Sexual affairs between pupils and teachers 'can be beneficial'

Pat Sikes, an education lecturer, has written a paper in defence of pupil-teacher affairs, arguing that it is wrong always to cast students as victims when they are often the instigators of genuine relationships and suggesting that about 1,500 pupil-teacher affairs develop every year, the Times Educational Supplement reports today.

Dr Sikes said she had always been curious about relationships that began in the classroom because she had married her history teacher after falling for him at the age of 14. She met her husband, David, in 1970 on her first day at upper school, aged 14, and his first day as a teacher, aged 22. "It wasn't until two years later, on the evening that he left the school to take up a post elsewhere that we declared our feelings for and to each other ... I returned to school, after the summer vacation as [his] girlfriend," she said.

Dr Sikes claims such teacher-pupil affairs were not uncommon at her liberal comprehensive school in Leicestershire, and were not seen as exploitative.

Her paper angered children's charities, which labelled it "bizarre at best". Natasha Finlayson, of ChildLine, said: "For Dr Sikes to praise the 'seductive nature and erotic charge' of good teaching is misguided and bizarre at best.

"The Sexual Offences Act was designed with a welcome emphasis on protecting children and young people, rather than on the rights of the small number of pupils over the age of consent who choose to engage in sexual relationships on equal terms with a teacher."

Phillip Noyes, the NSPCC's director of public policy, added: "Children spend the majority of their day at school and teachers have a unique relationship with their pupils which should never be abused."

Dr Sikes's paper, "Scandalous stories and dangerous liaisons: when female pupils and male teachers fall in love", describes one relationship that began, albeit platonically, when one pupil was just 13, and another where a 17-year-old student had a sexual affair with her 35-year-old study supervisor.

Dr Sikes argues that the change in the law in 2003 which criminalises sexual relationships between pupils and teachers if the pupil is under the age of 18, inevitably labels students as victims, when they can frequently be the instigators of genuine relationships.

Dr Sikes decided to conduct her study after the former chief inspector of schools Chris Woodhead admitted in 1999 that he had had a relationship with a former pupil years earlier. He said such experiences could be "educative", sparking a public outcry. Mr Woodhead denied the affair began while he was still a teacher and a government inquiry decided he had no case to answer.

Dr Sikes says: "Expressions of sexuality provide a major currency and resource in the everyday exchanges of school life ... and nowhere more so, perhaps, than in the seductive nature and 'erotic charge' often characteristic of 'good' teaching which provokes a positive and exciting response." She emphasised that she was "totally opposed to child abuse, paedophilia and exploitative relationships of all kinds" and said her study was based on information volunteered by those pupils who had no regrets about their relationships.

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