NASUWT calls on incoming government to adopt zero tolerance policy

social media Facebook TwitterThere has been a huge rise in the number of teachers being targeted for abuse via social media in the last year, a survey by the NASUWT has found.

Nearly 1,500 teachers responded to the union’s third annual survey of teachers and of these 60% reported having had adverse comments posted about them on social media sites by pupils and parents, compared to 21% in 2014.

Particularly concerning is that the majority of the significant increase appears to be as a result of an increase in the number of parents abusing teachers online; 40% of teachers had experienced this in the last year, compared to 27% in 2014.

Abusive, sexist, racist, homophobic and highly offensive language is common, accompanied by remarks about teachers’ appearance, competence or sexuality. Teachers also had false allegations and malicious slurs targeted at them.

There has been a rise in the number of teachers receiving insulting comments from pupils (62% compared to 47% in 2014) and parents (64% compared to 57% in 2014).

Over a third (34%) of teachers had videos or photos taken of them without consent and posted online by pupils, compared to 26% in 2014, and 15% had threats made against them by a parent, compared to 7% in 2014.

The overwhelming majority of comments were posted by secondary pupils, mainly on Facebook, although there have also been rises in pupils using newer sites such as Instagram and Snapchat to abuse teachers.

While the vast majority of teachers did report the abuse from pupils or parents to their employer, the social network or the police, effective response to this abuse remains unacceptably low, with action from social networking sites falling compared to 2014.

For those incidents where a pupil was responsible and where it was reported to the headteacher, 42% of teachers said that no action was taken against the pupil, compared to 40% who said no action was taken against pupils in 2014.

Where incidents involving pupils were reported to the police, 30% saw action taken, compared to 23% in 2014. For reporting pupils to social networks, 33% saw action taken, a drop of 6% on 2014.

For incidents where a parent was involved, in 43% of cases no action was taken against the parent by the school, compared to 55% of cases in 2014 where no action was taken.

Where parents’ abuse was reported to the police, just over a quarter of teachers (29%) saw action taken, compared to 24% in 2014, whereas when parents were reported to social networks, just over a quarter (26%) saw action taken, a drop of 5% on 2014.

Fewer teachers this year said that their school has an internet or social media policy that makes specific reference to protecting staff from abuse by social media (26% in 2015 compared to 30% in 2014)

NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said: “We have campaigned tirelessly for many years to highlight the need to protect teachers from the abuse of social media by pupils and parents.

“It is deeply worrying to see that the abuse of teachers has risen by such a huge margin this year.

“Equally concerning is that it appears that more parents are the perpetrators of the abuse.

“The vile, insulting and personal comments are taking their toll on teachers’ health and wellbeing and undermining their confidence to do their job.

“Many teachers tell us that they suspect they are being abused online but dare not look, for fear they could never walk into their school again to have to face their abusers.

“While there has been some improvement in action taken on reported abuse, there are still too many cases where no appropriate action is taken and teachers are being left devastated, humiliated and traumatised.

“One of the Coalition government’s first acts when it came to office was to remove the clear and comprehensive guidance on dealing with social media abuse and cyberbullying on the grounds that it was unnecessary bureaucracy. This gave the green light to abusers and allowed employers to abdicate their responsibility for the welfare and wellbeing of their staff.

“An incoming government must take this issue seriously and require schools not only to have a zero-tolerance policy, but to use all the sanctions available to them to address the abuse of staff.”

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License.
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Tim Lezard

Campaigning journalist, editor of @Union_NewsUK, NUJ exec member; lover of cricket, football, cycling, theatre and dodgy punk bands

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