#Teacherstoo: Parents and students targeting teachers on social media platforms

12 February 2019

More than a third (37%) of teachers contacted by parents on social media have received criticism or abuse.

Research by specialist education insurer Ecclesiastical found that both parents and students are using social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp as a means to contact teachers outside of official school channels.  
A quarter of teachers contacted via social media have received criticism of the school or professional criticism, targeted at either them or a colleague. However, a fifth of teachers have received personal criticism, verbal abuse or inappropriate comments or pictures from a parent.
Almost a third (31%) of those who have been contacted on social media also believed that a parent had tried to intimidate them. Of those that have received criticism, one in five have asked a parent not to contact them, blocked a parent from their social media accounts or reported a parent for their behaviour, while nearly a quarter have spoken to a parent about their behaviour.
Faith Kitchen, Education Director at Ecclesiastical explained, “There have been countless examples of people posting on social media without really thinking about the ‘real life impact’ that their actions have and our research shows that teachers are the target of this behaviour too.”

    This is clearly taking its toll on teachers

    Nearly one in five teachers that had been criticised told Ecclesiastical that this behaviour had left them feeling pressurised and harassed.

    And one in ten admitted to feeling intimidated or threatened as a result of the contact they have had. 
    “The impact on the mental health of teachers must be a concern for schools,” Faith added. “Figures released in November 20181 showed that the government has missed its teacher training recruitment targets for the sixth year running and, with a reported 3,750 teachers already off on long-term stress2."
    Ignoring this issue will deepen the ongoing staffing crisis for the sector.

    Faith Kitchen, Education Director at Ecclesiastical

    “As a specialist education insurer we know that the mental health of teachers is a big concern for the sector. While workloads, long hours and feeling isolated or unsupported are well-known contributing factors to teacher’s stress levels, the impact of 24/7 contact via social media had not been fully explored.”
    “Our research clearly shows that it does have an impact on the mental health of those working in the teaching profession. As a result, we can now highlight this and encourage the schools we work with to put processes in place to deal with it.” 
    More than half (56%) of teachers agreed that social media makes it easy for parents to bully teachers, while 47% said that social media amplifies bad behaviour towards teachers from parents. 47% also said that parents are not good role models for their children. 
    This was reflected in Ecclesiastical’s research, which showed that more than a quarter of teachers have received criticism, abuse or inappropriate messages from a student. A fifth believed that a student had tried to intimidate them on social media. 
    Faith added: “Organisations such as the Anti-Bullying Alliance provide free guidance for schools, teachers and parents on how to handle cyber-bullying which includes training and staff development, prevention strategies and ‘a whole school’ approach. However, much of the advice is geared towards protecting pupils and while this is important our research shows teachers need support too.”   
    More than a quarter of teachers have received criticism, abuse or inappropriate messages from a student
    Ed Henderson, partner at law firm Lee Bolton Monier-Williams Solicitors added: “We have experienced an increase in schools asking us about parents waging social media campaigns and generally stirring up others via WhatsApp or Facebook groups.
    “It has real and immediate consequences, not least because teachers can find this very distressing. A school has a duty of care towards its staff, of course, but in reality, it is very difficult to stop parents writing about schools or teachers on social media. We have had to write to parents on behalf of clients saying their words may be verging on harassment or defamation; usually a solicitor's letter has a significant effect.”
    The good news for the sector is that teachers do feel supported by the organisations they work for.
    Almost three quarters agreed that their organisation would provide support and 70% believed that action would be taken if they reported such behaviour. However, 41% of teachers said that their organisation did not have a social media policy or if they did, they were not aware of it. 
    “Schools need to have a robust risk management process in place for dealing with this type of incident. If the issue is not dealt with correctly, it could have significant reputational consequences.” Faith explained. 
    Commenting on what schools need to do, Faith added: “The most important thing is that the issue is taken seriously and steps are taken to resolve it. Schools should have clear behaviour policies, which take account of social media use, in place – these should be available to parents, students and teachers. This way everybody understands what a school’s behavioural expectations are, and what will happen if those expectations are not met. When dealing with an issue of this nature, schools must ensure that this policy is followed.”
    “Actions taken to address the incident must be agreed and followed up. The issue should be fully documented which should include how the school has managed the situation in terms of seeking to stop any further use of social media that may cause distress.”
    “Bullying can lead to anxiety, stress and depression and can also be a criminal offence – particularly repeated harassment or intimidation. It must be taken seriously.”