Professional Conduct and Professional Suitability Procedure

1. Introduction

1.1 The purpose of the Professional Conduct and Professional Suitability procedure is to ensure that students on professional practice focused programmes are professionally fit for practice, and to be able to deal with cases where there are concerns promptly, safely, appropriately and fairly. 

1.2 Students must also comply with the University’s Student Code of Conduct. The Student Code of Conduct details what is expected from all students in their behaviour and following University rules and regulations. 

1.3 Each College shall produce a list of programmes that use the PCPS policy. This shall be reviewed annually and published.

This procedure applies to all students studying one of the PCPS programmes, on or off site.

Students on those programmes covered by this procedure adhere to codes of conduct relevant to their own professional bodies. Students will be made aware of the content and requirements of these on commencing their programme of study.

1.4 Issues of student conduct not related to professional conduct or suitability will be dealt with under the University’s disciplinary procedure. However in most instances PCPS is likely to be relevant given the high standards of conduct expected from a trainee professional in the discipline areas covered by the procedures. 

1.5 Confidentiality will be maintained throughout these procedures unless it is identified that there is: 

•  an immediate significant risk to the person subject to the procedures or others

•  a safeguarding issue relating to a child or vulnerable adult

•  information relating to an act of terrorism

•  the student agrees otherwise

1.6 In the event that a student as part of the PCPS process makes a disclosure about a disability previously unknown, the investigator should signpost the student to the Student Wellbeing Service, and must address the need to communicate this disclosure to the Student Wellbeing Service. 

Where consent to share the disclosure is not forthcoming this should be recorded and stored by the *Programme Leader/ Investigator. If this information is material to the issue being considered by the PCPS procedure then a summary of the potential implications could be used as evidence without directly disclosing the disability.

If a student is unfit to or not well enough to go through PCPS procedures, they should be offered an ABS and informed that the PCPS shall resume on their return to study.

If student withdraws from their programme of study before PCPS is concluded and subsequently applies for a similar professional programme, the PCPS process might need to be considered before an offer can be made.

1.7 There is no requirement for a student to reveal their DBS check during a PCPS investigation. It should be noted that where the issue involves DBS non-disclosure, decisions at each stage will be made on the basis of the evidence presented.

1.8 If the findings of these procedures have an institutional impact they may subsequently be referred for consideration under the Disciplinary Procedure under the University level procedures there. 

Additionally, the PCPS procedure may be invoked after a disciplinary investigation into a case should there be relevant concerns about conduct and suitability arising. 

1.9 Records of all PCPS cases will be retained for the duration of the student’s registration on the programme and for six years after registration ceases, with the exception of those cases which are dismissed with no case to answer. 

1.10 In PCPS matters it is for the University to show that the student has breached the University's requirements for professional behaviour. The burden of proof switches to the student at the appeal stage.

1.11 The standard of proof applied by a PCPS or PCPS Appeal Panel is that of the balance of probability; that it is more likely than not something was or was not the case

1.12 At all stages of this Procedure the student is entitled to be accompanied and/or represented by a person of their choosing, who may be a member of the Union of Students Advice Centre or a member of the University Community.  The procedure is an internal process, not a legal process, and therefore should not be adversarial or legalistic.

2. Informal Approach

2.1 Where an issue is raised that is in early stages, or judged by the investigator to be minor in nature, an informal approach shall be made.

2.2 The informal stage  is designed to ensure students understand that there is an issue and to attempt, if possible, to support the student to take corrective action and prevent the issue from becoming more serious.

Where the informal approach is not effective, or where the problem is serious or repeated, the two formal steps may apply, as set out below. 

3. Precautionary Action

3.1 A student may be temporarily suspended as a precautionary measure where this is an issue of safeguarding or public protection. In these instances the procedure will follow the Disciplinary Procedure, Section 4. 

3.2 Where a student is suspended as a precautionary measure as a result of a PCPS concern, it is most likely that the case will be dealt with under the Formal Procedure.

4. Criminal Investigation / Prosecution

4.1 Any behaviour which is suspected of being of a criminal nature may be referred to the police.

4.2 A matter may still be considered through the PCPS procedure even if there is a decision not to pursue criminal investigation/prosecution. The internal procedure would consider the alleged behaviour as misconduct in terms of the expectations of student behaviour as detailed in the codes of conduct of the relevant professional body.

4.3 If there is a criminal investigation by police, university procedures will be put on hold until this is concluded. It is the student’s responsibility to keep the university informed of update or outcomes of the criminal investigation. The University may request supporting evidence. 

