Navbar button The Headteacher

Office romance – HR advice for school leaders

July 9, 2024, 12:17 GMT+1
Read in 4 minutes
  • When it comes to relationships between members of staff, school leaders need to keep a cool, clear head, advises David Rushby
Office romance – HR advice for school leaders

It might be a fleeting moment of eye contact across a churning photocopier. A slight touch or knowing smile by the microwave as hands collide. No, you haven’t just grabbed that tatty old copy of Bella that’s been lying in the staffroom table for years. It’s what you may find occurring in your school if you have an office romance taking place between two members of staff.

But let’s not jump to conclusions. There are helpful things to consider before we enter a world of speculation and drama. We must know our position and take an approach that will provide the best chance of managing (or preventing) any unfortunate implications of an office romance, whilst remaining fair.

Upholding standards

The thing to remember is that this can’t ever be about your opinion. Any approach or management must be logical and about upholding professional standards.

It’s important to share your thoughts with your HR officer, not only for guidance, but to ensure that it doesn’t become personal.

Having made your situation less of an internal affair and more of an external conversation, your job is to seek to protect the school against any negative consequences.

Successful assessment

Presumably, you have been tipped off about the office romance, unless you’ve witnessed something yourself.

Whilst you may not have (and may never have) the full facts, you do need to be secure enough to successfully assess the situation.

It would be best to hear about this directly from the staff involved from the onset. It would pay to take this information very seriously, and to seek advice at the earliest opportunity. Better to be on the front foot rather than to manage any further incidents.

Careful intervening

When looking at the prospect of an office romance occurring on site, there are some very important reasons to carefully intervene.

These relate to risks that affect others and the organisation, that the couple having the office romance may not have fully considered or have not been made explicit.

Let’s take a look at a few possibilities.

What if a pupil or family discovered this? It could be damaging for both the school and the staff. What about the likelihood of it appearing on social media?

What about the possible professional consequences for the two parties, such as misconduct investigations, tribunals, suspensions and resignations?

There are lots of outcomes that can impact negatively on your setting, and all of these need to be understood.

Helpful guidance

Don’t let this one be about headteacher discretion. You have a duty, and there are some helpful documents out there that can guide and support you, whilst avoiding discrimination.

The NEU has published a model Relationships at Work policy. This sets the expectations and implications. It’s a good, logical and fair policy that doesn’t judge or damn.

It makes clear the expectation that any office romance between staff should be declared by the people involved, to avoid any potential conflict of interests.

Note that the document doesn’t use the term ‘affair’; instead, we can see the general use of ‘personal relationships’ or even ‘romantic involvements’.

The Teacher Misconduct policy is more procedural when looking at assessment, investigation and disciplinary procedures.

It is less about preventative management approaches and more about protocols when things hit the fan.

Despite the complexity of the issue, we can take a tried and tested, gossip-free approach. We can preventatively raise awareness using policy for good practice, before any situations occur.

And then, if we are made aware of an office romance between staff that could have negative consequences for the school, our actions will all be in line with, and in the interest of, upholding the agreed and published expectations.

Not a particularly steamy solution, but let’s make sure that any future conversations about ‘heat’ relate only to managing your energy supply.

David Rushby is director of Nautilus Education and a former headteacher.