Professional boundaries in teacher-pupil relationships: does the model of professional conduct in regulatory standards and codes of conduct impose teacher-pupil relationships that are pedagogically and personally limiting?

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis explores the impact of regulatory codes of conduct on the lived experience of being a teacher. It locates teacher practice within the context of an environment of moral panic and Performativity through which is filtered the propriety of teacher-student relating, and considers the resulting retreat to protective risk-averse practice. This study stems from the concern that teachers are sanctioned against vague, broad and universally stated expectations with no recognition of the active role of context in what constitutes ‘appropriate professional boundaries’. The foundational aim is to understand how, despite there being a known code of conduct, an educator who considers themselves caring, ethical and reflective, and strives to be a ‘good person’, might still act in ways that may be perceived as (and may constitute) misconduct.
Key themes and issues identified from the international literature are further explored through an analysis of 200 conduct panel records. This analysis showed that teacher-pupil boundaries (where the relationship was considered too close) were the most frequently sanctioned area of teacher misconduct. A whole-staff boundary exploration activity (drawing on group and individual questionnaires) indicated that this most significant area of sanctioned teacher misconduct was also one where even agreed definitions of what constituted ‘appropriate professional boundaries’ did not translate to consistent evaluation of the propriety of a range of hypothetical behaviours. The central narrative of a single practitioner is then explored in relation to these established themes and confusions, and given additional depth through two stages of comment from four critical readers. This narrative illustrates the tensions of these themes and confusions in practice and informed the exploratory focus within national and local contexts (sections three and four, respectively).
The combined message of these data is then discussed through a Foucauldian lens, drawing upon ‘Games of Truth’ and discourse analysis and embracing the need for the process of ethical self-constitution to support the development of teachers’ ethical practice and the realisation of teachers as professional subjects. Sachs’ ‘Active Professionalism’ is extended in an approach that may facilitate the ethical self-constitution of teachers whilst also empowering them as professionals and respecting the voices of the whole school community in their ability and desire to co-create community-level, context-responsive codes of practice.
Date of Award2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Manchester Metropolitan University
SupervisorHeather Piper (Supervisor) & Chris Hanley (Supervisor)

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