Social media has now become part of everyday life with numerous apps and websites available for people of all ages to connect and interact. Since its inception social media has presented both opportunities but equally many challenges and in this regard the effects it has on schools has been no different.
Not everything on social media is black and white and recently two schools in Manchester raised concerns about a new app known as Tellonym which advertises itself as “the most honest place on the internet”. Both schools were concerned that the app stimulated cyberbullying amongst pupils. The schools claimed it allows “inappropriate postings, comments and photographs which have caused upset and distress to young people.”
Clearly these two schools were concerned about the negative effects their pupils could suffer due to social media and the Tellonym app in particular.
How is social media affecting schools?
There is evidence that social media does have an adverse effect on the health of young people. The Royal Society for Public Health’s 2017 #Statusofmindreport research found that young people who had a heavy use of Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter or Instagram are more likely to report poor mental health, including psychological distress.
If it is not already happening in schools, it is likely that teachers and support staff will be asked to help students with the risks of social media. It has been suggested this becomes a more pronounced issue when pupils start secondary school as they are meeting new people and starting to make new friends. Given the high workload and expectations already placed on school staff (the government has just published a workload reduction toolkit for school leaders) there have been calls that parents should be helping young people to understand their value away from social media.
The effect of social media is not just felt by pupils. The ability for parents to communicate via social media can lead to rumours regarding a particular school to go unchallenged and to problems or complaints which would not have arisen previously. This can result in a number of risks as once posted, a screenshot can be taken leading to broken relationships, stress, damaged reputations, dismissal and potentially legal action.
Recently, we’ve seen an increase in cases of employees, with previously unblemished disciplinary records, being dismissed for posting about their employer on social media and the employment tribunal finding that these dismissals were fair. One example of this is Plant v API Microelectronics Limited where a staff member was dismissed for a post they made on Facebook.
Comments from parents regarding schools on social media can also be another frustrating aspect to deal with and can potentially affect a school’s reputation. Contacting parents asking them to remove comments can add fuel to the fire and damage relationships with the parents who have posted them.
The impact on schools in managing staff relationships due to social media can also be difficult. Employees who are not invited into social media groups of other colleagues can feel excluded and isolated from colleagues. This can lead to anxiety and depression amongst staff, leaving schools to manage attendance issues amongst staff or grievances. This can be very difficult and once relationships have broken down amongst staff it can be very difficult to repair them which can leave schools in a tricky position with unhappy staff on both sides.
What can employers do to reduce the risks associated with social media in schools?
As an employer it’s important that schools have in place a social media policy which is regularly reviewed and shared with staff, so that staff understand their responsibilities. The employee handbook may also need updating to ensure staff are aware of the consequences of not following this guidance.
Schools also may want to consider their home school agreements in order to provide a clear procedure and ask parents to contact the school first. Therefore giving the school the opportunity to respond to any concerns instead of dealing with the greater impact arising from parents choosing to post any concerns on social media.
Staff should also be aware of where they can go to seek support should they have any concerns or if suffering from feelings of isolation, anxiety or depression.