Young teachers who have grown up in the digital age have lost sight of professional boundaries.
Young teachers who have grown up in the digital age have lost sight of professional boundaries.

Teacher-student sexual misconduct on the rise

SEXUALmisconduct incidents have increased by two thirds in NSW schools as teachers and students chat more frequently online outside of school hours.

Teachers are accused of making inappropriate comments, giving students gifts, money as well as alcohol and drugs and giving them lifts in their car without approval from the principal, according to NSW Ombudsman data.

Complaints of sexual misconduct involving staff and students in schools increased by 63 per cent in the past two years and complaints about sexual offences increased by 24 per cent,

The annual report said in almost half (45 per cent) of cases social media was used to message and cross professional boundaries.

Experts say millennial teachers are having trouble setting professional boundaries on social media such as Facebook and Instagram ­because they grew up in the age of the internet.

The Social Media Policy of the NSW Department said "staff must not 'friend' students on Facebook or Snapchat or follow on Instagram and Twitter".

One former student said a young male teacher at her all-girls school in the eastern suburbs used to add and post on a number of girls' Facebook pages.

"He used to write happy birthday and post pictures and a lot of girls were OK with that because he was young and they knew some people he knew outside of school," the student said.

"Sometimes girls would attend weekend parties where he would happen to also be and not many people questioned it, in fact that was what they joked about at school."

 

Examples of social media messages revealing inappropriate exchanges and comments.
Examples of social media messages revealing inappropriate exchanges and comments.

 

The report revealed that employees allegedly engaged in "multiple forms of boundary breaches in 75 per cent of cases".

Cyber safety expert Susan McLean, who works with ­Department of Education schools, said teachers were clueless when it came to ­social media.

"They are not taught professional boundaries in the digital space, they are not ­explicitly told 'don't message students on social media'," she said.

"You have got younger teachers aged 33 and down who grew up totally ­immersed in the digital age and don't see it as a blurring of boundaries."

Fourteen teachers were sacked or had their casual teaching status withdrawn in 2017 for inappropriate conduct with a student, including one casual teacher who ­posted an inappropriate picture on social media and sent the picture to a student.

Another student said her teacher was known to accept friend requests from girls on Facebook.

"Because these teachers are so young they don't know how to separate their outside life and work life which makes students see them more as a friend rather than a teacher," she said.

A former Canberra school student said it became ­uncomfortable.

"There was one teacher that was a bit creepy; he sends messages on LinkedIn every now and then," the former student said.

A NSW Education Department spokesman said there were more councillors in schools which may have ­increased the reporting of ­inappropriate behaviour.