Opinion

Solutions: How to prepare for the next disruptive social media trend

30 May 2023, 5:00

The recent wave of so-called Tik-Tok protests affecting schools achieved a lot of coverage in the media and caused a lot of alarm as schools considered how best to manage the situation. This has abated for now, but social media trends have a way of evolving and schools should be prepared for situations like it to happen again.

Sharing of videos on social media adds an additional complication to protests on issues from toilet access to skirt length. Learning is disrupted and relationships between staff and the community take a hit. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to end disorder swiftly and bring pupils and their families back on board.

First, even if your school has not been directly affected by such protests, it is wise to plan ahead and review the security protocols you have in place for any serious disorder. This is a good exercise to undertake as preparation for any other unexpected incidents which might occur. One measure may well involve the need to contact the police if a situation escalates out of control. Advice and template risk assessments on school and college security are available from the department for education. 

Schools have a duty of care to provide a safe environment for staff and pupils. Therefore, as part of your risk assessment, you should also think about whether there are any pre-emptive steps you can take to deter pupils from acting in a way which is disorderly or dangerous.

It is likely that your behaviour policy already caters for lesson disruption, truancy and damage to school property. Following existing policy would guide you quickly not only to appropriate sanctions but also to a rationale for them that pupils and their families will understand, even if they do not agree with them.

If your school intends to sanction pupils for their involvement in any kind of protest or unsanctioned sharing of videos online (or both), it is still important that an investigation is undertaken. Pupils should be given an opportunity to give their account and any sanction applied should be lawful, reasonable and proportionate.

It is wise to review your protocols for serious disorder

Alongside this, it may be helpful to ensure that there is a forum for pupils and their families to air any legitimate concerns. Again, it is probable that you already have pupil and parent voice channels in place. In some schools, pupils report that they are protesting because they do not feel listened to via these existing forums.

Indeed, there is perhaps an opportunity here to reflect objectively on whether the underlying policies that may be the focus of some of the protests are compliant with the principles set out in the Department for Education’s Behaviour in schools advice document.

For example, are the policies clearly communicated to all stakeholders and are they applied consistently and fairly? Do they reflect your duties under the Equality Act 2010 to ensure that they are not indirectly discriminatory against pupils with certain protected characteristics and that reasonable adjustments are made for pupils with disabilities? Is flexibility built in for pupils who have medical conditions and do such pupils have an up-to-date individual healthcare plan in place that staff are aware of, as appropriate? Can other measures be used alongside the policies to encourage compliance?  

Finally, let’s talk about education. Do pupils know the rationale behind their school rules? Do they know what the Human Rights Act actually does and how the right to protest can be exercised legitimately? Maintained schools and academies have a duty to actively promote fundamental British values including democracy and the rule of law, so these questions could be considered in form time, assemblies, PSHE lessons or more widely across the curriculum.

Ultimately, you know what will be best for your pupils and your community. Finding the right combination of the above levers, however, will help to end any resurgence of the kind of disruption we saw in March and promptly restore a sense of community and goodwill that our schools need now more than ever.

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