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Sixties love remembered

Head recalls lack of fuss over her sixth-form relationship with the teacher who is now her husband. Adi Bloom reports

Geoffrey Hislop caused quite a stir when he arrived at a rural secondary in 1965.

The 26-year-old sports teacher was young, athletic, and bore a striking resemblance to Cliff Richard. Among the rebellious sixth-formers, who listened to Rolling Stones records and smoked during their lunch-hour, he was an object of instant desire.

"It was a standard teenage crush: girls giggling in the corner, when they should be studying for their A-levels," said Janet, who was in the lower-sixth when Mr Hislop arrived. "But he was lovely. Even the PE mistress fancied him like mad."

Acting on a dare, 18-year-old Janet asked Mr Hislop to dance at a school event. A few months later, at an Easter barbecue, they began a relationship. "It didn't cause any great hassle," said Janet. "We were discreet, but there was no question of him being called into the head to be hauled over the coals.

"I met his parents after school, still wearing my uniform. And my parents knew about Geoffrey, and liked him. They thought he might knock some sense into me.

"But the PE mistress didn't speak to me again, and always sent me out to play hockey on the coldest days."

The summer after Janet sat her A-levels, the couple were married. Almost 40 years later, they are still together. So, when Andrew Bolton, a 35-year-old maths teacher, was sacked from Church high, in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, for allegedly having an affair with a sixth former, Janet Hislop, now in her fifties, felt he had been wrongly condemned.

"If an unmarried man is genuinely attracted to a young lass, I don't see why he should be penalised, or lose his career," she said. "Lots of people meet in the workplace. It's no different from a boss dating his secretary.

"But attitudes have changed. People are much more protective nowadays, because society is not the safe place it once was."

The law on teacher-pupil relationships has changed little since Victorian times. Jack Rabinowicz, education specialist with the legal firm Teacher Stern Selby, said: "If a student is under 16, the teacher will be subject to disciplinary measures.

"If the pupil is over 16, Department for Education and Skills guidance says there should not be a relationship. But different considerations apply, because the young person is considered to be an adult."

Mrs Hislop is keen to point out the difference between a relationship between two unattached adults, and a married teacher having an illicit affair.

"There is a big difference between a genuine love relationship and just using a pupil. Affairs hurt, and can be abusive. That's the crux of the matter."

But she concedes that there are disadvantages to marrying a teacher.

Despite becoming a head herself, Mrs Hislop insists she will always be a pupil to her husband.

"He's terribly bossy. When I'm driving or parking the car, he acts like a teacher, telling me what to do. Because I started off as his pupil, I've had to fight to assert myself. And, 40 years later, I haven't finished."

Letters 25

*Names have been changed

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