The Australian Education Union has questioned some of the amendments, saying in a submission to the institute that existing bans on student-teacher relationships do “not need to be further added to”. The new code was open to “varied interpretation and ambiguity”.
“To be relevant and meaningful the code must enjoy the confidence of the teaching profession,” the union said in its submission. “The level of confidence will depend upon whether the code properly respects teaching as a professional occupation and whether there is an appropriate balance between the set of standards for professional behaviour and the political, industrial and civil rights of teachers.”
A union source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said members had raised concerns about the rigidity of the code and were worried it would be used to deregister teachers without consultation or consideration of the circumstances. “It doesn’t allow for grey areas,” she said.
The new policy mirrors the Australian Psychological Society’s code of ethics, which prohibits sexual relationships between psychologists and patients within two years of terminating their professional relationship.
From July, the Victorian Institute of Teaching will use the new rules to determine whether a teacher has engaged in serious misconduct or whether there is a question regarding their fitness to teach. Any teacher found guilty of violating a professional relationship with a student, by engaging in a sexual relationship during or after that student has left the school, could have their teaching registration suspended, even if the student is over 18.
In 2019-20, the institute suspended the registrations of Victorian teachers 16 times, primarily for alleged sexual offences, mental impairment or addiction issues.
A spokeswoman for the institute told The Age the revised code provided a more contemporary reflection of the expectations on teachers.
”The code describes the behaviours that exemplify the values of the Victorian teaching profession and the community’s expectations of teachers,” she said.
“The revised code more appropriately reflects the significant role that teachers play in providing for the safety and wellbeing of children and young people, as well as the unique position of trust and influence they have over their learners.”