Cyberbullying of Teachers

It is Easter, and Easter is the time when teachers’ unions hold their annual conferences. It is not unusual for the British Press to cover these conferences, providing stories of a discontented workforce who are threatening to strike over the testing of children, as well as the publication of league tables. The same is happening this year, with reports that at least two of the main teaching unions are threatening to boycott this year’s Key Stage 2 ‘SATs’.

Additionally, this year, the subject of social networking sites and its impact on teachers has received attention media. The ATL (The Association of Teachers and Lecturers) conducted a survey, along with the Teacher Support Network of UK teachers on the use and experiences of social networking sites. Findings from this survey were discussed at the ATL conference and have been covered in the press. The news reports have focused on the cyberbullying of teachers by pupils and teachers, contributing to a popular discourse of the Internet as a dangerous place, where teachers are at risk.

The survey, however, was not focused solely on cyberbullying, but also asked teachers about their use of social networking sites.

The results show that the use of social networking sites is increasing, and so, it can be deduced that social networking sites are not purely the domain of young people. 57% of respondents to the ATL/Teacher Support Network survey reported having a profile on Facebook. A quarter of respondents also reported that their schools use a range of Web 2.0 applications (such as wikis and blogs) to support learning and teaching. The need for young people to use such technologies was highlighted in the recentRose Review on Primary Education, so we should, perhaps, expect this number to increase in the future. However, over 40% of the teachers surveyed reported that their school or LEA has a policy restricting the use of social networking sites, with half of these banning their use in schools altogether. So, in other words, in school at least, pupils do not have unbridled access to social networking sites, the Internet has not entirely invaded the offline world, and it is possible for schools to restrict access to such sites.

However, it is the issue of the cyberbullying of teachers which has received most media attention. Cyberbullying, is, according to ATL an example of the “darker side [of] social networking”.

BBC News used the results of the survey to claim that “pupils are increasingly using social networking sites to bully and undermine teachers”, while the Telegraph led with the headline: Teachers being ‘victimised’ on Facebook. These are dramatic claims, suggesting that this is a widespread problem which is happening to every teacher in the country, with any child who uses social networking applications under suspicion.

Actually, the ATL survey revealed that 94 of the teachers it surveyed reported that they or someone they knew had some experience of cyberbullying. This amounts to 1 in 7 teachers having some experience of cyberbullying, though not necessarily direct experience as a victim. So, even the figures from the ATL survey do not suggest that this issue is a widespread problem.

Nevertheless, the range of experiences that some teachers report are disturbing. For example, respondents described the setting up of ‘hate sites’, sometimes containing false allegations of illegal activity, while others reported that pupils had posted videos of teachers to YouTube. Unsurprisingly, teachers reported on the stress that had resulted from such actions.

However, it should be remembered that it is not the technology that is the problem, per se. Social networking sites do not cause cyberbullying. Where hate or resentment of teachers exist, pupils and parents will find other ways to express this, if technology is not available to them. Therefore, it is no use following the technologically determinist route of seeking a solution to cyberbullying within the technology.

Further, as the survey reported, teachers, as everyone, need to be aware of the information that they share. Nearly a quarter of teachers reported that they or a colleague had been advised to remove something from their social networking profiles. Internet Safety awareness, already identified as an issue in protecting children, may well also be needed so that adults can protect themselves online.

You can download a pdf of Cyberbullying: Supporting School Staff here. This publication recognises the harm that might be caused to school staff as a result of cyberbullying and provides advice on responding to and dealing with incidents.

Safer Internet Day

Today, throughout Europe, it is Internet Safety Day.

This annual event aims to promote the safer and more responsible use of Internet technologies.  Concerns over the safety of young people using the Internet has followed a number of cases where the Internet, including social networking sites have been used by abusers to ‘groom’ children and young people.   Safety campaigns have sought to find ways of protecting children and young people from adults who would do them harm.   However, as this year’s theme ‘Think Before you Post’ suggests, it is equally as important to equip young children with skills to protect themselves while using the Internet.  This also suggests that individual responsibility for your personal information is being promoted.