4.4 Where there is police or external agency involvement, students should be given academic counselling on their option to take an authorised break of study whilst investigations are concluded.

5. Preliminary Investigation 

5.1 Following a report of concerns being raised or an allegation being made, an investigator will be appointed, this will normally be the Programme Leader (or nominee).

5.2 The *Programme Leader (or nominee) will advise the student of the concerns which have been raised, ideally within 5 working days and no more than 10 working days of the matter coming to light.

5.3 The purpose of a preliminary investigation is to gather evidence to allow consideration of whether an allegation can be dismissed or if it requires further action through informal or formal procedures.

5.4 The student will be invited to attend a meeting with the *Programme Leader (or nominee), giving at least 5 working days’ notice. Any evidence to support the allegations will be copied to the student.  This meeting may at the *Programme Leader’s (or nominee’s) discretion include another member of University staff in order to support the process or other outcome going forward. 5.5 Where the concerns are reported by a third party; employers/placements, as part of the preliminary investigation, witness statements/ evidence should be collected from the party disclosing.

5.6 At the meeting the *Programme Leader (or nominee), another member of University staff invited at the *Programme Leader’s (or nominee’s) discretion and the student will discuss the matter.

5.7 A record of the meeting will be made and signed by both parties, each keeping a signed copy. With the agreement of all parties in the meeting, a digital recording of the meeting may be made and retained for the purposes of the investigation.

5.8 The possible outcomes of this meeting are:

(i) Dismissed: no further action will be taken. No further action will be taken and no entry made on the student’s record.

(ii)Not suitable to be heard under PCPS - Refer to the University Disciplinary Procedure or other appropriate University Procedure.

(iii) Issue an advisory note and/or caution. This will detail the issue and normally include further action relating to steps the student can take to address the issue raised. A copy of the advisory note will be given to:

•  the student,

•  the *Programme Leader for implementation and monitoring

•  Student Policy and Regulations team. A copy will also be held on the student's file for reference in any future PCPS investigations. The advisory note will be retained for the duration of the student’s registration on the programme and for six years after registration ceases.

(iv) Refer student to Occupational Health / Student Wellbeing / other appropriate support where a Health / Wellbeing related nature issue has been disclosed in relation to the conduct, if a concern is identified.

(v) Refer case to Step 1 of the formal procedure: where a satisfactory conclusion cannot be achieved under the informal approach. If this is the outcome then the  Student Policy and Regulations team is to be notified by the *Programme Leader (or nominee).

5.9 It is normally expected that the preliminary investigation is completed within 20 working days of the point of notification of concern, however this may be dependent on availability of witnesses, external input or other factors beyond the investigators control.

5.10  All documentation should be sent to the Student Policy and Regulations team for central storage and recording.

6 Formal Procedures

6.1 Consideration by Discipline Lead/Course Director (including Step 1 Meeting)

6.2 The *Programme Leader (or nominee) provides the investigation report to the  Student Policy and Regulations team. This will include a full report of the allegations of misconduct matched to the expectations of the professional standards appropriate to the course, source documentary evidence and notes of informal meeting as signed off by the student and programme leader.  Where appropriate it should also include a summary of action taken to address the concerns as part of an informal process or in on programme support. This will be compiled in line with data protection legislation.

The Student Policy and Regulations teamwill provide the report to the Discipline Lead/ Course Director for consideration.

6.3 The Discipline Lead (or nominee) and another Senior Academic from the College not previously involved in the case will meet and on the basis of the preliminary investigator’s report will determine the level of meeting to hear the case based on the severity of the allegations and risk presented by the misconduct. 

Actions identified will be either:

(i) Proceed with Step 1 meeting

(ii) Refer directly to a Step 2 panel

(iii) Refer back to the Programme Team for additional information/ clarification/ evidence/ action

(iv) Not suitable to be heard under PCPS - Refer to the University Disciplinary Procedure or other appropriate University Procedure.

6.4 This will be notified to the Student Policy and Regulations team in writing who will make arrangements for the appropriate meeting and notify the student of the proposed course of action.

7. Step 1 Meeting: 

7.1 A Step 1 meeting will normally occur within 15 working days of referral.

7.2 It will be chaired by the Discipline Lead (or nominee) and the Senior Academic will also hear the case.  Also present will be the Programme Leader (or nominee). The meeting will be supported by a case officer nominated by the Student Policy and Regulations team. 

