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There are a wide variety of ethical issues of concern to the professional educator.  The following is by no means an exhaustive list - nor is coverage intended to be comprehensive.






In loco parentis (Latin = in the place of a parent) is a legal doctrine describing a relationship similar to that of a parent to a child. (It is worth noting that, under the Childrens Act (2004), people are classed as "children" up to the age of 18.)  It refers to an individual who assumes parental status and responsibilities for another individual, usually a young person, without formally adopting that person. For example, legal guardians are said to stand in loco parentis with respect to their wards.  By far the most common usage of in loco parentis relates to teachers and students. For hundreds of years, it shaped the rights and responsibilities of teachers in that they were expected to behave towards their charges as might "a reasonable parent".  It can be seen that change in social attitudes could lead to a lack of clarity in this matter.



In an article in the Times Educational Supplement (8 Nov 2002) Virginia Hunt writes:


"Under the Children Act 1989, teachers have a duty of care towards their pupils, traditionally referred to as 'in loco parentis'. Legally, while not bound by parental responsibility, teachers must behave as any reasonable parent would do in promoting the welfare and safety of children in their care. The idea dates back to the 19th century when courts were first coming to terms with teachers' responsibilities. It was during this period that case law established that a teacher should act 'as a prudent father'."


"The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 also requires schools to show a duty of care towards pupils' safety and well-being, although not their 'welfare', in so far as this is practicable."


Click here for the full article.



The phrase ‘in loco parentis’ is no longer considered to be a legitimate argument in law, with ‘duty of care’ taking precedence.  Duty of care is not owed to the world at large, but only to those who have a sufficiently proximate relationship.  The traditional role of the teacher in loco parentis would appear to indicate that teachers are in a sufficiently proximate relationship.


The Government’s Every Child Matters (ECM) framework has since defined the responsibilities of all professional practitioners who may have contact with children.


The Family Law Reform Act 1969 reduced the age of majority (adulthood) from 21 to 18 and introduced the concept of FE and HE being ‘in loco parentis’.  It is clear that a FE institution owes a duty of care towards all of its students – but may be presumed to owe a higher standard of care to 16 or 17 year olds.  Whereas it is clear that FE is expected to adopt the responsibilities formerly attributed to in loco parentis, does FE have the same rights as a parent - and what are those rights?


Lord Scarman has ruled that a child who has sufficient intelligence and understanding to appreciate what a course of action involves, may give a valid consent to that course of action.  Lord Scarman made it clear that the “rights” of a parent (or someone acting in loco parentis) exist primarily because of the parent's duties to the child, are not without limitations and diminish as the child gets older.


Whereas the FE institution should take all precautions for the safety and wellbeing of such students, the overriding principle would appear to be that the student be allowed to make their own decisions (and act upon them) – depending on their level of intelligence, experience and understanding.  In brief (with regard to decision-making on issues that affect them as individuals) it may be appropriate to "treat them as adults if they behave like adults".


It should be pointed out that the law on consent and parental responsibility is in a state of flux and the courts may interpret the law differently in the future.






To what extent should a college (training organisation) take responsibility for “sorting out” issues involving its students that occur on its site – which might elsewhere be considered as matters for legal intervention?  (E.g.: if a student is systematically “bullying” another student.)






Increasing numbers of teachers are undertaking research, either as part of a professional qualification or as part of an institution-based action research initiative.


Click here for a set of guidelines that may prove useful.






There are certain subject areas in which one might expect consideration of ethical issues to form part of the syllabus (Religion, Law, Politics, Health & Social Care, etc.) but could it not also be argued that ethical consideration should be included in a more diverse range of subjects?  One might suggest accounting, the sciences, technology and various trades, etc.


In almost every vocational sphere there are ethical issues to be encountered and the behaviourist educator might justifiably claim that early consideration of these issues form part of the curriculum.






Whereas no teacher would condone one student copying the work of another student, the issue of plagiarism is not always so straightforwardly determined.


