Teachers were warned yesterday that internet snoopers could put their jobs in peril. Delegates at the National Union of Teachers (NUT) annual conference were told headteachers and school governors often surfed the net to find out all they could about potential job applicants.
Karl Hopwood, a former primary school head who is now an "e-safety" consultant, urged teachers to be wary about what they posted on the internet and also told them not to befriend either pupils or parents on social networking sites such as Facebook. "There are parents who say, 'Brilliant, we've got him,' if they find something which could be thought of as compromising," he told a fringe meeting at the conference in Harrogate. He said that when he was a primary head, there had been a picture of him at training college surrounded by fellow students and drink, which he might have preferred parents not to see.
The NUT has just issued new guidance to its members telling them: "Staff should not post information and photos about themselves or school-related matters publicly that they wouldn't want employers, colleagues, pupils or parents to see."
Amanda Brown, head of the NUT's legal department, said: "We warn teachers: 'Don't use your personal mobile phone when contacting pupils – use the school mobile.' Also, they should be very vigilant about their private life. There might be some prospective employers in the background looking for information.
"We also urge them not to befriend parents and pupils on sites like Facebook. Difficulties seem to arise if a you have a school in a local and small community where someone who is a teacher at the school will actually know the pupils and their parents in their personal life. They should just be a little wary about talking about their personal life."
She warned that if pupils did not like a teacher, they may well search for them online to see if they could find anything embarrassing about them.
Ms Brown added: "I think it would be a great shame if teachers felt they couldn't use social-networking sites in their private life. For a whole profession to be told, 'Just don't use social networking at all,' would be a shame.
"It is not only you, yourself, that might put something on a social-networking site," she said. "If friends or family have photos or include you in things they set up, they can become used in a way you don't have control over. You have to think about how to keep things private."
The union's guidance also voices concern over pupils "cyber-bullying" staff, stating: "Staff in schools as well as pupils may become targets of cyber-bullying."
It urges all schools to draw up a policy on e-safety, making it clear that cyber-bullying is "unacceptable" and may well lead to disciplinary action being taken against pupils.
* A newly qualified teacher found she was turned down for a job after an internet search revealed a photograph of her with a pint on her head at a party. When she managed to get it removed, she got the next post she applied for.
* A primary headteacher dressed up as "Superman" for a fancy-dress birthday party – only to find pictures of him in his party clothing displayed around his school the following day.
* Belinda Langley-Bliss, headteacher of Wilmington Enterprise College in Kent, was criticised after a photograph of her on her Facebook site had appeared with a caption boasting about the size of her breasts. She had also angered parents by sending 61 pupils home for failing to obey school rules on uniform. Another photograph revealed that she had been a scruffy pupil while at school. She was later reinstated.
* An independent school teacher faced disciplinary action after an article calling his new headteacher a "creep" appeared on his website. He said he had not put it there.Reuse content