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Teachers banned from befriending their pupils online

By Sussex Courier  |  Posted: May 05, 2012

  • boozed with students: Florence Slark was sacked from Beacon Community College

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TEACHERS have been ordered not to befriend pupils online for fear of them becoming too close.

New guidelines drawn up by education bosses ban teachers from chatting to students on Facebook and Twitter, saying it can blur staff-student relationships.

Respected former head teachers have criticised the need for such rules, saying modern-day teaching had grown cosy.

Graham Johnson, who retired as head of Sir Henry Fermor Primary in Crowborough in 1995 and still lives in East Beeches Road, said: "When I was teaching we had a professional relationship with students – and nothing more than that."

East Sussex County Council's new policy says staff members must decline friend requests they receive in their personal social media accounts from pupils.

It also says they must not have personal online contact with any school-age pupil, regardless of whether they teach them, unless they are relatives.

The new rules are designed to prevent problems such as those of Florence Slark, who in February was banned from the classroom for two years after a watchdog found her guilty of "unacceptable professional conduct" while employed as a maths teacher at Crowborough's Beacon Community College.

In 2010 she had travelled to Brighton with two students and drunk alcohol with them after chatting to them on Facebook.

Michael Cooke, from Queen's Road in Crowborough, is a former head of Sissinghurst Primary School.

He said: "It's difficult for teachers just out of university teaching sixth formers only a few years younger than them to maintain that respect."

Mr Cooke, 62, added: "Schools are much less formal than they used to be. I went to a grammar school where we called the teachers 'Sir' and they called us by our surnames.

"There is more equality now."

Social Media Use: A Model Policy For Schools, warns teachers against giving away personal information or uploading potentially embarrassing photos and videos to sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Barry Langridge, chairman of governors at Beacon Community College, said: "With all the new forms of communication, it's much more dangerous than it was in my day."

Current teachers recognised the risks of harbouring out-of-school friendships with students.

Tunbridge Wells Girls' Grammar School teacher Beverley Johnstone, who lives in Mottins Hill, Crowborough added: "Teachers and students need to take great care. The internet is fraught with difficulty."

Jayne Edmonds, principal at Uplands Community College in Wadhurst, warned: "Facebook has the potential to create difficulties if boundaries of a professional student-teacher relationship are blurred online."

At Uckfield Community Technology College, where teachers receive training about the pitfalls of the internet, deputy principal Helena Read said staff should not contact ex-students until they reach 19.

Sion Humphreys from the National Association of Headteachers told the Courier: "Strict protocols are essential, not only to protect pupils but also to preclude the potential for teachers' actions to be misconstrued or for false accusations to be made."

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