Teachers targeted by pupils using social media, says SSTA chief

Female teachers are particularly vulnerable

Misbehaving pupils are getting away with using social media to anonymously target school teachers with abuse, threats and ridicule, Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association (SSTA) president Margaret Smith has said.

In a strongly worded analysis, Smith noted that the problem of teachers being targeted using such technologies ran across the social spectrum and could affect even teachers working in "leafy suburb" schools.

Female teachers were a particular target, and could find themselves on the receiving end of personal comments that would be considered sexual harassment in any other walk of life.

"Social media networks, mobile phones and other technologies to which pupils have access make it so much easier to make a teacher's life intolerable and his or her job impossible," said Smith.

"Too often nothing is done to combat this behaviour and pupils believe that their conduct is without consequence."

Anecdotal reports shared at educational conferences suggested the problem was not restricted to Scotland and had become an issue for teachers in other countries, she added.

Currently, there was a complacency about the issue among managers.

"It is a problem which will not go away and to which we cannot, as is too often the case, continue to turn a blind eye," said Smith.

With the companies that run social media sites refusing to act without a clear indication of legality, confusion has reigned in the UK about how free speech should be applied to such services.

Ironically, there are have been a slew of cases where individuals have been prosecuted and even arrested over social media comments later deigned to have been taken out of context or misconstrued, prompting the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Keir Starmer QC to issue new guidelines.

Meanwhile, individually threatening comments go unnoticed except by victims, many of whom are often unsure about the wisdom or procedure for making a complaint.

In the case of the targeting of teachers, the SSTA's argument is that such complaints should not be heaped on the individual teacher alone and should be taken up in serious cases by the school management using a pre-defined set of guidelines.

"I am totally convinced, however, that if we were to see a concerted approach to tackling indiscipline in our schools, much teacher stress would be alleviated, if not eliminated," said Smith.

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