Seven deadly sins

7th April 2006 at 01:00
Before you pay your GTC fees, Jill Parkin explains how to avoid being hauled up before its disciplinary panel

You'd think that keeping your nose clean as a teacher would be child's play, wouldn't you? Actually, thinking of some children's noses, maybe not, but you know what I mean. You teach, you avoid the staffroom psychopath, and you choose a different weekend pub from your pupils. Simple. But, no. A quick trawl of court and General Teaching Council disciplinary hearings reveals all sorts of pitfalls in the path of the unwary teacher, things that could happen to anyone.

Especially to someone with a weakness for invasive and scratchy beachwear.

If you do feel the need to punctuate your term-life with luxury holidays by the sea and want a string bikini, don't follow the example of Colleen McCabe, the plump and profligate former nun and head of St John Rigby School in Bromley who is alleged to have spent pound;500,000 of her school's budget on all sorts of fun for herself, including items of intimate string apparel that so linger in the imaginations of her former staff.

Sentenced to five years (reduced to four on appeal) in prison in 2003, she should have had time to macrame herself a whole wardrobe. Her school heating system went unrepaired, the library shelves unfilled and the staff went without training, while she enjoyed expensive holidays and filled her wardrobe with clothes and shoes. The lesson to be learnt here is that there are worse places to pass the time than upon the cheap and cheerful multi-coloured sands of the Isle of Wight, one of them being Parkhurst jail.

The disciplinary annals of the teaching profession contain many stories of those who have found school funds just too much to resist, whether in the form of school credit cards or all that unprotected parental cash collected for school trips. It's only a matter of time before someone is accused of making off with the dinner money and blowing the lot on regular lunches at the local greasy spoon.

Sadly, the seven deadly sins lurk in staffrooms just as they do in every other workplace. Sloth, pride, gluttony and the rest are all there - and that's without getting any further than Armchair Annie, who last washed a mug in 1972.

Of course, it goes without saying that teachers are underpaid, but there are other ways of getting extra pocket money, especially while you're twiddling your thumbs during all those lovely long holidays. That's fine, as long as it's legal, but be careful what you do during term-time, especially during teaching hours. The General Teaching Council's disciplinary panel takes a dim view of teachers who go off sick in order to rake in the shekels by working somewhere else. And bunking off to mark a few batches of Sats papers, as one offender did, proves you're not just a fraudster, but your judgment is questionable too.

If you find yourself feeling temporarily better during the Easter hols, it's less than tactful to whizz off to work as a skiing rep in the Tyrol - another strange but true tale from the council's archives. And watch who you associate with when it comes to moonlighting: even after school hours, you're expected to behave in a decent way, unlike the teacher who was disciplined for taking on a part-time job as a prostitute's driver.

Teachers are full of ingenuity, no doubt about that. It has to be said too that it's not always exercised for financial gain. Thinking of 30 different ways to drill enough science into the heads of Year 6 to get them through Sats takes a resourceful brain, but a little moral sense will help you in your career at least as much as a clean sheet of level 4s. The panel takes a dim view of teachers who "help" pupils during tests or mess about with their papers afterwards.

Of course, while pupils are quietly taking those exams, it's just a little tempting to do some web-surfing for your next holiday job, but beware.

Schools have ways of checking what you're surfing and before you've got yourself booked into that sex-change clinic for next Christmas, you'll be up before the GTC panel for accessing inappropriate websites. Even if you're just in the habit of emailing your mates, you're playing a risky game. So watch what you do, and stay on the right side of the school techie.

The GTC's disciplinary panel deals with cases of illegality that have already been dealt with by a court - they've had cases of drug-trafficking, council tax evasion and drunken driving - as well as with unprofessional behaviour that is unlikely to reach any other tribunal. Their sanctions include reprimand, suspension and retraining.

Yes, we know you're only human and we all have a our little weaknesses, but if yours is the sort that is likely to compromise your professional behaviour, it's probably best to ask for help before it escalates.

One teacher who came before the panel had 200 bottles of booze concealed in the cupboards of her primary school classroom. Among the pencils, the graph paper and the sheets of smiley face stickers were brandy, wine and Bacardi Breezer bottles. At least she was keeping it to herself, unlike the secondary school drama teacher whom, it is alleged, gave drunken post-production parties for her pupils.

RE teachers should be especially careful, because headline writers love to play. Your fall from grace is their manna from heaven. They must have thought all their Christmases had come at once last year when allegations of unprofessional conduct against a woman revealed that she had told a class of 12-year-olds to draw pictures of circumcised penises. Such an unholy row.

And, remember, the panel may call for "evidence from a consultant psychiatrist that the teacher is fit to resume teaching". Whether that fitness proves sanity or madness is anyone's guess.


* You're allowed to have your own life, but you might feel more comfortable in the pubs, clubs and shops of a different town. To avoid raised eyebrows, it's best not to live on top of the school.

* Think parents - the children's, not yours. What would they think of what you're doing?

* If you have a problem that's affecting your work, seek help via your GP, your union, or, if relations are good, via your line manager.

* Your life beyond teaching hours does count, so anything that lands you in court could also bring you up before your professional panel. In other words, you could lose more than your driving licence.

* Nothing wrong with earning extra dosh during the holidays, but pole-dancing, hash-smuggling and working in Ann Summers are all best avoided.

* Macrame lampshades are a very attractive way of using up spare string.

* Coursework should be done by the pupils themselves - even royal pupils.

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