So shall the lecturers' hobbies be judged?

30th January 2009 at 00:00

I was listening to some teachers moaning about their jobs recently. That's not exactly news, I know. To steal a line from Descartes, "I whinge, therefore I am" is how most of us check we are still in the land of the living these days.

The occasion was a radio phone-in. The issue was the General Teaching Council's consultation on a new code of conduct for schoolteachers.

What was getting up the noses of most of those ringing in was the possibility that the next version of the code might take a tougher line on their conduct outside school - indeed outside their teaching lives entirely. Suggestions that teachers might be seen as role models and thus amend their out-of-school behaviour accordingly were met with scorn. "What we do in our own time is our affair and no one else's." That was the general, if not unanimous, theme.

It's a tricky area, and one where the GTC is already involved. Of the more than 200 incidents of misconduct dealt with in 2007, almost a quarter concerned matters outside school.

Most of them related to court appearances or police cautions, with drink- driving offences looming large. One teacher, fined Pounds 300 and given a three- year driving ban, found that after his second "trial" at the GTC he had to attend a drink-drivers' awareness course. In another case, the offender was allowed to carry on teaching only if he could prove he was off the booze entirely.

What bothered the phone-in callers was that the external scrutiny might go a stage further. Section 8 of the GTC's new draft code requires that teachers "uphold the law and maintain standards of behaviour both inside and outside school that are appropriate given their membership of an important and responsible profession".

And there's the rub. What do "appropriate" standards mean? Surely the answer is: different things to different people. Say, for instance, a teacher leaves his wife and family to run off with another woman. No doubt most of their friends would agree he's a heartless bastard and an all- round bad lot. But should he be penalised - in addition to the opprobrium and maintenance - for his heartlessness?

What about the young female teacher out on the town who catches the eye of a censorious parent on his way home from a late-running Baptist tea party? To him, she's staggering drunkenly round the streets dressed as the Whore of Babylon; to her, she's just out partying in her best frock.

Trickier still might be the case of the teacher found advertising him or herself on a website for "adult" fun and games. Lest there be any doubt, we are talking here about something rather more "hands on" than online dating. Sordid it may be, but if the teacher concerned has been discreet, is his or her unusual hobby really the business of a committee set up to regulate the profession?

In FE we can't simply look on as disinterested spectators any more. We may be outside the remit of the GTC, but we have our own version: the Institute for Learning.

This, too, has its code of conduct, with seven sections for behaviour. One of these requires members to notify the institute if they are cautioned or found guilty of any crime. In time, this requirement will surely lead to tribunal hearings, just as it does for the members of the GTC. Sentences will range from a reprimand up to a total teaching ban.

The institute's code has no reference to appropriate behaviour outside the classroom. But given that what happens in schools has a nasty habit of happening in FE two or three years down the line, that omission may not be set to last much longer.

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