Students may have worked collaboratively on an assignment – with the permission of the teacher (who may actively encourage such an approach as a way of developing students’ team-working skills).  In such an instance it may not be apparent which student contributed which part of the finished assignment.  If the assignment takes the form of a presentation, this may complicate matters further.


Closely allied to this issue is the debate surrounding how much support students should be given in order to achieve success in assessed assignments.  No-one would deny that it is the teacher's role to further the understanding of their students and to develop their capacity to produce assignment work that reflects their level of understanding.  However, there is a fine line between developing students' capacity by means of tutorial guidance and "spoon-feeding" them by providing excessive amounts of support.  For example, "writing frames" may be a useful device to encourage students to consider the structure of written assignments - but to what extent could the teacher be said to be "doing it for them"?


The tutor also faces the predicament of judging whether a student’s inclusion of another author’s work is a deliberate attempt to plagiarise – or occurs merely as the result of the student’s uncertainty about how to re-phrase, cite and reference the material. If this latter eventuality is perceived by the teacher to be the result of their failure to adequately instruct the student, then the scene is set for an ethical dilemma.






Under the pressure to prepare lessons without the “luxury” of sufficient time to do so, teachers can be tempted to utilise the work of colleagues.  To what extent might lesson materials be considered intellectual property?  And whose property?


Whereas a spirit of collaboration ought to exist amongst colleagues – and can ease the burden of preparation – there is the temptation for some not to “pull their weight”.  This results in more conscientious colleagues becoming reluctant to engage in such lop-sided collegiality.






In the results- and finance-driven environment that FE has become, tutors may find themselves being asked (or instructed) to teach courses for which they feel inadequately prepared.  Whereas one can understand the FE institution’s keenness to respond to market forces, this can lead to a situation in which tutors might even be tempted to teach on courses for which they know they do not have appropriate levels of competence or experience.


This could result in the lesson content (or skill) being inaccurately taught, demonstrated or assessed.  This could have severe consequences for the student (and subsequent colleagues, clients, etc.) in the vocational sphere.  It could result in a lower standard (or inadequate) professional practice.


The efficacy of teaching may have far reaching consequences – especially where the skill requires expertise in the operation of safety equipment, etc. – or armed forces personnel using defence equipment.






Operating under what is often perceived to be the threat of inspection, FE institutions may be tempted to be "judicious" in their interpretation of data and their choice of information to be presented to inspecting or validating bodies.  This can apply as much to individuals and departments as it does to organisations.  The phrase, "lies, damned lies and statistics" may or may not have been coined by Benjamin Disraeli, but there is little doubt that the information age in which we live has perpetuated the veracity of the aphorism.


Whereas employees of FE institutions will want to prove their worth and demonstrate loyalty to the organisation, does their professionalism not also require that they seek to maintain high standards of honesty and integrity?  Placed in a predicament with regard to providing evidence to an inspecting or validating body, there is a temptation to "manipulate" the way in which data is presented.


Individuals may find their personal integrity compromised by organisational expectations.






With education increasingly becoming a results-driven enterprise, there is pressure on teachers to improve pass rates amongst students.  Whereas assessors are loathe to lower standards, nevertheless it is a temptation to give borderline students "the benefit of the doubt" - or to provide them with excessive assistance in order to guarantee achievement.  This can lead to a similar conflict between personal integrity and organisational expectation as that described above. 






What course of action should FE teachers follow if they discover or become aware of colleagues behaving in a way that may be deemed unprofessional, inappropriate or illegal?  There should be no question about the appropriate course of action when the issue concerns the treatment of a child or an inappropriate relationship with a student.  However, the appropriate course of action to take may be something of a grey area when the matter at issue concerns a colleague's personal habits (for example; excessive drinking or the use of "recreational" drugs.)  Where those personal habits or behaviours have a consequential impact on the colleague's competence, there may be adequate organisational guidelines.  However, where there is no obvious impact the course of action to be taken can pose a moral dilemma.