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Proposed Code of Conduct for Teachers angers Twitterers

December 20th, 2008 by Graham Attwell

An article by Jessica Shepherd in yesterdays Guardian newspaper has drawn the ire of twitter posters today. The article, entitled “Teachers could face sanction for weekend drunkenness”, reported on the new code of conduct being issued by the General Teaching Council for England. The code says teachers could face sanctions if they damage “public trust and confidence” in their profession.

According to the Guardian “Keith Bartley, chief executive of the General Teaching Council for England (GTC), the profession’s watchdog, said teachers needed to “consider their place in society”, and act as role models.

When asked what the watchdog would do if teachers were drunk and rowdy at the weekend, Bartley said the GTC would look at the individual circumstances before deciding if they should face disciplinary tribunals.

Teachers didn’t have to be exemplary citizens every second, Bartley said. Nevertheless, their behaviour could be “lawful but not acceptable”.

The code, which comes into force next autumn, states that teachers and trainees must “uphold the law and maintain standards of behaviour, both inside and outside school, that are appropriate given their membership of an important and responsible profession”.

They should “demonstrate awareness of their role as a significant figure in the lives of children and young people, lead by example, and model the characteristics they are trying to inspire in young people”.

In the discussion on Twitter, which is still ongoing at the time of writing, Drew Buddie said “surely a schools own staff code of conduct is sufficient? if teachers have to stand up to that scrutiny why not all professions?”

Josie Fraser was outright in her opposition to the code: “GTC proposals a timely xmas insult to teaching staff everywhere. Stuff already covered in Terms and Conditions of employment. What would be more useful to teachers is support in understanding management of public/private online. Which is what I’m working on.”

Kate Sim pointed out that ther are some good bits – “Keep up to date with important changes in [..] technology, so that they can help.” But Drew Buddy replied “but how the heck does THAT clause belong in a (Code of Conduct) document with all the other claptrap” and having read the whole proposal Kate Sim replied “too bits concern me who will decide what is appropriate behaviour? This is wide open to interpretation.”

Leon Cynch raised the question of privacy “I object to the GTCE role model code in that it is intrusive into teachers’ personal lives.”

In my view Kate and Leon have raised critcial questions. In proposing to take sanctions againsr teachers for what may be legal activities in their own time, the GTC is setting themselves up as moral judges over teachers’ lives. could sanctions be taken against someone for writing “inappropriate” comments to Twitter? Is a teacher who gets sent off for being involved in a fight in a rugby game to be disciplined?

The GTCE are failing teachers. The use of new technologies is blurring the divisions between the public and private. The GTCE should be supporting teachers in dealing with these issues.

The proposals are now subject to consultation and hopefully the teachers’ unions will lead the opposition. If you want to follow the discussions on twitters a tag has now been established: #GTCE.

2 Responses to “Proposed Code of Conduct for Teachers angers Twitterers”

  1. jen hughes says:

    Well, as you would expect, I would have to disagree with you – on several grounds.

    Firstly, as a parent, as a former secondary school teacher, as a director of education in a local authority and now as a school governor, I really do not have a problem with the social expectation that teachers should…

    “Uphold the law and maintain standards of behaviour, both inside and outside school, that are appropriate given their membership of an important and responsible profession”.

    This seems terribly reasonable to me. It IS an important and responsible profession and making those responsibilities transparent to the public and underlining that they are an integral part of being a teacher not an optional extra seems to me perfectly appropriate.

    Secondly, as part of the Commission consultation exercise on the training of VET teachers, I have been involved in many discussions recently about whether the competence model is still fit for purpose. An increasing number of people are telling me that values and attitudes are as important – if not more important – than skills and knowledge. I agree with them. The problem, they say, is how do we measure and represent this? And, as in many other situations, if something is too hard to represent and measure – even though we know it is important – we ignore it.

