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Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Teachers warned over befriending pupils on Facebook

This should send a shiver down the spine of every teacher! Apparently, more than one in 10 school teachers accused of misconduct last year had used social networking sites and email to forge inappropriate relationships with their pupils, an analysis of disciplinary cases has found.

Facebook, Twitter, online chatrooms and emails were used to befriend children in 43 of the cases brought to the regulator, the General Teaching Council for England in 2011. Eighteen teachers were given prohibition orders and struck off, while 14 were suspended. In all, the GTC heard 336 cases of "unacceptable professional conduct" last year.

The cases before the professional watchdog represent the tip of the iceberg in terms of inappropriate use of social networking, as the GTC only handles cases where a teacher has been sacked or resigned in circumstances where dismissal was possible.

Transcripts of Facebook messages and internet chatlogs were used as evidence against the teachers, many of whom had told pupils to keep quiet about the communication. Seven of the 43 cases in which the internet was a feature involved emails alone, rather than social media. In three cases, although the teachers were disciplined, the particular allegation about social networking was not proved.

As a teacher, for a few years now, I have been aware of the pitfalls of maintaining an online relationship where I had met someone in a professional capacity e.g. a teacher/student relationship. It is an area fraught with potential difficulty as, to most people's minds, online chat is just that, chat, and therefore the normal rules don't apply. This lulls you into a false sense of security in thinking that you can behave in a different way from what you would if you were face to face with a student. For this reason, when students ask me to "friend" them, I do but I have minimal online contact, not to be standoffish, but to protect myself from future problems. More and more teachers are waking up to this same dilemma and adjusting their privacy settings.

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