7.3 The student will be given 10 working days written notice of the date of the Step 1 meeting. If the student does not respond, the meeting may proceed in their absence. 

7.4 The student will be provided with copies of any written material submitted for consideration (including the Preliminary Investigation Report).

7.5 Students can object to panel members on the grounds of bias. Where a student wishes to request a new panel member they must provide a constructive written explanation with evidence, to the Case Officer, no later than 5 working days before the panel.

7.6 The student may be accompanied as detailed in Point 1.3 above.  The details of any representation should be notified by the student no later than 5 working days prior to the meeting.

7.7 The student is entitled to submit a response to the allegations or additional information, for example, witness statements.  These should be submitted no later than 5 working days prior to the meeting.

7.8 The possible outcomes of a Step 1 Meeting are:

(i) Dismissed, no case to answer: No further action will be taken and no entry made on the student’s record;

(ii) Not suitable to be heard under PCPS: The matter may be referred to the Disciplinary Procedure or other University process;

(iii) Refer student to Occupational Health / Student Wellbeing Services / other appropriate support where a Health and wellbeing related issue has been disclosed in relation to the conduct;

(iv) Issue an advisory note: this will detail the issue and normally include further action relating to steps the student can take to address the issue raise. A copy of the advisory note will be given to the student, a copy to the *Programme Leader for implementation and monitoring and a copy held on the students file for reference in any future PCPS investigations. The advisory note will be retained for the duration of the student’s registration on the programme and for six years after registration ceases;

(v) Refer case to Step 2 of the formal procedure: where a satisfactory conclusion cannot be reached under the Step 1 approach;

(vi) Case proven: In such instances, a consequence as detailed in section 4 of this procedure may be given.  On occasion more than one consequence may be appropriate.

7.9 The outcomes of the meeting will normally be communicated to the student at the end of the meeting and confirmed in writing within 5 working days of the meeting.  On occasion, it may not be possible to reach an immediate conclusion.  In this instance, the Chair will agree the timescales and method for completing the Step 1 process with the student.

7.10 If the student does not accept the outcome they may appeal accordingly as detailed in section 5 of this procedure.

8. Step 2 PCPS Panel  

8.1 A Step 2 PCPS panel will comprise:

• A Head of School or Deputy Dean (or nominee)

• A Senior Academic from the College

• An Officer Trustee from the Union of Students

All will have no previous involvement in the case.

8.2 Additionally an external expert in the discipline and/or a DBS signatory may be invited by the Head of School (or nominee) to advise the panel.

The panel will be supported by a Case Officer nominated by the Student Policy and Regulations team.

8.3 The meeting will normally occur within 20 working days of Step 1 referral.

8.4 The student will be given 10 working days written notice of the date of the Step 2 Panel. If the student does not respond, the meeting may proceed in their absence. 

8.5 Alongside the written notice the student will be provided with copies of any written material submitted for consideration (including the Preliminary Investigation Report) and the names of panel members and any additional attendees.

8.6 Students can object to panel members on the grounds of bias. Where a student wishes to request a new panel member they must provide a constructive written explanation with evidence, to the Case Officer, no later than 5 working days before the panel.

8.7 The student may be accompanied as detailed in Point 1.3 above.  The details of any representation should be notified by the student 5 working days prior to the meeting.

8.8 The student is entitled to submit a response to the allegations as detailed in the investigation report or additional information as appropriate, for example, witness statements.  These should be submitted 5 working days prior to the meeting.

8.9 On receiving the information prior to the meeting, the panel may request attendance of specified witnesses at the hearing.  The names of any additional attendees will be confirmed to the student at least 5 working days before the meeting. 

8.10 Possible outcomes of the PCPS Step 2 meeting are:

(i) Dismissed, as there was no case found to answer. No further action will be taken and no entry made on the student’s record.

(ii) Not suitable to be heard under PCPS - Refer to the University Disciplinary Procedure or other appropriate University Procedure.

(iii) Refer student to Occupational Health / Student Wellbeing Services / other appropriate support where a Health / Wellbeing related issue has been disclosed in relation to the conduct, if concern identified.

(iv) Issue an advisory note: this will detail the issue and normally include further action relating to steps the student can take to address the issue raised. A copy of the advisory note will be given to the student, a copy to the *Programme Leader for implementation and monitoring and a copy held on the students file for reference in any future PCPS investigations. The advisory note will be retained for the duration of the student’s registration on the programme and for six years after registration ceases.

(v) Case proven, penalty incurred as detailed in section 4 of this procedure.

