Helpline

26th January 1996 at 00:00
A member of my staff has established a close relationship with a sixth-form student. What action, if any, should I take?

It has always been a basic tenet of teaching that an intimate relationship between a teacher and a pupil is a breach of professional trust and cannot be tolerated. In higher education, where both parties are adults, many institutions lay down rules of conduct which must be followed when such relationships occur.

In schools, no such latitude exists and, in my view, nor should it. Where pupils or students at school or college are involved, it cannot be a relationship between equals:the teacher concerned is abusing his or her position.

I assume you have at least prima facie evidence that this relationship exists. Your first duty, therefore, is to investigate the matter, if necessary suspending the teacher while doing so. If the allegation is likely to be true, the matter should be reported to a disciplinary committee of the governors, with the expectation that the outcome will be dismissal.

The disciplinary procedure lays down four levels of sanction. How should one decide which is appropriate in any particular case? Can one omit levels?

This is always a difficult issue - common sense may provide a better answer than any preconceived rules.

Clearly, if the offence is of such a nature that the employer cannot contemplate the person concerned resuming normal duties, dismissal is the only possible decision, whether there has been previous disciplinary action or not. Governors should put themselves in the place of parents and consider what their reaction would be to their own child being taught by a person guilty of the offence brought before them.

In other cases, the previous disciplinary record, if any, should be taken into account as well as the seriousness of the offence. It is useful, too, to consider whether the action taken is likely to be effective in preventing a recurrence. Often, the shock of being on the receiving end of a formal process is quite enough to prevent any further problem.

In the end, there are two considerations to be kept in mind. The most important is the need to ensure that every pupil is well and properly taught. The second is that one is dealing with the livelihood of a trained and skilled person, whose career should not be terminated, unless there is no alternative.

I have received an instruction from parents that their child must not attend any sex education lessons. Must I comply with this?

Parents have the legal right to have their children withdrawn from sex education lessons in the context of what is commonly called, "personal and social education", that is to say those areas of sex education which are concerned with sexual relationships. The right does not extend to the biological aspects of human reproduction, which form part of the national curriculum in science.

You would be wise to point out this distinction to the parents in order to avoid misunderstandings.

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