Wednesday, 19 January 2011

My response to a Headteacher asking for advice about trouble on Facebook

Hello Paul,

As a reader of your book on benefits and risks of social networks ( and following your offer to be contacted for further advice or help if necessary I’m asking for your ideas. I have currently have an issue with a member of staff (a lunchtime supervisor).
It has come to my attention today that she is using Facebook to discuss the way we are dealing with issues around her son who is in Y4. (It is not appropriate to detail the background here, as you can imagine).

I have made available to staff a policy for using Facebook, but this mainly addresses issues such as contact with young people, keeping themselves safe, and not using Facebook to share images or text about the school based on the helpful advice in your book.

The problem is lady is sharing concerns as a parent, rather than as a member of staff, but there should be no distinction. Do you have any AUPs that are specifically written for staff or for parents which would help me address and resolve the issue? It is very important that we keep on good terms with the lady because of the serious nature of our concerns about her son.
Thanks, in anticipation, for your help.

A Primary Headteacher

Hi there A,

This is interesting as I’ve had a few enquiries about writing policies to try to influence how parents behave, and it’s tricky.

Obviously it’s hard to have jurisdiction over what a parent wants to publish online as long as legally it’s not inflammatory, defamation, libellous etc. If a parent or group of parents want to take up a full blown online campaign against a school if they feel genuinely aggrieved there’s little a school can do other than negotiate that you would happily have the parent in to discuss the issue so would they be so kind as to remove the material online as it has achieved its aim in getting your attention. Alas they’d be likely to ignore you though as they’d then know they’ve got you wound up! Many parents can be won round by advising them that by these actions they risk damaging the school’s reputation and by the knock on effects this can have they are effectively harming the education of their own and friends’ children- e.g. bad reputation leads to falling roll, trouble appointing staff etc.

It might be you can influence the way parents behave by drawing up a ‘parental engagement through new technology charter’ setting out how you will use new technology to keep parents informed (web site, emails, text, online reporting) and how they can contact the school electronically (forms on web sites, emails, texts etc) but also setting out what you’d prefer them not to do-

• Don’t contact teachers through personal emails or personal social networks; use school addresses or web site forms.
• Please don’t air complaints publically without first discussing the full details with the school, allowing them to address your concerns and ensuring you have full understanding of the position of the school.
• Please don’t mention other children or use their images on your own social networks without the agreement of their parents.

Agreeing to this charter could be used as a bribe to give them access to online reporting, texts and emails from the school but it’s a sledge hammer to crack a nut and could open wounds you don’t currently need to fix but if you fancied going further down the of ‘parental engagement through new technology’ I’d be happy to help. Also these challenging parents are exactly the ones you wouldn’t want to be out of the loop by only receiving the essential traditional paper letters and reports so it’s a hollow bribe, more appealing to their sense of fair play.

I guess your angle in this one case is fortunately you do have some power over her as a member of staff but simply tweaking your policy to take her on might go down badly being seen as picking on her, it may be that an interpretation of your current policy is enough though- if you kind of technically remove the fact she is the child’s mother and treat it as a member of staff writing about a named or identifiable child in a public forum without the Headteachers’ approval- the argument being consistency of using the policy regardless of her relationship with the child, then you can hope it’s a one off and you don’t need to think up ways to control all parents online behaviour.

I’d suggest ideally your staff policy should say:

• All information about the policies and procedures of the school should be shared only through official publications from the school, diocese and local authority and not through any self published materials from individuals.
• All staff must refrain from publishing any information about their work or the work of other colleagues on individual cases with named individual people in school through self published outlets such as online social networks and blogs without the knowledge of the head teacher and the people involved in the case.
• Any such publication, in agreement with the head teacher, should still not name any students but purely be used as an outlet to publicised the good work of the school and raise its positive profile in the community. Staff should only be named in official publications with their knowledge and agreement.
• Any members of staff with complaints and concerns about the school should raise these with directly with the Headteacher or if this is not appropriate with the chair of Governors or go to their Union rep as an intermediary but not through a third party medium such as a public social network or other publication