Schools

Trust hopes code of conduct for parents will end abuse

Surveys show 10 per cent of school staff were threatened or abused on social media last year

Surveys show 10 per cent of school staff were threatened or abused on social media last year

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One of England’s biggest academy trusts has pledged to ban social media trolls from school grounds under a new “code of conduct” for parents. 

Bishop Wilkinson Catholic Education Trust wants to outlaw threatening messages to staff and “defamatory” posts about its schools.

Under the rules – which will come into force across the north east trust’s 47 sites next week – parents will also be told not to wear “sexually provocative” clothing or pyjamas at pick-up and drop-off. 

Nick Hurn, the trust’s chief executive, claimed tirades on social media led to an inspection at one of his schools and three SEND tribunal cases, which cost the trust £30,000 in legal fees. 

He has also instructed solicitors to write letters to parents demanding they take down posts branding one of his teachers a paedophile. 

A report from the charity Education Support this week revealed senior leaders had noticed a shift in public attitudes since Covid, with one noting: “It’s like people have got angrier.”

Teacher Tapp surveys show 10 per cent of school staff were threatened or abused on social media last year, up from 6 per cent in 2019. 

Staff leave because of ‘abuse and pressure’

Hurn said three members of SEND staff left one of his schools in the past 18 months “because they are just getting abuse and pressure from parents if they don’t get what they want”. 

“These people seem to be able to say what they like online. If the school makes a decision a parent doesn’t like, they immediately get on social media and before you know it you have 300 people piling into a member of staff.

“They go straight to the ESFA, Ofsted, you name it. Parents should be allowed to complain, but not when they’re vexatious and there’s no substance to them.”

The code of conduct says “defamatory, offensive or derogatory comments” about any of the trust’s schools, pupils, parents or employees “must not be aired on social media”.  

Meanwhile, threatening or abusive emails, texts, voicemails, phone calls and other forms of written communication “will not be tolerated”.

Hurn said staff will begin compiling evidence – including screenshots – once they become aware of incidents. 

Any parents caught breaking the rules will initially be warned in face-to-face meetings with headteachers. 

But “persistent breaches may result in banning the offending adult from entering school grounds” and could “lead to prosecution”. 

Make complaints through ‘appropriate channels’

The code said any concerns “must be made through the appropriate channels by speaking to the class teacher, headteacher or chair of governors, so they can be dealt with fairly, appropriately and effectively for all concerned”.

Under the rules, parents will be told not to swear, “display temper” or “carry out actual bodily harm” at schools. The trust will also instruct them to “avoid [wearing] clothing that may be viewed as offensive, revealing or sexually provocative” on school grounds. 

Pyjamas or clothes with “contentious slogans” will also not be allowed. 

“Some of the primary heads have seen [people in] very revealing items that left little to the imagination,” Hurn said. “I just don’t think it’s professional.”

However, bans will be reserved for parents who are “abusive and aggressive” in person or online. 

The Elliot Foundation Academies Trust estimated that the volume of complaints from parents was “two or three times” 2019 levels. 

“It’s got quite personal… previously a parent would go up to a teacher to complain.

“Now they skip that stage and go direct to thermo-nuclear war, an email to Ofsted, copy in the MP, for things that wouldn’t have met the threshold before,” said Hugh Greenway, the chief executive of the 32-school trust.

Leaders notice change in parents’ behaviour

The Education Support report detailed how a focus group of senior leaders had noticed a change in parental behaviour over the past three years.

Julie McCulloch
Julie McCulloch

This had coincided with schools having to deal more with children’s complex needs, while juggling parents’ expectations and often being “blamed” for problems in the community.

Julie McCulloch of school leaders’ union ASCL is calling for social media companies to “put their houses in order” by removing “abusive content from their forums”, instead of expecting “victims to report offensive material” themselves.

Hurn said the government should introduce a “nationally backed parent and carer code of conduct”.

“Parents should be required to sign and adhere to [it] from their child’s first day at school. Public servants need to be protected from that kind of onslaught.

“The abuse has put a lot of people off being a headteacher because they think it’s not worth the hassle. We’re trying to make sure heads know they’re not isolated.”   

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3 Comments

  1. Totally agree, this is, for our school, certainly for Pastoral staff, the number one cause of disaffection, poor mental health/ well-being and for some, myself included, the main reason for considering leaving the profession. A strong statement of support from the Govt. and set of clear parental/ carer expectations would be a huge give to the profession, as would a much greater political and media investigation of the link between poorly behaved parents/ carers and behaviour in school… by the way this was happening way before Covid and even, the next biggest problem – Brexit – I think the link with social media is by far the biggest factor in this as in so many other debates in education, most of which see schools as being all to blame ( oddly,whilst expecting them to be the cure all for all social, psychological and increasingly financial ills)… I could go on…

  2. Wendy

    If i am honest I think schools need to grow up.

    I read a lot of articles like this where they cannot accept any form of accountability. Public scrutiny gets you banned reporting to regulators is viewed as unacceptable and schools don’t even seem to think they should recieve any scrutiny from ofsted.

    My experience is that standards are at an all time low and the teaching profession are desperate for a scape goat the parents ofsted funding anywhere but them.

    People have a right to wear what they like they don’t need yo appear professional in their literal personal lives dropping off their kids. What on earth makes schools think they can dictate what adults wear when they can’t even disabling children and keep them safe.

    People are getting angrier because standards are low.

  3. Paul Davies

    Our daughter was a teacher who was attacked and had her belongings stolen on a number of occasions, she believed that on many occasions it was due to to strict a schools policy, failure within the school to follow their own policy or too much rigidity an application of policy.

    Not giving allowances in relevant circumstances, failing to provide equipment such as pens and pencils in emergencies is obstructive and leads to barriers which leads to frustration on all sides.

    We lost our daughter 4yrs 3months ago, she loved teaching and never gave up on the children, especially the children that schools had given up on, watching them go out into life and take up successful careers for which we still receive email updates.

    Sadly not all schools have fair policy and procedures, not all schools follow their own policies or procedure including complaints procedure to the end, using a blanket ‘No’ statement to child and parent on every proposal to resolve concerns and problems, being too rigid and ruling with an iron fist, leaving both child and parents frustrated, distressed and isolated with nowhere to turn.

    Violence and abuse is not the answer to anything however, we all know that when people are backed into a corner, scared for their childrens future, frustrated with the lack of reasonable response, isolated with nowhere to turn violence and abuse unfortunately can erupt .

    This situation of frustration, distress and isolation should never arise.
    Schools should all have a clear fair transparent policy and follow it to the letter, not just paying lip service to it, they should have a fair complaints policy which doesn’t demean the complainant, and they should follow all processes within it through to the end. Perhaps having an independent body to oversee is the answer, someone other that the chair of governors etc attached to the school.

    Running a school in which parents know that requests for assistance will end in a dead end, where all children know that going to request help will result in ‘No’ doesn’t assist teachers to teach and breeds a culture of instability and uncertainty for all.

    Look at the way a school is run and perhaps the cause of frustration in pupils, parents and teachers will be found.