Sex between a teacher and pupil is about to become a criminal offence. Steve Hook looks at how to avoid unwanted attentions
Teaching may be a vocation, but it is not one requiring celibacy - or not yet, at least - except when it comes to your pupils.
Children may seem increasingly more aware sexually. And many young teachers are closer in age and outlook to their pupils than to most of their new colleagues in the staffroom.
But one of the least talked about problems facing newly qualified teachers is about to get a lot more serious.
The Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1999 is yet to come into law, but has already thrown into focus one of the problems many newly qualified teachers find most difficult to deal with.
After the next Parliament, teachers could face prison sentences of up to two years for having sex with students or pupils who are under 18.
What NQTs say they need isn't the threat of imprisonment but practical advice about how to avoid being falsely accused of inappropriate intimacy with pupils.
Elspeth Insch, head of King Edward VI Handsworth School, a girls' grammar in Birmingham, has some simple guidance: "Keep your knees together and your feet firmly on the ground."
All her NQTs, male and female, get an introductory talking to on the subject. "They are told if they want to speak to pupils on their own in a classroom, they should be within sight of the door.
"If they drop a group off on the way home from an event, they should make sure the last two are dropped off together so the teacher isn't alone with a girl in the car - even if it means a parent has to pick one of them up."
Mark Thompson, 24, has taken up his first full-time post at the school, having been on a short-term contract as an NQT elsewhere.
He says: "At my last school, when I left, I had girls asking other staff about me and asking them for my home telephone number. I am very careful about the way I behave.
"I have to think twice before being on my own with a girl and that affects the way I do my job, which is rather sad.
"I think the legislation is just another way of putting teachers under yet more pressure. One minute, they are criticising us for the way we do our jobs and now they seem to be suggesting that we're trying to get off with the children. It's all rather disappointing."
NQT Marcin Slaski, 46, who has children of his own, feels his maturity enables him to keep a cool head. "Girls at my school are not allowed to have very short skirts, but they make them as short as possible and sometimes they arrange their legs so you can see them, deliberately," he says. "I just try to pretend I haven't noticed."
He describes the threat of prison as "very strong" but says that sex with a pupil "is certainly wrong and there should be some sanction".
NQT Jo Luciw, 22, is in her first term at Preston Manor senior high school in Brent, north-west London.
She says: "If people feel that strongly about each other, they should wait until the pupil has left before having sex - and I mean really wait."
And she adds: "If I had a crush on a sixth-former, I definitely wouldn't pursue it. As a teacher, you almost have a parenting relationship with them. They spend as much time with their teachers during the day as they do with their parents at home in the evening.
"Teachers who do that sort of thing should probably be sacked. I'm not sure about them being stopped from teaching altogether, and I'm certainly not sure about prison."
Sameem Malak, 29, an NQT at the same school who has two children, also objects to the threat of prison.
"You don't get any training for that sort of problem and I think perhaps we should," she says. "It is important to distinguish between a relationship which is abusive and one which is based on love. I don't think you can treat them the same.
"If my daughter was 16 and told me she was having sex, I would be concerned, whatever the circumstances, but I can't say I would be more concerned just because it was with a teacher."
Mary Howard, head of the NASUWT's legal department, says: "If a teacher feels a pupil or student has a crush on them and it is becoming a problem, they should talk to a relevant colleague, perhaps their mentor in the case of an NQT.
"If a teacher is actually in a sexual relationship with a student, we don't condone it. They should end the relationship immediately and then find a post in another school.
"Even then, it is possible that the governing body of the new school might take the view that it was inappropriate to have such a teacher in their school.
"Really, there's not much advice we can give in those circumstances: it just shouldn't happen.
"But it is a disciplinary matter and we don't see why teachers should be criminalised in this way."
Teachers should fall in love with each other discreetly - unless they fancy being chaperoned by the whole school, advises Elizabeth Holmes in her new book, The Handbook for Newly Qualified Teachers (see review, page 26).
Think twice before you start turning up for work together in the same car. Pupils catch on quickly, so she warns:
* have answers ready for presumptuous questions
* displays of affection fuel the rumours
* your headteacher may have strong opinions on such relationships
* working with your partner can add to the pressures
* ending a relationship can impact on your work together
A SNOG TOO FAR
When Harvey qualified, he was happy to get a job in his home town where he enjoyed the pub and club scene and had plenty of old friends.
What he hadn't bargained for was finding his Year 9 and 10 pupils frequenting the same establishments.
Resisting temptation was easy enough when the morning after the night before might involve explaining more than a quadratic equation. But his non-teacher friends had no compunction about offering GCSEs in snogging.
However, even this was too close for comfort for Harvey. "I developed a system of agreed signals to my mates which basically told them to lay off or I'm out of here," he said.