Social media 'catastrophic' for teachers

Warning of 'Orwellian nightmare' after a string of incidents where teachers have been targeted by 'irate' parents using social media

Henry Hepburn


Social media will be “catastrophic” for many teachers unless more is done to stop “bullying” by parents who monitor schools using new technology, an education union has warned.

The EIS, Scotland’s biggest teaching union, wants more support for teachers amid fears that groups of parents are targeting teachers and bombarding schools with petty complaints.

Andrene Bamford, a member of the union’s council, said: “There are teachers who are effectively being bullied by parents through social media.”

In one case a group of parents started a Facebook petition to oust a headteacher from her post. Ms Bamford also cited a parent WhatsApp group which, every Friday afternoon, coordinated a complaint about a minor issue, leading to “five angry emails per class” every Monday morning.

Another incident saw a school tweeting a picture of the end of a school sports race, only for an “irate” parent of the child who finished third calling the headteacher to demand an upgrade of their medal, after insisting that the photograph showed their child’s chest was millimetres in front of the second-placed runner.

Ms Bamford also told of a “lovely picture” of a class during a library which was shared on learning app, which led to a parent emailing the local authority’s head of education to complain that “the child’s needs were not being met because they didn’t come home with a library book” – it turned out that the visit had been disrupted a fire alarm sounded five minutes after the picture was taken.

Ms Bamford, addressing the union’s AGM in Dundee last week, warned that whatever the benefits of apps, they could be used by parents “in evidence against the teacher”.

She said that many schools had “bring your own device” (BYOD) policies which opened the door to students recording or photographing teachers at work, and that “what they could do with this could be absolutely catastrophic for our members”.

She added: “If we were asked to teach while CCTV was recording our every move, we would not stand for it, but this in effect is not that far away from it.”

Ms Bamford said: “We need to take a hard line on this, otherwise what’s next – two-way TVs in the classroom? It’s an Orwellian nightmare.”

Another EIS council member, James McIntryre, recalled an incident a few years ago where a pupil had messaged a radio DJ saying they were sitting bored in their secondary school, which was read out on air and heard by the local authority’s head of education.

“Cue the headteacher getting an extremely irate phone call that one of our schools was being mentioned in a bad light on a radio show with a massive amount of listeners,” said Mr McIntyre.

He feared that such incidents could be “amplified” by BYOD approaches, as parents could respond to their child’s message and telephone the school before the class had even finished.

He conceded that to talk about parents “conspiring” with each other over complaints about schools was strong language, “but that’s exactly what it is”.

A motion from the union’s East Dunbartonshire association was passed unanimously, so that the EIS council will now be asked to “provide clear and unambiguous guidance for teachers” on:

  • “Posting learning experiences on social media as part of parental engagement, and initiatives such as Bring Your Own Device, where young people are encouraged to photograph and record using their own phones and tablets in the classroom."
  • “The management of situations where teachers are being targeted by parents using group chat forums such as WhatsApp and Messenger, and in particular, [to] advise on the extent to which the law protects teachers under these circumstances."

Tes has recently reported on other concerns that social media sites may harm pupils' mental health, and there have been calls for compulsory teaching in schools of digital literacy and online resilience.

However, many teachers have embraced social media, as a way of reaching like-minded professionals around the world and celebrating the work of schools.

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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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