'Inappropriate' internet use could cost careers

16th December 2011 at 00:00
The GTCS releases advice on avoiding `potential pitfalls'

All teachers are to receive an official warning that "inappropriate" use of the internet - even if it does not relate to pupils - could put their fitness to teach in doubt.

New professional guidance from the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) on social media and use of the internet, to be issued next month, will emphasise the need to separate the private from the professional.

"Teachers are individuals with private lives - however, off-duty conduct matters and may have bearing on their professional life. Therefore, sound judgment and due care should be exercised, as conduct which may not directly relate to pupils may be relevant to a teacher's fitness to teach," the new guidance states.

It points out that teachers can be vulnerable to "unintended misuses" of email, texting and other forms of social media as they "encourage casual dialogue and, very often, very innocent actions can easily be misconstrued or manipulated".

Against a background of growing concerns about cyber-bullying, it urges teachers to take particular precautions to protect their mobile phones, smartphones and computers from misuse while in school.

The GTCS warns teachers that social media bring a new dimension and "feel" to a relationship - particularly important when a student and a teacher become "friends" in an online environment.

It advises them to firmly decline student-initiated "friend" requests and not to instigate them themselves, and to use discretion when dealing with "friend" requests from parents.

Before posting material online, teachers should ask themselves some fundamental questions, including: "Might it reflect poorly on you, your school, employer or the teaching profession?"

Anthony Finn, chief executive of the GTCS, said the revised guidance was not intended to "constrain or `nanny' teachers", but rather to "advise them on the potential pitfalls of using social media and to suggest ways in which teachers can protect themselves from risk".

In August, Richard Cantwell from Airdrie was struck off the GTCS register for trying to lure a pupil into his house with inappropriate internet messages. His headteacher had, it was reported, previously banned him from using social network sites to communicate with pupils.

In early 2011, primary depute Linda Ross, from Dundee, was also struck off after links containing sexual content were found on a website in her name.

In 2009, a secondary teacher in Argyll and Bute was investigated after discussing pupils and staff on Twitter in working hours.

Social media tips from the GTCS

- Always maintain a formal, courteous and professional tone when communicating with pupils.

- Only use the official channels of communication - for example, the Glow schools intranet and work email addresses.

- Do not exchange private text, phone numbers, personal email addresses or photos of a personal nature with pupils.

- Manage your privacy settings and keep them under review, particularly for photos.

- Ensure settings prohibit others from tagging you in photos or updates without your permission.

- If entering teacher-training or probation, audit and re-evaluate the information about you on social networks and who has access to it.

- Be aware that potential employers may try to view your online social media profile.

- Use strong passwords and make sure you change them regularly.

- Protect your mobile phonesmartphonetablet computer with a PIN, especially when you are in school.


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