Four steps to combatting online abuse from parents

Written by: Amy Cook | Published:
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New research highlights the battle schools face against offensive online comments from parents. Amy Cook outlines four ways schools might address this issue

Recent findings from The Key show that at least 11,300 school leaders across the country have received negative or offensive comments on social media at the hands of pupils’ parents, highlighting that cyber-bullying is not just confined to young people.

In total, 46 per cent of secondary school leaders surveyed stated that they had received such comments. These attacks are not only upsetting for the staff involved, but monitoring these criticisms and attacks creates extra work – both during and after school hours – and it can risk unfairly damaging the reputation of your school.

So how can you tackle this issue head on? Excellent communication with parents is at the heart of the solution, so that you can build a more open trusting relationship between school and home. Here are four key points to help you make social media a force for good in your school.

Complaints policy

Where parents use social media to criticise the leadership and management of your school, but are not abusive towards individual staff, contact these parents directly and invite them to voice their complaint in a more appropriate channel.
You could point them towards your school’s complaint procedure, for instance, and emphasise that parents are invited to discuss their issues informally with the most relevant member of staff. Post the complaints procedure on your school website in a clear way to encourage parents to take a more constructive approach. You could also share the policy by email or leaflet at the start of each term.

Offensive comments

Almost two in 10 school leaders surveyed said that they have been the victims of cyber-bullying during their career. Bullying can take the form of personal insults, grievances and potentially libellous remarks on social media sites, such as Facebook.

In these instances, it is important not to retaliate online. Instead, keep any records of abuse by taking screenshots and logging the time, date and web address. If you know who is responsible, ask him/her to remove it and explain why it is unacceptable. If the person responsible has not been identified, or refuses to take the comments down, you should contact the social networking site directly and request that it is removed.

Engaged, not just involved

“Engage” parents, don’t just “involve” them. Building positive relationships with parents is the best way to prevent frustrations getting out of hand. Parents who feel part of the school community are much more likely to tackle any concerns they have head-on, and via the appropriate channels.

Good two-way communication between parents and schools is fundamental to developing positive relationships: parental involvement, where all activities are controlled by the school, is different to parental engagement. Ask yourself – do parents have a real sense of ownership in school life?

Consider what the barriers to engagement might be. Are parents anxious about coming into the building and attending school events?

Why not hold “live learning” sessions where pupils and parents take part in a lesson together? Parents don’t need to be experts, they just need to be supportive and work with you for the benefit of their child’s learning.

Sessions like these can help parents see that school is not a scary place to be, and that lessons can be enjoyable and interactive.

More importantly, these sessions can demonstrate that you want to work in partnership with parents and welcome their involvement and input. As a result, parents feel more comfortable in the school setting, and will be more likely to approach staff directly if they have a concern.

Use social media

Social media doesn’t have to be the enemy. In fact, it can play a significant role in nurturing relationships.

Some schools use social networking sites as a way to communicate with parents, by broadcasting the exciting activities that are happening in school in real-time.

Have you considered using social media to post updates from assemblies, for example? What about photographs of your latest art exhibition?

Regular engagement can help parents to connect with their children’s school life more easily and help you to showcase the excellent work you and your staff are doing.

  • Amy Cook is a senior researcher at The Key, which provides information and online solutions to the education and wider public sector.

References

For more information on The Key’s survey findings, visit www.thekeysupport.com/parents_online_comments-release and for advice on building more meaningful relationships with parents/carers in your school, visit https://cpd.thekeysupport.com/parental-engagement


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