How Prevalent Are Teacher-pupil Relationships?
It can be challenging to assess the prevalence of inappropriate relationships between teachers and students since obtaining statistics is problematic, and anecdotal evidence can lead to misleading conclusions.
A survey by YouGov in 2007 found that one in six among 2,200 adults knew someone who had a sexual relationship with a teacher while attending school. Reports state that from 1991 to 2008, 129 teachers faced prosecution for engaging in relationships with students.
Teaching unions claim that such incidents are rare. However, at Bishop Bell School, several questionable relationships have occurred in recent years. In a case involving Christopher Reen in 2009, a classroom supervisor at Headlands School in Bridlington, for sexual activity with a 15-year-old female student, the court learned that four-star ex-staff at the same school were previously on trial for inappropriate conduct with students.
Such incidents are not gender-specific, and inappropriate relationships are not restricted to older male teachers with younger female students. Helen Goddard, a 26-year-old private school music teacher, was sentenced to 15 months in jail. Madeleine Martin, a religious education teacher, was jailed for 32 months following a brief relationship with a 15-year-old boy in the Manchester school where she worked.
Per the Sexual Offences Act 2003, it is illegal for a person over 18 to have a sexual relationship with a child under 18 when they are in a position of trust. Even if the relationship is consensual, this applies where the child is in full-time education, and the person works in the same place as the child, even if they are not a teacher.
Alan McLean, a chartered educational psychologist, explained that even though 16-18-year-olds are of legal age consent, they are still considered vulnerable under the law. "It’s an asymmetrical power relationship," he said, explaining that the child is more susceptible to manipulation, and there is a strong sense of fear of exploitation.
Chris Keates, the general secretary of the NASUWT union, believes that such cases represent a tiny percentage of allegations against teachers. The union has expressed concerns about placing teachers who have had relationships with pupils aged over 16 on the sex offenders register. While the union does not condone such relationships, it points out that if the teacher had sexual relations with a sixth form student outside the school, no charges may be filed. Nevertheless, such incidents are considered a breach of trust and are unacceptable.