Safer Internet Day

Why was Helen Hopewell allowed in a classroom?

Where did Waterloo Road get Helen Hopewell from?  Which University admissions’ tutor interviewed her and accepted her onto a programme of Initial Teacher Training?  Was not concern expressed about her teaching ability during her teaching placements prior to qualifying?

Helen Hopewell is only one of a number of apparently incompetent teachers to have been employed at Waterloo Road.  Steph Haydock as has been demonstrated in numerous episodes is another one, and Grantly Budgen is, if not incompetent, certainly lazy.  Should we be concerned at the tendency of Waterloo Road to recruit and retain the least competent teachers?

If Waterloo Road was an accurate representation of a typical comprehensive school, then yes we should be concerned, but it is not. However, this does not mean that the portrayal of teachers in this way should not concern us.  Such portrayals deserve to be examined.

Chris Woodhead, when he was Chief Inspector of Schools told us that around 15000 teachers were incompetent nd should be sacked.  More recently Ofsted highlighted a  ‘stubborn core’ of teachers who were failing to inspire their pupils.  Researchers have also observed the incompetent and lazy teacher to be a feature of fictional portrayals and news media reports. 

Focusing on Helen Hopewell, a more detailed consideration of her character than the series has provided us with so far, might point to the unlikely scenario that there are Helen Hopewell’s to found in comprehensive schools throughout the land.

Pupils had nicknamed her ‘Hopeless Hopewell’, and from the outset it was clear to see why.  While teaching, her classroom management skills left a lot to be desired.  Outside the classroom she revealed herself to be emotionally vulnerable and dependent on  Max Tyler for providing her with a sense of self-worth (she was having an affair with him).   She begged Max for help on numerous occasions and in one episode accused Michaela White of pushing her down the stairs and was determined to get her excluded. She displayed other, problematic and immature behaviour such as  writing apparently threatening notes and bumping a pupil, Micheala White in the common room.   After an unfortunate episode with some spilt orange juice she made an even more unfortunate error of judgement by wearing one of Steph Haydock’s tops – one which enhanced a part of her anatomy which it was probably best not to enhance in a classroom full of hormone fuelled teenagers.   Was she not aware of the attention that she might attract wearing that? Indeed the wearing of that top did result in a cacophony of sexual harassment.  As previously mentioned, Helen Hopewell’s Internet safety awareness was, somewhat lacking and her pupils arranged a party at her home, without her knowledge, causing her to exclaim “Waterloo Road happened!”  It was as if she had stumbled into a Rochdale Comprehensive school rather than having chosen teaching as a career. In a moment in vulnerability in the classroom she revealed her motivation for wanting to become a teacher, she had ‘liked school’.

Helen Hopewell, motivated to do well in her inspection because Max had done so much to help her, faced up to the event by vomiting in the toilets, her affirmations where she told herself how good she was, had it appeared, not had the desired effect.  Her feelings of hopelessness not dissipated, she then paid a pupil, Amy Porter, to ensure good behaviour.  Amazingly it worked.  With her renedwed confidence she announced to her Head of Department that she was relaxed about the inspection:  “Today’s going to be a breeze. Trust me”.  Indeed the inspection went well but her career remained doomed.

When she at last decided that enough was enough she attempted blackmail with a copy of a DVD, which, we have to assume shows her and Max Tyler enjoying some sort of sexual activity with each other.  It can hardly have been a ‘one off’ or on the spur of the moment as she had time to set up the recording equipment and conceal it from Max during those tender moments.  Maybe he was so carried away with showing his appreciation for Helen that failed to notice the video camera in the corner of the room.  So the proof was there, and as we all know by now Max Tyler had given Helen Hopewell a job because he had been sleeping with her.  Of course!  Is it a  typical scenario, that in order for a women to get a job she has to be sleeping with the male boss?  Before we accept this we might ask the following questions:

  • Where was the rest of the interview panel? 
  • Where was the head of department on the day of the interviews? 
  • Or another member of the senior management team?  Where was a representative of the governing body? 
  • Where were her references (especially as it transpired her previous head of department didn’t rate her at all, not even to make the tea as Jo Lipsett announced in Episode 8)? 
  • What were the other candidates like?

