Teacher banning orders double for abuse of social media

The number of teachers banned for inappropriate use of social media has more than doubled in the past year, with a number of cases involving sexual relationships, Schools Week can exclusively reveal.

Analysis of National College of Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) hearings since January last year show a ten percentage point rise in teachers using social media inappropriately.

So far this year, 17 out of the 100 teachers who came before the panel faced hearings relating to social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, sixteen were banned from the profession. In 2013, only seven of 96 hearings related to similar concerns. All seven were banned from teaching.

In more than one third of all cases, the initial contact developed into the teacher having a relationship with the pupil, in some cases sexual.

Less than a quarter of this year’s cases involved female teachers; in 2013 only one of the banned teachers was a woman.

Facebook was the most common social network used to contact pupils, the panel reports show.

In one case, Daniel Laurikietis, a 32-year-old drama teacher, was banned from teaching in October after instigating a relationship with a then 15-year-old pupil at Haslingden High School in Lancashire through social media sites Tumblr, Instagram and Facebook.

He admitted all the facts, including an incident when the teenager visited his house and he supplied her with a large amount of alcohol before “performing a sexual act” on her.

A spokesperson for UK Safer Internet Centre said guidance on social media had not been updated since 2009 and there was a gap in teacher training on the issue.

Asked if the problem of e-safety would get worse, the spokesperson added: “It can work both ways.

“Part of it means more awareness, which can account for a bit of an increase as there could be more people reporting the issue.

“And I would hope to see teachers becoming more savvy at dealing with [social media] and not falling victim to it. But it’s a difficult one. Social media can make the lines a bit more blurred for teachers.

“But as long as a long-term professional reputation is maintained and conduct is professional then social media shouldn’t become a bigger issue.”

Last week, the South West Grid for Learning published a report that staff training for social media was one of the weakest parts of school e-safety policy and practice.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Teachers are in a privileged position of trust and we insist on the highest professional standards from them at all times.

“We produce comprehensive regulations about how teachers should conduct themselves. In our updated guidance on cyber-bullying, we make clear that teachers should not accept friend requests from pupils, and urge schools to put policies in place that set out acceptable behaviour for pupils and teachers, including outside school.”

Only one case this year did not involve contacting pupils. A supply teacher in Plymouth used a public Twitter account to make comments that “undermined tolerance of others” by posting derogatory and offensive remarks about Scottish people, Catholics, Muslims and immigrants. The teacher, Ronald Northcott, stood as a UKIP candidate in Plymouth.

For more NCTL hearing analysis, see next week’s Schools Week.

Editor’s comment

When the National College of Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) bans a teacher it can, on occasion, make for incredible and disturbing reading.

Who can forget the story last month of the teacher struck off after hypnotising and then abusing pupils?

The use of hypnosis by a teacher is of course rare, but you would only know this if you read each and every published misconduct hearing report.

It is surely important for school leaders to be aware of any particular trends, and consider putting in place new safeguards.

We therefore looked at nearly 200 reports, and found a more than doubling of teacher prohibition orders for activity relating to social media. This should spark a debate about the adequacy of training and monitoring

According to the NCTL’s Annual Report and Accounts for 2013-14 there were also 877 teacher misconduct referrals, the majority of which did not make it to a hearing, but with no detail about the types of allegation.

There will be more trend analysis of the hearings in our next edition, but for the benefit of the schools sector, the Department for Education should collate and publish their own.

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