CHILDREN are increasingly being frightened away from school as a result of “fake” news, teachers revealed today.
Hoax posts on social media are also causing chaos within schools as panicked parents call to check their children are safe.
Last month, a bogus report of “killer clowns” with knives on the loose in school grounds caused the lockdown of classrooms in West Lothian and Falkirk.
Worried staff say fake news is “flourishing”, with stories being shared online about teachers kidnapping students and schools closing due to police incidents.
Keziah Featherstone, headteacher at the Bridge Learning Campus in Bristol, said that children as young as eight had seen a fake story on social media about a teacher kidnapping a student.
She said: “We have had a number of parents come in. We still have parents say ‘It must be true, it’s a news website’. They haven’t read all the way through.
“It has taken up an awful lot of time. It is hours of work. Receptionists have been taking calls from parents and children who don’t understand it’s a prank.
“[The sites’ creators] have done quite a lot to make them seem more believable. It’s very professionally done.”
Paul Reynolds, head at Ross High School in East Lothian, told of another recent event, when a story was shared online claiming his school was closed due to a “police incident.”
He said: “These things can go viral. This is the first time something like this has been done.”
Mr Reynolds had to post on his own Facebook page to reveal the rumour as a hoax, and added: “It seemed to work as the attendance wasn’t affected. But clearly it could have had some detrimental effects on attendance.”
Andrew Minchin, a headteacher at Robert Napier School in Gillingham, Kent, added: “Sites like these are flourishing at the moment. But we don’t want to make a big issue of it, as it may increase the spike.
“Because of our challenging community we are constantly trying to deal with the issue of student attendance and this doesn’t help.”
Euan Duncan, president of the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association said: “Fake news is a growing problem and social media makes it easy to spread misinformation, which is why it is tremendously important to teach youngsters to read criticially, especially online.
“The natural human desire to know what’s going on will never prevent deliberatley spread false rumours, and unfortunately it is an added pressure on education leaders to monitor and deal with when required.”
Back in October, schools in Scotland were put on lockdown after a pupil posted a picture purporting to show a killer clown in the grounds of a school.
The blurred image, apparently taken through a window, appeared to show three clowns walking in the distance.
Parents took to social media to share stories.
One wrote on Facebook: “Killer clowns at St Margaret’s. Police at school and kids are locked in classrooms. I feel physically sick.”
Another added: “Heard rumours from killer clowns to a pupil with a knife. As long as they’re safe that’s the main thing!”