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Social media in educational establishments: managing the unstoppable rise

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The huge growth in popularity of social media, including Facebook and Twitter, in recent years, has created challenges as well as opportunities for all employers, including schools.

Social media can affect communications between colleagues, as well as affecting the way the school is perceived by people outside, including parents. So it’s important that we get it right.

As social media is so popular, it’s amazing just how many people see and can get access to the posts people make. Therefore, something that a teacher does, or posts in their own time, may make its way into the hands of perhaps a student or parent. This can blur the boundaries between a teacher’s professional and personal life.

Let’s start with the good…

There’s no doubt that the development of technology and its use in the classroom has made a really positive impact. It can be a fantastic way for teachers to interact and engage with students. This can only be a really great thing and something that schools want to invest in.

But, there is always a potential for technology, and social media, in particular, to be misused.

For instance, how often are the following disparaging remarks seen on social media?

  • “Crawling towards Easter! Two.More.Days… Hurry up!”
  • “100 exam papers… that I really can’t be bothered to mark”
  • “My TA is so crap!”

Do these types of remarks make a teacher unfit to teach? Not necessarily, but there can be other implications and risks for the school.

For instance, the comment “My TA is so crap” could cause a whole raft of problems, and may be seen as bullying and/or harassment, which the school has a duty to prevent as far as possible.

Also, the remark made that a teacher cannot be bothered to mark 100 exam papers does not reflect particularly well on the school. If this comment was seen by a parent, for instance, this may bring the school’s reputation into disrepute.

Because of this, teachers need to be mindful of their behaviour and how this reflects on the school both whilst they are at work and when they are “off duty”, including their behaviour and activity online.

Of course, it’s never acceptable to make derogatory comments about pupils, parents or colleagues. Teachers are required to uphold the reputation of the school, to maintain their professional standards of behaviour and to uphold trust and confidence in the profession. At the end of the day, bringing the school or their profession into disrepute may ultimately cost them their job. The use of social media during School hours can also result in less productivity.

Some surprising statistics about social media use for schools

To put the above into context, do the following statistics surprise you?

  • “Twice as many teachers banned in 2014 for misusing social media”. 16 teachers were banned in 2014 due to misuse of social media.
  • NCTL – 17 of 100 disciplinary hearings held in 2014 stemmed from complaints about the use of social media sites with 16 of the 17 being banned.
  •  Supply teacher from Plymouth – posted offensive tweets about Scottish people, Catholics, Muslims and immigrants and this was deemed grossly offensive.

The importance of a clear policy on employees’ use of social media by school staff

Due to the issues above, it is really important that your school has a clear policy on the use of social media by your employees.

Whilst there is legislation which is relevant to the use of social media by employees in the UK, there is no legislation which specifically governs its use. Consequently, policies on the use of social media, both in and outside the workplace, are encouraged so that it is made clear to employees firstly, whether the use of social media sites is permitted at all and secondly if it is, the rules which govern their use.

How extensive a policy should be will vary considerably depending on the size, sector and nature of the school (primary, secondary etc).

Restrictions on the use of social media set out in the policy should include the prohibition of discrimination and the harassment or bullying of other employees.

Employees should also be prohibited from disclosing or misusing the school’s confidential information or making negative comments about the school, its pupils, parents or their colleagues.

Can you dismiss an employee for inappropriate comments made on blogs or social media sites?

In the UK making inappropriate comments on blogs or social media sites is treated in the same way as other forms of misconduct and in certain cases has been considered a sufficiently serious example of misconduct to warrant dismissal.

This was shown in 2008 when a number of flight attendants were dismissed after they insulted passengers on their personal Facebook pages.

Where an employer has a clear policy on social media which explains that breaches of that policy may lead to disciplinary action and potential dismissal, any dismissal carried out in pursuance of the policy is more likely to be lawful.

However, each case should be judged on its own merits. It will all depend on the precise circumstances of the case and the impact of the employee’s actions on the school and its reputation.

Dismissal for private conduct outside the workplace will, however, generally require greater justification than for a public transgression in the workplace. Also relevant are the individual’s rights to privacy and freedom of expression. These rights need to be balanced against each other, which can sometimes be tricky.

How can you protect your school?

As set out above, it is essential that schools have comprehensive policies that govern the use of social media. It is often advisable to have separate policies for employees and pupils as these are likely to be very different in their content.

Please contact our Employment & HR team for further advice and information on 01332 340 211.

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