8.11 The outcomes of the meeting will normally be communicated to the student immediately. The student will receive written confirmation of the outcomes within 5 working days. 

8.12 If the student does not accept the outcome they may appeal according as detailed in section 5 of this procedure. 

9. Consequences of a PCPS allegation being proven at formal stages. 

9.1 Where it is found that a student has committed a PCPS offence at the formal stages, the following penalties may be applied: 

(i) Advisory note – see point 3.2.6(iv) above.

(ii) Warning.

(iii) Case proven- remedial actions such as further learning, or reflective assessment. If these actions are not complied with, or do not meet the specified standard of completion, the case may be referred back to the formal stages of the PCPS procedure for consideration.

(iv) The student may be excluded from University facility and/or Placement facilities for a defined period (penalty available at Steps 1 & 2).

(v) The student may incur a penalty relating to the use of University facility and/or Placement facilities (penalty available at Steps 1 & 2).

(vi) The student may be suspended from the programme of study for a defined period (penalty available at Steps 2 only).

Termination of registration on the programme of study with the option to use achieved credits to apply for advanced standing on a different programme (penalty available at Step 2 only). 9.2 Consequences (iv), (vi) and (vii) above must be confirmed by the Academic Registrar. The Academic Registrar will be provided with the written material considered in the meeting which recommended the penalty and a record of the proceedings of that meeting. 

9.3 Where appropriate the Professional Body will be informed. 

9.4 Where appropriate the Independent Safeguarding Authority will be informed.

9.5 Following suspension or termination of registration the student has no right to return or annulment of tuition fees. 

9.6 At the point of termination of registration the student may be considered for an exit award. 

10. Appeal against the decision of a Step 1 or Step 2 PCPS decision

10.1 Students have the right to appeal against the outcome of a Step 1 hearing or Step 2 PCPS panel.

10.2 An appeal will only be allowed on specified grounds:

(i) if new material evidence is available that was not available at prior stages of the procedure. Where a student bases their appeal on these grounds, they will be expected to demonstrate why the new evidence could not be submitted at an earlier stage of the procedure. Appeals based on these grounds where the evidence is not sufficient or material to the case will not normally be accepted

(ii) if it can be shown that the correct procedures were not followed

(iii) if the consequence is out of proportion with the offence

10.3 Appeals must be submitted, in writing, to the PVC/Dean within 10 working days of written notification of the outcome following the meeting, explaining the reasons for the appeal

11. Consideration of the Appeal  

11.1 The PVC Dean (or nominee) will consider whether there are grounds for appeal.

11.2 Where an appeal is accepted the ^PVC Dean will request  that a PCPS appeal panel is established.

The panel will consist of:

• A Head of School or Deputy Dean (Chair)

• A Senior Academic from the College

• An Officer Trustee from the Union of Students

No member of the Appeal Panel will have any prior experience of the matter.

11.3 The Chair may decide to invite the student to the meeting. In this case the student may be accompanied by a friend or a representative as detailed in point 1.13. 

11.4 The PCPS Appeal Panel will be given the written material presented to the PCPS Panel meeting, the notes of the proceedings and the decision of that meeting.  No witness present at the disciplinary meeting will be recalled, nor will the evidence presented to the disciplinary meeting be reheard, unless the panel is satisfied that it is necessary in the interests of justice.

11.5 Outcome of the Appeal

The outcome of the PCPS Appeal Panel will be to:

(i) Confirm the original decision,

(ii) Annul the original decision

(iii) Amend the original decision which may include a reduction in the original penalty

11.6 The Panel will keep a record of the appeal proceedings and will communicate their decision to the student in writing, giving reasons for that decision. The Panel will aim to conclude its deliberations and respond to the student within 20 working days of the appeal being accepted.

11.7 The appeal decision is final and completion of internal procedures will be confirmed.

12. Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education

In the event that the student rejects the outcome of the appeal, s/he may request an independent review of the process by the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA).  In order to do so the student must obtain a Completion of Procedures letter from the University. This confirms that the institution has completed consideration of the case through local procedures. In such circumstances, the student should forward a completed Scheme Application Form to the OIA, who will review the appeal independently in due course.  Scheme Application Forms are available from the OIA at: 

Office of the Independent Adjudicator, Second Floor  Abbey Gate  57-75 Kings Road Reading RG1 3AB Telephone: 01189 599813  Email: enquiries@oiahe.org.uk Website: www.oiahe.org.uk 

Glossary of Terms 1. Vulnerable Adult

Definition taken from the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012