Exclusive: Fake news stories about schools 'spread like wildfire'

Hoax articles have been taking up school staff time and increasing the chance of absenteeism, heads say

Eleanor Busby

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Fake news stories about schools – including serious allegations against teachers – have been “spreading like wildfire” across social media, TES has learned.

Over recent weeks, controversy has grown over the fake news stories that are widely believed to have played a major role in delivering Donald Trump his shock victory in the US presidential election.

Now, headteachers are warning that schools in this country are also being caught up in a trend for sham news articles that is having a damaging effect on school staff, parents and pupils.

They say that the problem of fake stories aimed at their schools, created through “prank” websites, is causing unnecessary concern and taking hours of staff time to rectify.

TES is aware of more than a dozen schools that have fallen victim to hoax articles. Some of the stories, which have been shared online across communities, make serious claims about teachers. One example said that a teacher had taken “selfies” after having sex with a student.

Keziah Featherstone, headteacher at Bridge Learning Campus in Bristol, told TES that children as young as eight had seen a fake story on social media about a teacher kidnapping a pupil. Some parents also believed it to be true, she added.

“It has taken up an awful lot of time. It is hours of work. Receptionists have been taking calls from parents and children who don’t understand it’s a prank,” the head of the all-through school added.

Two of the websites (breakingnews247.net and breakingnews365.net) are being misunderstood as real news. They state that they are entertainment sites only at the end of a story page, under a series of related links.

Some stories have even suggested that schools were closed because of a reported emergency, which has forced headteachers to act quickly to ensure that attendance was unaffected.

This is an edited version of an article in the 25 November edition of TES. Subscribers can read the full story hereTo subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click hereTES magazine is available at all good newsagents.

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Eleanor Busby

Eleanor Busby is a reporter at TES 

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