The switch to remote learning during lockdown left teachers on the receiving end of verbal abuse and “parent bombing” as well as taunts on social media, with little support or training to deal with the issue, a teaching union conference heard.
While teachers said they still faced physical threats in the classroom, the NASUWT annual conference heard that the prolonged period of online teaching brought a new dimension to pupil behaviour and reports of parents intervening to berate school staff.
Patrick Roach, the union’s general secretary, said some parents thought they could intervene during live online lessons – which he described as “parent bombing” – to comment on what was being taught, and urged schools to take a tough line to stop the behaviour.
“Schools need to be absolutely clear about the kind of behaviour expectations that they have both for pupils and also for parents,” Roach said. “One of the things that concerns us is we’ve had members who’ve reported, for example, abusive ‘parent bombing’ during online lessons, and they’ve been told: ‘You’re just going to have to work your way through it, you’re just going to have to get on with it.’
“Well, frankly, that’s not good enough. You know if a parent were to arrive onsite in a school and was to be verbally or physically abusing a member of staff, schools have powers and there is a duty on schools in relation to health, safety, and welfare in terms of their duty of care.”
More than a quarter of members who responded to an NASUWT appeal said they had been criticised by their pupils’ parents or carers over the last year, including by parents intervening during online lessons. Nearly a fifth said they had been subjected to verbal abuse from parents in the same period.
While the majority of parents were supportive of teachers and remote learning during lockdown, when schools were closed to most pupils, Roach said: “There are some parents who feel that it’s their right to interfere.”
Delegates to the NASUWT conference, being held virtually over Easter, voted overwhelmingly to back a motion supporting industrial action in cases where “serious pupil indiscipline or abuse” was going unchecked by individual schools and managers.
“Why should a teacher, or a group of teachers, feel they can only feel safe at work, or make a difference in their workplace, by using grievance procedures, or having to resort to collective industrial action to stop the threats or aggression that occurs for some on a daily basis?” said Rosemary Carabine, an NASUWT executive member.
Wendy Exton, also member of the union’s executive, told delegates that the behaviour directed at teachers included “not only vile language, but derogatory sexualised terms, threats to ourselves and our families, and indeed, violence itself”.
One in four teachers told the union they had been subjected to verbal abuse from their pupils or students, while one in 10 said they had received threats of physical violence. But few said their school dealt with the abuse satisfactorily, leading the union to call for improved training for school and college leaders.
The conference also heard a prerecorded address from Gavin Williamson, the education secretary for England, who showered teachers with praise and promised more opportunities for professional development, during his seven-minute-long video. “I want to thank you for the inspiring way you switched to remote learning. And I want to thank you for the huge lengths you have gone to, to keep everyone in your school and wider community safe,” Williamson said.
Kate Green, the shadow education secretary, also appeared at the conference and told members: “We have to recognise that schools and the professional skill of talented teachers alone cannot fully compensate for the deeply damaging harm done to children by the cruel and devastating effect of child poverty.”