Teachers targeted by cyberbullying pupils and parents

Person on internet Parents were responsible for about 25% of the online abuse suffered by teachers, the study found

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School teachers have been subjected to online abuse and cyberbullying by pupils and parents, a study has found.

Research carried out by the University of Plymouth found parents were responsible for a quarter of the abuse suffered by teachers.

Nearly 400 teachers nationwide, both primary and secondary, were surveyed for Prof Andy Phippen's study.

"From the research it appears that kids can be perpetrators as well as victims," he told BBC News.

"The most shocking is the parental abuse."

'Fair game'

Researchers surveyed 377 education professionals nationwide and carried out 10 in-depth case studies.

The study revealed that 35% of respondents said that either they, or their colleagues, had been subjected to some form of online abuse.

Teachers from both primary and secondary schools had been targeted.

"It can affect teachers anywhere - from a small rural primary to a large urban secondary," Prof Phippen said.

One head teacher suffered a breakdown and had suicidal thoughts after a "prolonged and aggressive" internet campaign staged by a parent.

"Some parents view teachers as fair game for abuse," Prof Phippen said.

"They use online technologies to hide behind while posting lies and abuse about their chosen victim."

The research showed pupils were responsible for most of the abuse, but in 26% of cases it was parents who played a role.

One teacher, falsely accused on the internet of "inappropriate behaviour" with a female student, said he ended up in the care of a psychologist to help him deal with "loss of self worth, depression and the urge to commit suicide".

Start Quote

If it is not stamped on, it will get worse”

End Quote Prof Andy Phippen University of Plymouth

He was released by police without charge, caution or reprimand, but then faced a "punitive" suspension of five months.

The teacher claimed his local authority investigation was "motivated from the outset with a staunch presumption of guilt throughout".

Prof Phippen said discussions had taken place with teaching unions and the Department for Education (DfE), but many teachers would like to see more public awareness.

"These teachers who have been abused show the classic signs of bullying, including depression and feelings of isolation," he said.

"Schools should not be afraid to involve the police if they feel harassment is occurring.

"Many grass-roots teachers feel there should be far more zero tolerance from schools.

'Ability to teach'

"It is not 'just one of those things' and if it is not stamped on, it will get worse."

The DfE said all bullying - regardless of method or motivation - was unacceptable.

A statement said: "The disruption and distress caused by bullying can be very damaging... whether harm was intended or not.

"This applies to teachers as well as pupils.

"Clearly if teachers are being bullied or victimised this will affect their ability to teach to the best of their ability."

The DfE added that it was the responsibility of schools to implement policies to ensure that cyberbullying against teachers was clamped down on.

No-one from the National Union of Teachers was available to comment on Prof Phippen's report.

A helpline has been set up to help teachers facing cyberbullying at the online website Safer Internet.

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