    Hmm – seems to me like the Code of Conduct is one step forward in trying to represent values and attitudes

    Thirdly, as trainers and VET teachers are moving towards increasing professionalisation, so primary and secondary teachers are bemoaning the fact that that school teaching is becoming ‘deprofessionalised’ and losing its status. Now despite the complaint by one of your correspondents about why ‘teachers are being singled out and not other professions’, it is my understanding that in fact most of these other professions do have codes of conduct that regulate the behaviour of their members over and above that required by law – the health professions, legal professions to name but two obvious ones. Why do they have these Codes of Conduct? Because it is these higher standards of behaviour, additional personal demands and moral expectations that helps to preserve public confidence in that profession and maintain its status.

    Fourthly, unlike trainers, VET teachers, university lecturers or e-learning researchers, school teachers have a statutory duty of care for their pupils. All teachers have a responsibility for helping their students learn. Only school teachers are legally acting ‘in loco parentis’. Well, hey! As a parent I really hope they take this seriously. I have no problem with teachers swearing, drinking, smoking or generally behaving like the rest of us but I DON’T WANT IT VISIBLE. No, I don’t want my teenage sons in the pub watching their teachers falling over. Alcoholism in children is a major social problem – kids as young as 12 and 13 in South Wales have died from alcohol related causes in the last few months. Millions of pounds are being spent in Wales trying to reverse the trend and I’d would be really happy if the work being done by schools, the Police and the Health Service was not undermined by a few teachers who seem to think that they have the personal freedom to behave how they want. Sorry, being a role model is not something you can switch on at 8.30 and switch off at 3.30 and weekends. And for those who say they don’t want to be a role model, sorry, it comes with the patch. You signed up to it the first day you walked into a classroom. Damn right you should “demonstrate awareness of their role as a significant figure in the lives of children and young people, lead by example, and model the characteristics they are trying to inspire in young people”.

    Fifthly, on the theme of visibility, digital identities have thrust into the public arena areas of life which were hitherto private. So the teacher who goes on a wild rugby trip on the weekend and moons out of the bus can be sure the picture will be on Facebook on Monday, name-tagged and with ‘What a fucking wanker’ in the comment box underneath. It is not enough that individual teachers are careful not to post or accept friend invitations from pupils, you can guarantee that there will be a cross over through any extended social network.

    All of you will know that one of the obvious dangers is that your digital identity will provide future employers or professional bodies with evidence of your mispent youth or your membership of the local swingers group. Those of you who heard the Sounds of the Bazaar interview with Helen Keegan on the subject of digital identities will also know that she is doing a lot of work in this area and looking at how schools can help pupils think through the responsibilities associated with their on-line presence. I think she is absolutely right – we have a duty of care to children to help them understand the consequences of their actions and this should be part of the job of all teachers – not just the IT staff. .

    Now call me old fashioned, but I’m quite into the idea of my kids maths teacher being someone who is vaguely numerate and their French teacher being someone who can actually speak the language. More than role modeling, it gives me confidence that they might actually know what they are talking about and understand the issues. Frankly, having seen dozens of cringeworthy pictures of teachers in my children’s schools, in various stages of undress and drunkenness, I am not convinced they have any credibility when it comes to discussing with pupils the appropriateness of content on social software sites.
    .

    Finally, any Code of Conduct is a blunt instrument. It has to deal with generalities – generalised behaviours, generalised circumstances and generalised individuals (if that is not too much of an oxymoron!). In an ideal world, each and every instance of behaviour considered inapropriate would be considered on its merits but that is unrealistic in terms of resources. We cannot reinvent the wheel each time. A Code of Conduct just gives us a starting point – a framework. Notwithstanding the GTC assurances that they will continue to treat each case on merit, the teachers’ Disciplinary Procedure ensures this.

    (Not that I think treating each case on merit is always a good starting point – there are many issues in education where I think there should be absolute lines drawn with no consideration given to individual circumstances…but that is another day’s rant!)

    Jen

    PS
    I am really curious to know which ‘identity’ the people who expressed an opinion were occupying.

    In these days of multiple identities, I am very clear that in the context of the above, I am mother, school governor, LEA officer, teacher and probably Disgusted-of-Tunbridge Wells. It’s the one that always pops out when provoked by Superannuated Trot / Ageing Hippie / Born-again Marxist / Intellectual Left / Angry Student / Neo-Lib / Precious Professional / Politically Right-On / Radical Left identities.

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