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Social networking: guidance for teachers

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Do you have a policy on how teaching staff should present themselves online? This article includes an ICT code of conduct with rules about online communication for school staff. It also refers to official guidance and a clause in the GTCE code of conduct which covers teachers’ behaviour.

ICT and online communication code of conduct for staff

Hellingly Community Primary School in East Sussex has an ICT code of conduct for staff. It sets out the rules that all staff must comply with when using ICT facilities both within the school and away from the school.

The section covering online communication includes statements such as:

  • I will not allow parents or children and young people to add me as a friend, nor will I add them as friends, on social networking sites
  • I will not use Facebook or similar online networking sites whilst at work
  • I must make clear that any comments (e.g. political views) are my own personal opinion
  • I will not create, transmit, display or publish any material that is likely to: harass, cause offence, inconvenience or needless anxiety to any other person or bring the school into disrepute
  • In line with safeguarding procedures, no comments should be made with reference to the school, its staff, governors, pupils, families, any persons associated with it or events
  • I will not place any information regarding my activities at school, or the school in general on my social networking sites

The section concludes:

The list is not exhaustive. Above all, staff must act professionally at all times and must not, through their actions or inactions, bring the school into disrepute.

At the end of the document is a form for staff to sign to say they agree to follow all the rules set out in the ICT code of conduct.

Writing a school social networking policy

We were unable to find any other examples of social networking policies from schools. Below we link to official guidance that you could use as a basis for a social networking policy or a clause on social networking in your acceptable use of ICT policy.

Official guidance to teachers on social networking

In 2009 the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF), now the Department for Education, developed guidance on teachers' use of social networking sites. On page 6, it advises teachers:

When publishing information, personal contact details, video or images, ask yourself if you would feel comfortable about a current or prospective employer, colleague, pupil or parent, viewing your content.

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Can staff become 'friends' with pupils?

The guidance linked to above suggests that teachers should not become online 'friends' with pupils, or add them to contact lists, since this could give pupils access to personal information about staff. Teachers are advised to learn how to restrict access to their pages, so that only specific people can see them.

Finally, teachers are not discouraged from using social networking sites for use in class, but are warned to be careful about which sites they use and how they use them.

For more information on using social networking sites within school, see Digizen's website.

This teachers' guide, written for Facebook, covers issues such as whether to accept pupils' friend requests, as well as privacy settings, creating a professional profile, establishing a personal learning network on Facebook and dealing with colleagues online.

General Teaching Council for England code of conduct

The DCSF guidance above is written in the context of preventing cyberbullying. Concerns about teachers presenting themselves inappropriately online or becoming 'friends' with pupils or parents can be addressed by referring to the General Teaching Council for England (GTCE) Code of Conduct and Practice for Registered Teachers. The current version, which came into effect in October 2009, states that registered teachers should:

Establish and maintain appropriate professional boundaries in their relationships with children and young people

Additionally, on page 15 of the Code, it says that registered teachers should:

Maintain reasonable standards in their own behaviour that enable them to maintain an effective learning environment and also to uphold public trust and confidence in the profession.

Finally, the code lists some examples of when the GTCE has taken disciplinary action. Two of these could, in some circumstances, relate to social networking:

  • Teachers who have engaged in inappropriate relationships with pupils
  • Teachers who have engaged in inappropriate contact with parents and carers

Should staff become 'friends' with parents?

We contacted the GTCE to ask for information on whether staff should become friends with parents on social networking sites. A spokesperson advised that there is no policy on whether or not members of staff should become friends with parents online.

He said that it is for individual schools to decide on how they will approach this issue. For example, some schools might choose to provide general information to parents and staff on the risks of using social networking sites; others might require staff to maintain appropriate professional boundaries.

Hellingly Community Primary School’s code of conduct asks teachers not to accept friend requests from parents. Its rules say:

I will not associate myself online with parents/carers of Hellingly Community Primary School of whom I did not know prior to working at the school. The school recommends that if you have already established an online association with these persons prior to reading this code of conduct that you disassociate yourself from them.

ICT acceptable use policies

For examples of policies on the acceptable use of ICT, please see another article from The Key:

Additional sources and further reading

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