Teachers may face fitness-to-practise complaints over social media use

Draft guidelines require teachers not to make Facebook friends with students

The Teaching Council’s draft guidelines say teachers should ‘never accept or initiate Facebook friend requests with current students’. Photograph: Getty

The Teaching Council’s draft guidelines say teachers should ‘never accept or initiate Facebook friend requests with current students’. Photograph: Getty

 

Teachers could face fitness-to-practise complaints over “inappropriate” use of social media such as making Facebook friends with students or criticising their employer.

The Teaching Council, a regulatory body for the profession, has produced draft guidelines over teachers’ use of social media which will be linked to their professional code of conduct.

The guidelines note that teachers may be subject to a level of public scrutiny over and above other public sector employees because of their work with children.

As a result, it advises them to follow “best practice” in the use of social media and to “not discuss students, parents or colleagues online, or criticise your employer online”.

It says teachers should “never accept or initiate Facebook friend requests with current students” and that discretion should be used when dealing with friend requests from former students or parents of students.

Professional boundaries

They also require teachers to consider their online persona and how others may perceive them, and to consider “who or what you associate with online, and always maintain professional boundaries with student”.

“Conduct yourself online in a way which does not call into question your position as a professional registered teacher,” the draft guidelines state.

The council said the draft guidelines have been produced in response to requests for clarification as to what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate communication online.

However, they have sparked criticism from some teachers online who say the rules amount to “overreach” and would prevent them from criticising the Department of Education.

While much of the reaction online has been negative, some teachers have accepted that the draft rules were aimed at protecting teachers.

In a statement to The Irish Times, the Teaching Council clarified that references to teachers’ “employers” are not a reference to the Department of Education.

“The term ‘employer’ refers to the direct employer, eg the board of management of a school, or the Education and Training Board (ETB), and does not refer to the Department of Education and Skills. ”

Guidelines

The council said it was accepted good practice for organisations across all sector to have clearly stated social media guidelines in place.

“As the draft guidelines state, social media is a very useful communications and information platform for teachers,” it said.

“Many teachers already use social media to enhance their classroom practice, introducing their students to new tools and delivering the curriculum in innovative and engaging ways.”

The guidelines will be linked to the Teaching Council’s existing code of professional conduct, which requires teachers to “ensure that any communication with pupils/students, colleagues, parents, school management and others is appropriate, including communication via electronic media, such as email, texting and social networking sites”.