They tell professional ethics survey student relationships would be acceptable under some circumstances More than one in seven teachers say it is acceptable to have a love affair with a student under certain circumstances, according to a survey released this week. The poll, conducted by Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers, asked 707 teachers their opinions on professionalism. While 85.3 per cent of respondents said teacher-student relationships were not acceptable, 2.4 per cent said they were. A further 12.3 per cent said it would 'depend on the circumstances'. The figures reveal a surprisingly liberal attitude towards what is traditionally a taboo subject. Tso Kai-lok, principal of Elegantia College in Sheung Shui, said he would not tolerate teacher-student relationships, but added there was no clear-cut guideline over how head teachers should handle the situation. 'There is no specific policy. There is a code of ethics, but it is not legally binding,' he said. It was left to individual principals to set their own rules. He said he would make it clear to teachers when they joined that such activities could cost them their job. 'That reduces the chance of anything happening.' The teachers' code issued by the Council on Professional Conduct in Education makes only one reference to student-teacher relationships and does not specify sexual or romantic relations. 'A member of the profession shall not take advantage of his or her professional relationships with students for private gain,' it says. Chairman of the Council for Professional Conduct in Education Pun Tin- chi said there was no specific policy on how to deal with affairs. 'The council has discussed this twice in recent years but has not made any decision.' Opinion was divided as to whether or not there should be a policy on the issue. Michael Hong Man-hoi, principal of Shun Lee Catholic Secondary School in Kwun Tong, said it was not an easy issue to discuss openly. 'That's a very controversial subject,' he said. 'In Hong Kong, we never talk about it,' adding that any relationship between an adult and a teenager was 'unfair play'. Woo Kwok-yin, principal of Confucian Ho Kwok Pui Chun College, Tai Po, said he felt it would depend on the circumstances. 'I know some teachers who are now happily married to former student. 'Of course, I couldn't accept this sort of relationship while the student was still in school. But if they meet again later and something develops, I don't think they should not pursue it simply because they were once teacher and student.' Wu Siu-wai, a lecturer at Hong Kong Institute of Education, who was in charge of the survey, agreed, saying the raw figures could be misleading as they did not show the thinking behind teachers' answers. 'We did not follow up or ask teachers to give reasons,' Dr Wu said. The survey is a repeat of an identical one carried out in 2002. Dr Wu said comparing the results of the two studies made it possible to measure the change in teachers' attitudes over time. In the previous survey, only 74.5 per cent of teachers said teacher-student relationships were unacceptable. 'Everybody is becoming more sensitive to these sorts of issues,' he said. This was part of a broader trend that demonstrated teachers were becoming more professional. 'If you look across the board at all the various indicators, it has improved quite a lot,' Dr Wu said. 'This is partly because parents are paying more attention to what happens in schools, and also because the government has been pushing to improve professional standards among teachers.' Heather Du Quesnay, chief executive of the English Schools Foundation, said that for teachers to consider it acceptable to have relationships with students under any circumstances would be 'utterly unacceptable and unprofessional' in the UK or the ESF. 'It wouldn't be tolerated by head teachers, governing bodies or fellow teachers,' she said. Additional reporting by Katherine Forestier.