These are the steps that teachers in the real world have to climb in order to be allowed in a classroom, the Hopewell story is just an entertaining and exaggerated representation of a teacher who isn’t performing at her best.

“Hopewell’s had it”

This was the warning of the Waterloo Road pupils this week.  Indeed Helen Hopewell did get it when a group of pupils turned up on her doorstep for an impromptu party, ruining her quiet night in with a rather large glass of red wine.

The pupils had discovered Miss Hopewell’s home address through her social networking site.  As one of the pupils, Michaela White commented, “has she never heard of security?” Clearly not.  This scenario is interesting in the context of recent campaigns over Internet Safety for children.

In Waterloo Road, at least, it would appear that young people have a greater awareness of Internet Safety than do adults. Certainly, Internet Safety campaigns are focused on young people, having being identified as being particularly vulnerable to online grooming from paedophiles.  Yet in Waterloo Road it was Miss Hopewell who could clearly of benefitted from memorising the motto of the Government’s recent Internet Safety campaign: Zip It, Block It, Flag It.

Hopewell’s lack of knowledge of web privacy also highlighted the issue that a number of teachers have to face when using social networking sites such as facebook.  In a recent poll by Teachers TV, almost half of teachers were concerned that pupils might be able to access their personal information through social networking sites.  The advice is use privacy settings, or, alternatively don’t use social networking sites at all.

However a number of recent news reports indicates that maybe adults, and it this case teachers are in need of some ‘Internet Safety’ awareness training.  Consider the case earlier this year of Sonya McNally who was suspended from Humberston School in North East Lincolnshire for expressing negative comments about her class through facebook.  Then there was the case of Phil Ryan, a now retired science teacher from Liverpool who performed a ‘funky chicken’ dance as an end of term treat for his pupils, only to find it posted, by his pupils on YouTube.  Interestingly the Daily Mail’s story on this, headlined Humiliation of science teacher’s Funky Chicken dance in class highlights YouTube threat,embedded the very clip while simultaneously highlighting the “threat” of Internet technology.

The Government’s Teachernet website gives advice to teachers on cyber bullying and harassment of teachers by pupils, suggesting that they use search engines to check what information is accessible to the public.  Maybe Helen Hopewell should have taken the free advice publicly available on teachernet.

Though Waterloo Road is fiction, and is often way off an accurate representation of reality, Internet Safety is clearly not just an issue for children.

Click Clever, Click Safe

Zip It, Block It, Flag It could become the Green Cross Code of the Internet following the launch this week of the UK Child Internet Safety Strategy.

Alongside the launch of a new digital code for young people’s use of the Internet: Zip It, Block It, Flag It was the announcement that Internet Safety is to become part of the national curriculum for Primary school children (it is already part of the curriculum for Secondary schools) from September 2011.

This is in recognition that the Internet is an important part of young people’s lives inside and outside of education.  In education ICT has held a central place since the launch of the National Grid for Learning in 1998 with this recently reinforced by the Rose Review of the Primary school curriculum which further highlighted the importance of the educational uses of ICT to primary school children.

Outside of education most children have some level of access to ICT in the home and children are going ‘online’ at a younger age.  Both parents and children report safety concerns with using the Internet and recent research by the DCSF found that just over half of those children who experienced harmful or inappropriate content took some action. 

Fears about Internet Safety are frequently voiced in the media in relation to the use of the Internet in the grooming and sexual abuse of children.  The Strategy therefore also details plans to update the ‘cyber skills’ of those working with children and provide guidance to Internet providers on how to ensure that children do not access inappropriate content. The Zip It, Block It, Flag It motto is designed as a reminder to young people to keep themselves safe online, while the CEOP reporting button, through which people can report  any ‘abuse’ or inappropriate content they encounter online  is to be further developed.