Survey finds that burden of monitoring online threats is putting schools under strain
A fifth of headteachers have been bullied by pupils or parents on Facebook and other social networking sites, a poll has found.
Britain’s biggest headteachers’ union – the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) – warned that schools are increasingly having to call the police to deal with violent threats posted online. Schools now waste hours each week monitoring websites for abusive comments, the union claims.
One in five heads told the union they had been hounded on social networking sites by pupils, ex-pupils and parents, while two-thirds claimed parents’ behaviour has got worse over the last few years. Some 1,362 heads responded to the poll.
In one case, a teaching assistant discovered that pupils or parents had created a profile of him on Facebook and had posted a litany of abusive comments on it. It took him two months to get the web page taken down.
In another case, parents started a campaign to get rid of a headteacher after her pupils were shown a slaughtered pig as part of a biology lesson. The head resigned. Later, the parents decided that they had made a mistake and asked her to come back.
In other cases, schools have had to call the police to deal with vicious online threats to their headteachers. Speaking at the NAHT’s annual conference in Brighton, Russell Hobby, the union’s general secretary, said cyber-abuse would soon be more of a worry for a school’s reputation than Ofsted, the school inspectorate. Heads will vote on Sunday over whether the union’s national executive should lobby ministers to develop “robust national guidance” on cyberbullying. At the moment, unions issue their own advice on this.
Hobby said online bullying could be trivial or nasty. “It can be just a matter of pupils and parents posting that they don’t like what a headteacher wears or it can be a campaign to get rid of a head. There is anonymity for those who post online and they often seem to think that what they are writing isn’t really real because it’s on a website.”
Sue Street, the director of e-learning at Harrow High School in north London, said schools were having to waste time monitoring sites such as Wikipedia. “Schools now need someone to check new media and the amount of time this takes is disproportionate. We are having to have long conversations [with website owners] in the US to have things taken down.”
She said there was a “growing trend” for pupils to record their classmates and teachers in lessons. “This is also about what happens to that footage,” she said.
Earlier this week, a survey by the NAHT revealed that one in 10 heads had been assaulted by a parent on school grounds. Meanwhile, headteachers have warned they might repeat last year’s boycott of national tests for 10- and 11-year-olds. Last year, a quarter of the 17,000 primary schools in England boycotted the tests, known as Sats, in maths and English. They say the results are used to compile league tables which do not give a fair picture of a school’s strengths.
The government is expected to publish the findings of its review into Sats later this year. Heads said unless the review conceded that the tests should be marked by pupils’ teachers, rather than by external markers, they may repeat last year’s boycott.
Headteachers are also planning to vote on whether to ballot for their first ever national strike over changes to public sector pensions. Delegates at the NAHT conference are expected to vote in favour of the ballot on Sunday.
This could trigger the first industrial action by heads in the NAHT’s 100-year-plus history and would set them on a collision course with government. The National Union of Teachers and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers voted in April to ballot members for a strike over pensions.