Teachers face death threats from children in online abuse

Primary and secondary pupils – and parents – use internet for harassment, according to union poll

Teachers are facing death treats and malicious allegations of paedophilia are among comments being posted online by pupils against teachers, according to a new survey.

The poll of more than 1,000 teachers by the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers shows 42 per cent of those who responded said they had suffered insulting comments, allegations of inappropriate behaviour or derogatory comments about their performance.

Worse still, some were accused of being rapists or told their throats would be slit. The majority of the pupils making comments were of secondary-school age (60 per cent) but a substantial minority were primary school children. Parents, too, used internet sites to threaten teachers, the survey reveals. In all, 16 per cent of teachers said they had faced cyber bullying from them.

"In the first two days the NASUWT online survey was open, over 1,200 teachers responded – demonstrating the extent of the concern amongst teachers," said Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT – whose conference opened in Birmingham yesterday. "Some of the comments are truly shocking."

Two-thirds of those threatened had reported the incidents – but many felt they did not receive an adequate response. Almost half (49 per cent) claimed lack of support while only 29 per cent felt appropriate action had been taken. In all, 70 per cent said they did not think their schools had specific policies to deal with internet threats.

The majority of the teachers were targeted on Facebook (77 per cent) with 21 per cent saying they had suffered abuse on RateMyTeacher.com. Some websites had shut down pupils' pages after complaints – although the majority of complaints went unheeded.

Ms Keates added: "It is clear some employers are seriously failing in their duty of care by neither having appropriate policies in place nor taking incidents seriously when reported."

However, she pinned part of the blame on the Coalition Government who – in an effort to reduce bureaucracy – had cut back on guidance to schools on how to deal with disciplinary problems to the extent there was now only one paragraph in disciplinary literature on cyber bullying.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: "It is absolutely unacceptable for pupils to bully or threaten teachers." On the decision to cut down on advice, the spokesman added: "The Government trusts teachers to make the right decision to deliver high-quality education but they can only do so if they are free from needless bureaucracy."

Cyber bullying: Cases

"A student threatened to cut my throat. He said he was going to cut my ****ing throat when he saw me." No action was taken against the pupil concerned

"[There was] an allegation that my relationship with my partner started when she was still together with her husband. This caused a degree of upset – particularly as my partner's children were upset by what people told them they had read." No action taken

"It was about my breasts and how attractive they were and what he would want to do with them." Facebook cancelled the pupil's site and letters were sent home to the pupil and his parents warning him about his behaviour

"**** ***** is a rapist." Comments repeatedly reported to website and to police but still present on the site