Managing the personal use of social media

17 July 2017

The prevalence of social media brings new challenges for employers in the education sector, blurring the boundaries between our personal and professional lives. Many are unaware of the impact our online activity has on us professionally. We are all entitled to a private life but, once we release our photos and views on the World Wide Web, we relinquish control of that information and risk waiving our right to privacy.

This is particularly problematic in the teaching profession. Teachers are in a unique position of trust, act as role models to pupils and are expected to ensure the safety and welfare of all pupils in their care. So they must manage their personal use of social media responsibly to ensure they avoid situations which call into question this trust and, therefore, their 'fitness to teach'.

Several teaching unions have expressed concerns that teachers reveal too much personal information on social media sites and through social media use can become overly familiar with pupils. There have also been instances of pupils actively trolling teachers’ online profiles to find historic inappropriate content which is then distributed amongst fellow pupils.

The consequences for a school of a teacher posting inappropriate content online can be severe. Not just parents, but also members of the public can complain to the school, the board of governors, the local authority or even OFSTED if they have concerns about a teacher’s online activity. Such complaints will almost certainly be a safeguarding issue and, in extreme cases, could trigger an OFSTED inspection. A damaging report from OFSTED can cause long term harm to the school’s reputation within the community and possibly impact on its ability to recruit and retain talented staff.

What teachers should and shouldn’t post online requires good judgment. Sometimes the boundaries might not be so clear. For instance, parents have raised complaints about teachers uploading holiday pictures in which they appear semi-naked or under the influence of alcohol onto Facebook on the basis that these images demonstrate an abuse of their position of trust within the community.

Educating teachers on the responsible use of social media is key to mitigating these risks. Central to this will be implementing a policy which sets out the rules regarding acceptable use of social media both professionally and privately, and links up with a school’s safeguarding, bullying and harassment and equal opportunities policies. Regular training should also be provided to ensure staff understand and apply policy daily.

The full article highlights rules to consider including in your policy – download now.