Schools demand national campaign against abusive parents

More than a third of school staff report receiving verbal abuse from parents

More than a third of school staff report receiving verbal abuse from parents


A network of schools has demanded an NHS-style national campaign against abuse of staff by parents, as data shows reports of bad behaviour at the school gates has risen by more than a quarter since 2020.

Schools North East said its members faced an “increase in irrational, confrontational, unreasonable behaviour and expectations” from parents and carers, leading to “rising vexatious complaints”.

Data from Teacher Tapp shows the proportion of school staff who reported verbal abuse from parents or carers has risen from 28 per cent in 2020 to 36 per cent this year.

Headteachers were more likely to report abuse (75 per cent) than other senior leaders (53 per cent) and classroom teachers (30 per cent).

Schools North East described a “seismic shift in attitudes” during and since the pandemic.

While most interactions with parents were positive, there were small groups of parents “willing to be abusive towards school staff” – including complaints straight to external government agencies.

These bodies, such as Ofsted, the Department for Education and the Education and Skills Funding Agency “should only get involved once the school has completed their complaints procedure”.

“Schools would like to see a campaign against abuse, to promote greater respect for the teaching profession.”

One primary has had 69 complaints this term

The network pointed to similar campaigns in the NHS.

In 2018, the government announced the first NHS “violence reduction strategy”, which NHS England followed up in 2021 with a new violence prevention and reduction standard. Many NHS trusts have also run their own campaigns and initiatives.

Chris Zarraga, a director of Schools North East, said some parents held schools responsible for what happened outside classroom hours.

Chris Zarraga
Chris Zarraga

A survey of more than 200 schools found two thirds reported “increased challenges in relationships with parents”.

“One primary school has seen 69 complaints (including vexatious complaints) this term, compared with 102 for the entirety of the last academic year.”

Ofsted received 14,900 complaints about schools last academic year, almost a quarter more than the previous year. But less than 1 per cent led to follow-up inspections.

Some school leaders have resorted to pleading with parents to improve their behaviour.

In a letter to parents this term, the Berkshire Association of Secondary Headteachers warned of an “unfortunate increase in inappropriate, confrontational and aggressive communications directed at staff from some parents and carers, whether by email, over the phone or in person”.

“In some extreme cases, staff have even been verbally abused. Quite simply, such behaviour is not acceptable in any workplace.”

Head’s letter gets ‘overwhelmingly positive response’

Earlier this year, Christine Stansfield, the chief executive of Mowbray Education Trust, told parents she would lose talented staff if they did not stop “personally abusive” and “sometimes threatening” communications.

Stansfield said her letter had been “met with an overwhelmingly positive response and has since forged the path for a new and transparent way of working together”.

Polling of more than 3,000 school staff by YouGov for the charity Education Support found 31 per cent had witnessed and 45 per cent had experienced verbal abuse in 2022, while 48 per cent had seen and 44 per cent had experienced undermining behaviour.

Even more worryingly, 18 per cent said they had seen and 10 per cent had experienced physical abuse from parents, while 8 per cent said they had witnessed and 4 per cent had experienced hate crimes.

Four per cent had seen and 2 per cent had experienced sexual abuse of staff.

‘Abuse is never the answer’

Sinéad Mc Brearty, the chief executive of Education Support, said that as a parent she understood how upsetting and frustrating it could be when things “aren’t going well for your child at school”.

Sinéad Mc Brearty
Sinéad Mc Brearty

“But how we do that has a huge effect on teachers and school leaders and is contributing to the growing staffing crisis in schools.

“Aggression, abusive behaviour, undermining the school’s authority – ultimately these approaches erode the strength of the school and reduce the quality of education for everyone.”

Jason Elsom, the chief executive of Parentkind, said there was “never an excuse for abusing school staff”, who were “over-stretched and under more pressure than ever before”.

But parents were “also feeling under pressure”.

“Parents tell us they often don’t feel listened to and are struggling to get the right support for issues like bullying, both online and at school… We can do more to build relationships between parents and teachers, but abuse is never the answer.”

The DfE was approached for comment.

