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We often can’t see the news for the Twitterstorm – or the snow

Twitter has its place, but too often plunges the mundane and the weighty into the same bubbling cauldron

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Twitter has its place, but too often plunges the mundane and the weighty into the same bubbling cauldron

If you’re a teacher and you decide to tweet about something you’ve been doing or a decision you’ve taken, be prepared for online castigation.

No matter how innocuous the topic of your twittering, there’s a high chance that someone, somewhere will take umbrage. That much was clear again when the so-called “Beast from the East” snowstorm lived up to the hype and closed the majority of Scotland’s schools, many for several days.

Cue teachers tweeting ideas for work that pupils could be getting on with while ensconced at home – sometimes dry-sounding exam preparation, sometimes tips on making use of the snow for learning. And cue the inevitable backlash. “Why can’t they just let children be children and build a snowman?” was the gist of a standard complaint.

Social media offers clear advantages for those working in education. It creates professional links that transcend the usual sphere of work and enables immediate feedback on ideas and questions. But that immediacy can also obscure the big picture and give disproportionate attention to the relatively trivial, typified by teachers’ varied responses to last week’s snowfall and the reaction that followed.

Bad weather must privately be greeted with delight by politicians around the world – assuming local traffic infrastructure doesn’t collapse – as news bulletins and social media feeds become dominated by images of snowball fights and famous landmarks draped in white, while more pressing issues are obscured.

The Scottish government last week published a raft of statistics it did want to receive attention, including upbeat takes on education spending in all sectors and on school leavers’ destinations. But it also quietly put out reports on responses to plans for “fair funding” for schools and revised school-premises guidelines – publications that were even less likely to attract attention after the nation became obsessed by the weather for a few days.

Emotive issues

Our analysis of the fair-funding report shows how, in unprecedented detail, it lays bare the fault lines in plans to devolve more control of education budgets to headteachers. While many headteachers embrace the idea in principle, there are concerns about the financial burdens and legal liabilities that could be placed on schools – and complaints that the plans are too vague to allow for a proper assessment of them.

There are worries about vulnerable pupils, too. With more variance in how schools allocate their money, will LGBT students and those with additional needs get the support they need?

The report about school-premises guidelines at first seems unremarkable, merely a long-overdue piece of housekeeping since the guidelines were last refreshed in 1979. In fact, while most proposed changes are uncontroversial, one element has met with widespread opposition from organisations as diverse as the British Medical Association and Scottish Natural Heritage.

It is potentially a highly emotive issue: outdoor play areas and a disputed interpretation of how you measure their “capacity”. The justification for plans that would allow smaller outdoor areas in some cases is that a smaller synthetic pitch is used far more than a larger grass one, hence its greater “capacity” – but some do not agree with that argument.

Twitter has its place, but too often plunges the mundane and the weighty into the same bubbling cauldron of indignation, with the stuff that really matters struggling to get the attention it deserves.

Social media can make connections across borders and help teachers celebrate their students’ work – but if it’s detailed analysis of the big education issues you want, snow worries: you’re in the right place.

@Henry_Hepburn

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