Editorial: Whatever floats your boat, you need time to enjoy it

6th February 2015 at 00:00

"Did you pay for your breasts? My dad says you did." When a pupil asked primary teacher Lisa Jarmin this question, that was the moment she knew she was public property and fair game for gossip. The answer, in case you're curious, is none of your business.

This may be an extreme example of an invasion of privacy, but every teacher will have a story to tell of an inappropriate remark or an awkward or embarrassing encounter: bumping into a student or parent on holiday in your swimwear, on a boozy night out or, worse still, on a dating site.

Unlike most other professions, in teaching the personal is public. Not only can activities most people take for granted have serious repercussions - and come back to haunt them many years later - but they can also cost a teacher their job. That the rules for anyone dealing with children should be strict is understandable, but surely teachers have the right to a private life?

The answer isn't as straightforward as you might have hoped. "Teachers don't need to be saints," says Matthew Wolton, a specialist in education law, but when they are sinners their transgressions are, in many instances, for their employer to forgive.

Anything illegal is obviously a no-no, but the thinking of the individual school will determine any other wrongdoing - and unfortunately attitudes can vary enormously. Being violent or turning up drunk are clear-cut examples of gross misconduct that would get a teacher sacked. Other examples, however, such as compromising photographs appearing on the internet, may well be down to the school to judge according to the circumstances involved.

And if a teacher does have the right to a private life, then they should also have the right to a decent work-life balance in which to take advantage of it.

This week, the government revealed the results of its Workload Challenge, which generated more than 44,000 responses from teachers. There are few surprises. Top of the list of complaints is recording and inputting data, cited by 56 per cent of respondents, followed by marking at 53 per cent, lesson planning at 38 per cent and admin at 37 per cent.

Nicky Morgan and Nick Clegg have pledged to take action. The commitment that will have the most significant impact concerns the amount of notice schools receive of policy changes: no big reforms will be permitted to qualifications or curriculum when students are in the middle of a course. The ministers have also promised more training for school leaders in issues of management - both staff and data. And, pleasingly, Ofsted has agreed that it will no longer change its framework or handbook during the academic year.

But the fact is that there are wider structural issues at play here, issues that are way beyond the remit of the Workload Challenge. There's the cliff-edge nature of exams and inspections, for example, which puts huge pressure on schools and their teachers.

Until someone in a position of power really scrutinises the bigger picture, which isn't about to happen, most teachers won't have the spare time to nip off for a compromising photo shoot, even if they want to.



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