report and make a decision; the options available are:

    i. there is no case to answer and dismiss the case against you (but you should note that some regulatory bodies require this to be disclosed)

    ii. there is evidence of misconduct, but your fitness to practise is not impaired, and impose a warning which will remain on your record until graduation

    iii. there is evidence of misconduct and your fitness to practise is impaired and that you should be required to give an undertaking in writing that you will adhere to conditions specified by the Head of School  

    iv. the concerns about your fitness to practise are serious and refer our case to a Fitness to Practise Panel

    v. further investigations are required to be carried out

    vi. the case should be referred under the Conduct Regulations, Academic Offences, or other procedures, as appropriate.

    The HoS will write  to the student within five working days of the decision being made advising the decision and setting out the rationale for the decision.

  • Refusal to accept written warning or give an undertaking

    If the student does not agree with the decision of the Head of School, and the Director of Academic and Student Affairs, to impose a warning, they may request that the matter is referred to a Fitness to Practise Panel by submitting a request in writing to the School Office within five working days of notification of the decision.

    If the student refuses to give the required undertaking, the matter will be referred to a Fitness to Practise Panel.

    The student should be made aware that, by accepting a warning or giving an undertaking, they are accepting that there was a case to answer and that the facts as set out by Investigating Officer are correct and are admitted.

Fitness to Practise Panel

  • Fitness to Practise Panel

    The Panel is tasked with making decisions about the student’s fitness to practise and whether any special measures are needed either to guide and support student, or in the public interest.

    A Fitness to Practise Panel will consist of:

    • A senior member of academic staff from your School (nominated by your Head of School), who will chair the meeting
    • A clinically or professionally active member (or members) of the relevant profession
    • A Head of School (or nominee) from another School
    • A Sabbatical Officer from the Students’ Union.

    A quorum will be the Chair plus two members, who must include a member of the relevant profession. The Panel’s decision will be a majority decision and, where the vote is split, the Chair will have the casting vote.

  • Secretary of the Fitness to Practise Panel

    The Secretary to the Fitness to Practise Panel will a member of Faculty staff. The Secretary will arrange the meeting, write to the student inviting them to the meeting, prepare the papers for circulation to you and the Panel and attend the Panel meeting to take minutes.

    The student should be advised that they have the right to be accompanied and/or represented. The student should be asked whether they consider that they have a disability and require reasonable adjustments. The Secretary should ensure that the room is suitable and that any reasonable adjustments are put in place.

    The Secretary is a key point of contact for the student.

  • Procedure: Fitness to Practise Panel meeting

    Whilst the School’s case may focus on the School’s concerns, the Panel will also consider favourable information about the student, such as positive reports from supervisors or testimonials from those who have taught or employed the student.

    The Investigating Officer will attend the meeting to explain to the Panel the School’s concerns about the student. The student will be given the opportunity to respond. The Panel is neutral; its role is to consider the facts and make a decision on the student’s fitness to practise on the balance of probabilities.

    The suggested protocol for a Fitness to Practise Panel is set out below; however, this may be changed or adapted to suit the particular circumstances of the meeting:

    The Chair will:

    1. introduce the Panel members and will ask those present to introduce themselves  
    2. explain that the Panel is independent, that no member has had prior knowledge of the student or their case and that the members have read the papers
    3. explain that the meeting is not a court of law but that the Panel will observe the principles of honesty, integrity and fairness and that the student will be expected to do the same and that truthfulness and probity are issues that may be taken into account in any decision about fitness to practise – duty of candour (Section 1.19)
    4. note that any reasonable adjustments requested have been put in place and explain that the student can ask for breaks
    5. explain the purpose of the meeting – that the Panel will consider the evidence presented and decide whether the student is fit to practise and, where appropriate, any sanctions that should be imposed
    6. set out the sanctions available to the Panel – as set out in Section 1.82:
    7. confirm whether any witnesses will be called. The student should already have notified the Panel Secretary of the name/s of witness/es. (Witnesses will only be called into the meeting to give their evidence and then will asked to leave).
    8. set out the grounds which will be considered by the Panel (Section 1.5 of the Fitness to Practise Procedure) and set out the broad allegations against the student
    9. explain how the protocol for the meeting and how it will proceed:
    • the investigating officer will set out the particulars of the allegations against the student and the reasons for referring the matter to a Fitness to Practise Panel
    • the student and their representative will put the student’s case
    • the Panel may ask questions of either party
    • the University’s legal representative may, through the Chair, ask questions of either party for clarification
    • the student or their representative may, through the Chair, question the Investigating officer
    • the Investigating officer may, through the Chair, question the student. However, the student will be expected to answer questions directly, not through their representative
    • the Investigating officer will be asked to sum up
    • the student or their representative will be asked to sum up
    • the Investigating officer, the student, their representatives and any person accompanying them will leave the room together
    • the Panel will deliberate.  The student will be notified of the Panel’s decision, normally within five working days of the decision being taken to their QUB email account.  If there is a delay in a decision being reached, the student should be advised.

