Teachers’ social media skills are to be scrutinised after access to a popular online education network was blocked following the posting of offensive material.
The misuse of Yammer was raised at First Minister’s Questions today in the Scottish Parliament, where Nicola Sturgeon said: “I certainly give an undertaking today that the Scottish government will consider whether there is more that we can do to ensure that parents, teachers and anyone who works with young people have the knowledge and understanding to enable them to give appropriate advice [on use of social media] to young people.”
Ms Sturgeon confirmed that “as a precaution, access to Yammer was removed on Friday 8 June”, to allow curriculum and inspection body Education Scotland to carry out “a full review”. Access has not yet been restored.
However, Conservative MSP Alexander Stewart said that teachers had raised concerns over 18 months ago, and that “the system’s risk assessment noted that pupils could be subject to individuals who wished to do harm to them, and parents tried to raise issues with Education Scotland and their local education staff”. He added that “the warnings were not listened to”.
The Courier newspaper last week reported having seen offensive material, including reference to the sale of drugs, which could be read by pupils using Yammer.
Ms Sturgeon said: “The issue first came to my attention, if memory serves me correctly, last Thursday, when a parent emailed me. The system was taken down on Friday while the concerns were fully investigated. On the oversight of this and the review, Education Scotland is responsible.
“As I understand it, the levels of access to [Scottish schools digital network] Glow and to Yammer are decided at a local authority level, but [Yammer] has been taken down, and it is right that that action has been taken, because we must act on the precautionary basis when the safety of children is concerned.”
Ms Sturgeon also said that Education Scotland officials had met the parent who first raised concerns and the school concerned, to discuss the issue
She added: “This is a serious issue and nobody in the government or in Education Scotland is trying to underplay it, but it is important that a proper review takes place. We know that there are educational benefits to giving young people access to such systems, but we must absolutely make sure that safety is a priority, and that is what we will continue to do.”
SNP MSP Gillian Martin said that at a recent meeting with children’s charity Barnardo’s in Aberdeen, it told her that about 46 per cent of children who use various social media apps and online platforms have their settings at “public”, meaning that “anyone can see their content and contact them”.
In response, Ms Sturgeon said: “On balance, the internet and social media are forces for good – they open a world to children that they may not otherwise be able to experience. However, they potentially give access to those who would want to do harm to children, so we must ensure that safety is the absolute priority.”
Earlier this week, Tes reported concerns that social media will be “catastrophic” for many teachers unless more is done to stop “bullying” by parents who monitor schools using new technology.