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  1. As a parent and someone who was worked for the NHS I compleatly agree abuse is never acceptable. However what I have experienced from education is a culture where teachers/schools find feed back extreamly challenging. There is a culture of them and us towards parents and criticism or concerns are always received defencivly. Health care professionals are required to be reflective and continually learn from feedback from patients we have annual training on encouraging feedback and positively recieving complaints. We are taught to reflect on how our behaviour concious and sub concious impacts in interactions. We take responcibility for our part where relationships are challenging or break down and are expected to actively find a solution.
    I do not see that in teaching staff. We are trained that effectively encouraging complaints and addressing them reduces negative opinions and builds trust. It’s wrong to describe parents going to outside agencies as abusive when what should he being asked is why didn’t they trust us to address this? People do that when the believe the issue won’t be addressed honestly or impartially not simply to abuse staff. Few would think of it as abuse and for some it’s done in sheer desperation because they are being met with defencive responces at school.

    I feel the teaching profession has a long way to go learning from this situation and how their actions are impacting on others.

    Education at the moment is horrific children are being failed and there are a constant string of Scape goats. Funding parents COVID but the people in control are teachers and leaders. Some parents struggle some kids have additional needs funding is horrific but what can be done to actually understand those things and remove the cause of support the child rather than passing the buck and playing the victim
    I read a few things on here it’s never about solutions never about learning from each other just poor me.

    • Samantha Fried

      I’m not surprised by the article but find the comments from a colleague in public health illinformed. Unfortunately parents think they understand schools because they went to one once. Parents can sometimes be struggling to understand or see that their child has additional needs or has behavioral challenges or oppositional behaviour when outside the home. Schools work incredibly hard to support parents and the vast majority support teachers and the work they do. However, in recent years I’ve seen teachers bullied out of the profession by parents using trial by WhatsApp where teachers or schools are not even in the conversation to correct misconceptions. I’ve seen one parent with a grievance about a teacher, who fairly dealt with her childs challenging behaviour, lead a campaign to discredit that teacher. I’ve seen parents verbally abuse 5 year old children they don’t know because their child says they won’t play with them. When staff intercept to protect the child the anger turns on them. Parents will often believe their own child’s account of events over all other accounts and feel that school staff are not supportive when they try to explain the truth.
      Schools send out surveys to parents, children and staff regularly to get feedback and then incorporate that into changes. They will then report back in a you said we did update. I do not recognise the description of education the NHS worker describes.

      • It is really very sad what students do to
        Put teachers off and stopping them from doing what they have the burning passion to do overtime, but this days you have students as young as age eleven the way they talk and the manner they behave you can’t but wonder what kind of home they come from it really saddens my heart the future of British family and people

        • Unfortunately, when parents have genuine complaints, such as peer abuse, disability discrimination or not fulfilling EHCP requirements, school do not handle it well. Even if the parent is professional & tries to work with the school. As previously mentioned there is a very strong them & us culture & a culture of lying to cover up mistakes. If a parent does complain this is often taken out on the child in school by staff & parents also experience unacceptable conduct from staff. There needs to be a drastic change in culture with in schools.

    • Mrs Kate Aspin

      I am somewhat amused by people who work in the NHS claiming that they respond better to feedback than schools. Mis diagnosis , wrong treatment and arrogance are the mainstay if the NHS in my experience with never an apology. We are all public sector but sadly any parents think that a school is there for their child only not the whole community and your special one is one of many. This attitude of entitlement has worsened since covid..

    • Autistic children are dying starting with the lack of support in schools and schools just shrug their shoulders and say can’t help. Telling parents kids telling each other to kill themselves is normal, that was response I got from school. Abuse is not the answer but neither is self pity. And then denial. Always denial and claims you were perfect. And passing on to cahms denying there are years waiting lists. And then parent blame for daring to ask that someone gives some pastoral care or just speaks to your child once whilst you have cancer. Apparently you shouldn’t have told child you have cancer as a 15 year old won’t notice your hair coming out. Where are the campaigns to help these children? Nowhere.

  2. Marie Slattery

    As a parent of child who questioned the school but did not receive any answers. The only option was to complain to Ofsted or to anyone who would listen. I believe not to complain is failing as a parent. If your complaint or questioning is not being heard or being ignored by the school what are you supposed to do.

  3. It is really very sad what students do to
    Put teachers off and stopping them from doing what they have the burning passion to do overtime, but this days you have students as young as age eleven the way they talk and the manner they behave you can’t but wonder what kind of home they come from it really saddens my heart the future of British family and people