London : An analysis of disciplinary cases found that 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.
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.
Policies regarding social networking sites differ widely among schools themselves. Some ban teachers from having accounts entirely, while others allow staff to be Facebook ‘friends’ with pupils.
“I work in a lot of schools all over the country and I see very different approaches to this type of thing – from schools who have actually told teachers that they cannot have a Facebook account, to others who haven’t even given it a thought. Similarly, you find schools where staff are friends with pupils on Facebook,” the Guardian quoted Karl Hopwood, an Internet safety consultant and former GTC head, as saying.
“My advice to schools is to always have a very clear and robust ‘acceptable use’ policy which is a living breathing document, not some 25-page tome on the staffroom shelf gathering dust. I think that they also have to have very clear distinctions between public and private,” he said.
Facebook too has published advice for teachers on how to curate different profiles for different audiences. It advises teachers on how to use friend lists to sort friends into different groups, and then decide which list to share content with.
“Often the use of social media by teachers can be positive and make a valuable contribution to a teacher”s practice, to pupils or to the school,” said GTC registrar Paul Heathcote
“Each GTC case is based on its own merits, and only if the use of social media by a teacher is relevant and serious enough to potentially affect a teacher”s registration is it likely to progress to a hearing,” he said.