Teacher’s right to private sexual conduct worth less than school’s ‘reputation’, says teaching regulator.

This post was written by Jon on May 24, 2011
Posted Under: Education,Public Sector,Puritanism,Uncategorized

A primary school teacher has avoided being barred from teaching following revelations in the press of her sideline as a dominatrix, the TES reports.

Faith-Anne Lesbirel, a primary school teacher, was exposed by a tabloid newspaper in 2008 as none other than ‘Mistress Saffron’, a dominatrix offering her services for money online.

[Lesbirel] insisted her fetish activities were private and of “no relevance” to her job, that her presence online was anonymous and she believed her identity was not traceable.

Following the newspaper article, Ms Lesbirel took down her website and admitted her activities to her headteacher, Lynn Samwell-Smith, who was “shocked” but supportive.

Mrs Samwell-Smith, who no longer works at the school, told a General Teaching Council for England (GTC) panel there had been disruption after the news came to light. Some parents told her they did not want Ms Lesbirel having contact with their children; others said her private life had nothing to do with her job.

Mrs Samwell-Smith said there was an “adverse impact” on the school and its reputation. Year 5 and 6 pupils asked Ms Lesbirel if she was a “prostitute”. Eventually the teacher, who had given notice before the incident, opted to leave her job early.

[Read the full thing here: http://bit.ly/mLuK4t]

Lesbirel was given a reprimand by a General Teaching Council for England (GTC) panel, which will stay on her record for two years.

It’s encouraging to see that the reaction from parents wasn’t entirely torches and pitchforks. Unfortunately, it is the ignorance and irrational fear of the more excitable parents that is routinely upheld by the GTC (pictured here: http://bit.ly/jzRUOE). The GTC’s code of conduct has been condemned by teachers’ union NASUWT, as it has been used to discipline teachers for attending gay pride events and having bikini pictures on their facebook accounts. (The code demands “standards of behaviour both inside and outside school [for teachers] that are appropriate given their membership of an important and responsible profession”. My emphasis.)

The comments of the GTC committee that questioned Ms Lesbirel are extraordinary in their contempt for basic ideas of residual freedom and their assumption that it is the Council’s right to police teachers’ private behaviour.

‘You promoted services of a sexual nature via a publicly accessible website that you instigated and you maintained a profile on the “Informed Consent” website, where you say in your written submission you also offered your services as a dominatrix.

‘Anyone could have gained access to these websites. [Children in Years 5 and 6 are accustomed to seeking out dominatrix services online, it seems.]

‘It is clear that the reputation and public standing of the profession was placed at risk by your choosing to initiate and run such a website and indeed the exposure of this did in the event damage the school and the profession. [This information was released, remember, by a tabloid newspaper].

Public trust and confidence was affected.’

[Quoted here: http://bit.ly/mcrTph]

Teachers in this country increasingly bear the brunt of our social and political ills. Pay is being frozen, while funding is cut. Creative and dedicated educators are forced to teach to the test, rather than attempt to inspire, to meet meaningless targets. Teachers are abused and harassed daily by children brutalised by urban squalor and inequality. And now their private conduct is subject to scrutiny from an unelected quango of puritans. Why does anyone sign up for this job?

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Reader Comments

I could not agree more. This is all quite interesting in the context of super injunctions. The General Teaching Council is a semi-statutory body which exercises power on behalf of the state. In the past the “right to privacy” primarily referred not to the constraint in the media, but to a check on the state. The notion of “privacy” meant there were some areas into which the state’s writ did not run. Under new labour, this kind of privacy became increasingly attenuated – Hence the laws against bdsm porn, and indeed the emergence of these guidelines. At the same time, the idea of privacy was increasingly used to constrain civil society, to protect citizens not from the state but from other citizens – by means of greater state power. Hence the emerging privacy law and the Regulation of Investigatory powers Act.

Written By Reuben on May 24th, 2011 @ 8:32 pm

Speaking as a teacher, we have a great deal of *stuff* (I can’t think of a better word to cover how nebulously and insidiously it is slid in) in our training, our syllabi, our pedagogical text books, our guidelines and curricula, and so on and so forth which are designed to make teachers into servants of the government. What you do with your naked body as regards intrusive conformism pales into comparison besides what professional standards expect you to do to your mind.

This is not a new thing, though – it is just more codified and visible because the instrumentalisation of teachers as agents of the dominant discourse comes increasingly under the remit of the democratically accountable Secretary of State and a set of bodies (“the blob”) which the subject knows are designed to operate teachers. What I mean is that these standards were once applied by priests to monks and nuns via canon law, and now are applied by QUANGO officials to schoolteachers via professional guidelines.

A theory of education which takes properly into account the effect that the nature of the teacher and the nature of the learner has upon learning (and within this effect the relationship between teacher and learner) will imply that teachers need to be certain sort of people if we are trying to communicate certain sorts of ideas in certain sorts of ways. All the best theories of education involve such a presumption, and we are always trying to communicate one idea or another (and of necessity we are always using a method to do so). So you could regard controlling teachers’ private lives as an inevitable and often legitimate part of holistic education policy.

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