Exclusive: Teachers increasingly facing 'vicious' social media abuse from parents

Teachers in Scotland do not always feel supported by schools or local authorities to tackle the abuse, survey findings reveal

Henry Hepburn

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Teachers are increasingly facing “vicious” and “abusive” treatment at the hands of parents on social media, a Tes Scotland investigation can reveal.

Unions and professional bodies are concerned about behaviour ranging from spreading gossip about teachers to threats of assault and mob justice against staff and pupils.

Exclusive survey findings lay bare a series of shocking incidents, some requiring police involvement. But teachers do not always feel sufficiently supported by their school or local authority to challenge the culprits, the responses show.

A poll of more than 1,000 Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association (SSTA) members, which contained questions provided by Tes Scotland, shows that one in seven has suffered negative experiences on social media involving parents, while more than a third were not aware of any social media policy in their school.

A separate online poll, prompted by discussion on a popular primary teachers’ Facebook group, revealed that one teacher had been described on Facebook as a “nasty cow”, “bitch” and “the only teacher my daughter has ever hated”.

The survey respondent said: “When someone else said they had just seen this teacher in Asda, the original poster replied, ‘If I wasn’t in my pyjamas already, I’d be heading down there right now to get intae her’.”

The AHDS school leaders’ body said abuse on social media was “an area of growing concern” because online platforms allowed “uninformed and abusive voices considerable reach”.

Threats to beat up 'the bully'

General secretary Greg Dempster cited one case in which parents used social media to share information about a pupil they said was bullying their child. “This was quickly picked up by others, with some offering to beat up the ‘bully’ and others referring to the school and headteacher in derogative terms,” he said.

The situation was dealt with robustly by local authority legal staff and police, but Mr Dempster said that such support was not guaranteed everywhere. “On one comparable occasion, a member was simply told to get a thicker skin,” he said.

Eileen Prior, executive director of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, said that social media was used by some to “bully and victimise”, but that online platforms could also be “enormously beneficial”.

That view was shared by some of the teachers surveyed, with one saying: “I’ve only had one really negative experience with social media and a parent, and the benefits for me far outweigh the risks.”

General Teaching Council for Scotland guidance on teachers’ use of social media will be updated later this year to reflect developments such as the increased use of Twitter and the emergence of Instagram and WhatsApp.

This is an edited version of an article in the 24 March edition of Tes Scotland. Subscribers can read the full story here. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here. Your new-look Tes Scotland magazine is available at all good newsagents.

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Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn is the news editor for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Henry_Hepburn

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