    The Chair of the Panel should ensure that there are regular breaks and that any agreed reasonable adjustments have been put in place.

  • The powers of a Fitness to Practise Panel

    A Fitness to Practise Panel may deal with the student’s case in one of the following ways:

    Impose no warning or sanction and permit the student to continue on their programme of study

    ii. Impose a warning if there is evidence of misconduct, but the student’s fitness to practise is not impaired to a point requiring any of the sanctions listed below. If considered appropriate, the student may be referred for consideration under the University’s Conduct Regulations (see Section VI: Conduct Regulations).

    iii. Impose a sanction. Beginning with the least severe, the sanctions are as follows:

    a. A written undertaking by the student that there will be no repetition of the behaviour which led to the referral to the Fitness to Practise Panel. Any breach of the undertaking will normally result in an immediate referral back to the Fitness to Practise Panel in respect of the original concerns and the breach of the undertaking.

    b. Condition(s) that the student undertakes a particular programme of remedial tuition and/or increased supervision, where the Panel has found that their fitness to practise has been impaired because of poor physical or mental health. The conditions should include medical as well as academic supervision.

    c. Suspension from the programme for a specified time.   On return from suspension the student will be expected to comply with any further conditions as may be specified by the Head of School. The relevant regulatory body may require that this is declared at registration with the profession.

    d. Expulsion from programme.

    The student may appeal to a Fitness to Practise Appeal Panel on the following grounds:

    i. New evidence has become available which was not available for the Fitness to Practise Panel

    ii. There has been a procedural irregularity in the conduct of the Fitness to Practise Panel proceedings.

    The student will be notified by the Chair of the Fitness to Practise Panel of the Panel’s decision  in writing to their QUB email address, normally within five working days of the decision being taken. If there is a delay, the student should be informed.

    The student may appeal on either or both grounds by writing, to the Faculty Pro-Vice-Chancellor, copied to Academic Affairs. The written appeal must be submitted within ten working days of the written notification of the decision of the Fitness to Practise Panel.

    The Faculty Pro-Vice-Chancellor (or nominee) and the Director of Academic and Student Affairs will decide if the student has presented a prima facie case on the grounds of appeal. If it is decided that the student has not presented a prima facie case, the appeal will be dismissed and the student will be informed by the Faculty Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the decision in writing, with reasons. If it is decided that the student has presented a prima facie case on the grounds of appeal, an Appeal Panel will be convened.

  • Fitness to Practise Appeal Panel

    An Appeal Panel will normally consist of:

    i. The appropriate Faculty Pro-Vice-Chancellor (or senior nominee) as Chair.

    ii. A Head of School (or nominee) from a School other than the School involved.

    iii. An academic member of staff from a School other than your School.

    iv. One member of the profession (not being a member of University staff) or (where considered appropriate) two such members.

    v. A Sabbatical Officer from the Students’ Union.

    The Appeal Panel will carry out a review of the student’s case and will have access to all documentation of the original Fitness to Practise Panel, including minutes. The student and the Chair of the Fitness to Practise Panel will receive copies of any documentation sent to the members of the Appeal Panel. New information, which was not available to the student at the time of the Fitness to Practise Panel meeting, may be presented to the Appeal Panel, who will consider it. Other than such new evidence, the Appeal Panel will only consider evidence relating to the grounds for the appeal submitted by the student. The appeal will not constitute a re-hearing of the case.

    The remit of the Appeal Panel is to decide whether to dismiss the appeal or to refer the case back to the relevant School for consideration by another Fitness to Practise Panel. In such circumstances, no member of the new Fitness to Practise Panel shall have been involved in the case previously.  

    The student will be notified of the Appeal Panel’s decision in writing to their QUB email address, normally within five working days of the decision being taken. If there is a delay, the student should be informed. The letter will address each ground of appeal and will give reasons for upholding or not upholding the appeal on that ground. Where the evidence of one person is preferred to the evidence of another person, the letter should state the Appeal Panel’s reasons.

    The decision of the Fitness to Practise Appeal Panel is final; there is no further internal right of appeal. However, any student who remains aggrieved by the decision of the Fitness to Practise Appeal Panel may make a complaint to the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman within six months of notification of the University’s final decision.