Experts are worried that an increase in cyberbullying incidents in Britain could be serving to drive younger teachers out of the profession. The National Association of Head Teachers says that this fear should be motivating lawmakers to take a stronger hand in dealing with the problem before it makes recruiting and retaining young teaching talent more difficult.
When queried by the BBC, those who operate a teacher help-line say that a full one third of the calls they get are in some way related to attacks made on teachers online. Surprisingly, Laura Higgins, who works for the Professionals Online Safety Help-line, says that those attacks are chiefly perpetrated by parents of the students rather than students themselves.
Ms Higgins said: “We have had incidents where teachers have been subjected to abuse for very long periods of time and have needed professional help on dealing with those issues.”
Some limited amount of fallout from online attacks has already been seen, according to Professor Andy Phippen of the University of Plymouth. He said that there seems to be a reticence among teachers to go on the record refuting claims made about them on the internet. But Phippen reports that at least one teacher has already had to deal with a suspension over an accusation made about him in Twitter, with an unnamed person accusing him of a inappropriate contact with his niece.
Andy Mellor, a head teacher in the north west of England, said the attacks could have a devastating effect on victims.
“There’ll be those that are emotionally affected by it and will internalise it, there’ll be those that shrug it off,” he said.
“There will be those that eventually will walk. And you know we’re suffering a crisis of recruitment in education in schools and particularly in school leadership and this sort of thing needs to be nipped in the bud because it is going to affect the ability to be able to recruit, particularly head teachers,” Mr Mellor added.
School turnaround specialist Dame Mary Macdonald has had to deal with these kinds of attacks many times. Over the course of a career working as a consultant helping failing schools get on the right track, she has frequently been the target of malicious gossip and accusations, many of them made on the internet and many of them anonymous. According to what she said to the BBC News, the most common epithet slung in her direction is the ‘b-word.’
She said that these kinds of attacks have an impact both on one’s professional and personal lives. In a way, they bring work home for those who wish to leave it behind, forcing not only the teachers themselves but also their families to deal with the consequences.
Figures obtained by the Associated Press news agency, through a freedom of information request, show a steadily rising tally of prosecutions for electronic communications that are “grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character”, from 1,263 in 2009 to 1,843 in 2011. The number of convictions grew from 873 in 2009 to 1,286 last year.