Teachers Need Clearer Guidance on Interacting on Facebook

Unions say social networking rules are too vague and could be a little bit more stringent.

Hosts of teacher’s unions in Wales, including the National Union of Teachers, say the guidance needs to be clearer on teachers interacting with students on sites such as Facebook. In the wake of several high profile disciplinary cases, unions have said teachers using social media websites should receive clearer guidance as to the appropriate code of conduct. Five out of 21 disciplinary cases last year involved teachers interacting with pupils on social media sites, said the General Teaching Council for Wales (GTCW). The code of conduct simply states, “Communication should be ‘appropriate.’”

One such case involved teacher Elizabeth Scarlett, 50, in 2012. She was given an official reprimand for Facebook comments about partying and drinking. Scarlett told a former pupil, “You should pop up to see me or even better we can go out for a drink or clubbing. I’m a very different person outside school I like to party hard – life is for the living. I’m not a teacher on here. I’m just like anyone else, I drink, swear… but don’t tell anyone.” The comment was seen by other students at the school where she worked, Trinant Primary in Crumlin, Newport.

Lisa Manship from Ysgol Gyfun Cwm Rhymni, near Caerphilly, a religious education teacher, was suspended in December for 18 months. She sent messages to a 17-year-old pupil discussing “humping” a boy. The GTCW panel ruled the messages were inappropriate. Over the last five years around one in 10 cases have involved social media, said the GTCW. However, the union says the problem is bigger than that. In the last few years, the National Union of Teachers has received hundreds of calls from worried teachers in Wales.

Stuart Williams, from the NUT Cymru, believes guidance should be more specific. “We’d really like things to be black and white, not grey,” said Williams. “If it comes across as grey with professional conduct then I think we need to look at something which tells them exactly what they can and what they can’t do. The guidelines are there, they could be a little bit more stringent.”

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