Parents could be sued by head teachers for online rants


SCOTTISH headteachers are planning to sue parents who have subjected them to “sustained attacks” on social media.

The Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland (AHDS) have contacted every council in the country to flag up potential defamation cases.

The unprecedented legal action is being planned after a number of senior school staff complained they were victimised by irate parents on Facebook and Twitter.


Facebook is one of the platforms parents use to “attack” school head teachers


Greg Dempster, the organisation’s general secretary, said that parents had a right to raise concerns but must do it through official channels.

He said: “We took this step because local authorities seemed to have very clear policies about what teachers shouldn’t do online but very little of about what would be done to tackle the targeting of head teachers or other school staff through social media.

“It would be fair to say that most local authorities are now switched on to the problem.

“We are concerned about the increase in the use of technology to make inappropriate and sustained attacks against education professionals.”

The AHDS, who represent around 1500 of the country’s school leaders, described online harassment as being an increasing problem over the last two years.


“Derogatory material”

Although unable to comment on specific cases due to current ongoing hearings, Mr Dempster said comments being flagged up show parents attacking senior staff online both personally and professionally.

The organisations claims one of the reasons for this is that people think the normal rules do not apply when expressing themselves online.

Mr Dempster added: “Social media has moved forward very quickly in recent years and a very small minority of parents seem to believe that it is not subject to defamation laws.

“Two years ago there was a trickle of incidents like this but it is significantly increasing.

“We’re not saying there’s an avalanche of cases being reported but the issue is important to raise so that parents and others are aware their words carry strength and any grievances should be brought up through the complaints procedures that are in place.”

Anyone who has issues with teachers or head teachers are asked to refrain from lambasting them online and instead formally contact them to sort any problems.

If that is unsuccessful then they should take it up with their immediate superiors and if that still proves unsatisfactory then the council should be informed.

Mr Dempster concluded: “Where any of our members are subjected to such an attack we work closely with the relevant local authority to press for a quick resolution to the problem.”

The issue of online safety for teachers was previously highlighted in October 2010.

The Educational Institute for Scotland (EIS) claimed up to 60 teachers a year were the focus of “derogatory material” posted online by their own pupils.


Law change

Drew Morrice, assistant secretary for EIS, said new measures should be put in place to make sure websites are being held accountable for their content in the same way as newspapers and broadcasters.

He said: “Most social networking sites have published derogatory material and in some cases it does a lot of emotional damage.

“We need a change in the law to make liability rest with the site holders.”

The Scottish Parent Teacher Council (SPTC) said parents should be “mindful” of their comments towards teaching staff.

A spokeswoman said: “Social media can be a great aid to communication between parents and teachers but it can also cause issues where people do not exercise caution and basic rules of etiquette and courtesy.

“At SPTC we produce guidance for parents and also answer questions on a regular basis where things have gone wrong, between parents and also between teachers and parents

“From our experience, this is not a huge issue but one which can still be damaging to relationships: parents and teachers alike have to be mindful that their on-line comments are not private and often open to interpretation.

“As in every other form of communication, courtesy and respect are key.”