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Dealing with parents' comments on social media

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Last updated on 7 March 2018
School types: All · School phases: All
In-depth article
Comments from parents on social media can be inaccurate, defamatory or even abusive. We link to guidance from local authorities, and look at relevant legislation. You will also find examples of documents from schools covering this issue.

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Contents

  1. 1 Responding to an incident
  2. 2 Dealing with parents' complaints
  3. 3 Banning parents from the school site
  4. 4 Taking legal action
  5. 5 Creating a code of conduct or policy

Article features

  • 11 external links

Responding to an incident

Surrey County Council has guidance for its schools on keeping staff safe from abuse, threats and violence.

It includes a section on pages 24-25 about cyberbullying.

The section contains information on how to respond to online abuse, and getting comments removed.

You can download the guidance from the Surrey County Council website:

Dealing with parents' complaints

Kent County Council has guidance for its schools, 'Dealing with complaints against schools and settings by parents or carers on social networking sites'. 

You can download the guidance from the website below, under the heading 'Online safety supporting documents':

Banning parents from the school site

A headteacher could ban parents from the school site if they had made abusive, unfounded comments about staff on social media.

However, you should try to resolve the situation with a parent face-to-face first.

This is according to representatives from the Department for Education (DfE) and the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL).

As headteachers control who is allowed on to the school site, they could ban a parent from the school site for posing a threat to staff or pupils, whether abuse has been directed face-to-face or over social media.

Meet with the parent face-to-face. If the meeting proves unsuccessful, headteachers could then send a letter to the parent requesting that the parent doesn't visit the school premises unless invited to attend an appointment, such as parents’ evening. Seek a legal opinion on any letter like this before sending.

Read more about schools' powers to ban parents from the site if they are exhibiting threatening behaviour. The article also links to model letters for banning parents.

Taking legal action

What might constitute a defamatory comment?

Another representative from the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) informed us that an online comment might be regarded as defamatory if it is directly about, or refers to, an individual who may be easily identified.

Look at our guide to seeking high-quality legal advice. It includes other avenues to explore before deciding to spend your money on legal services.

If you do decide this is the right course of action, we look at the legislation that may be relevant below.

Defamation Act 2013

Section 1 of the Defamation Act 2013 says that an individual is guilty of an offence where he/she publishes a statement that causes, or is likely to cause, serious harm to the reputation of the claimant.

The technology website TechRadar explains:

Where a successful defamation action has been brought by a claimant, the courts now have the power to order operators of websites hosting defamatory statements to remove them.
For social media operators, this will mean that even if they can avoid liability for defamation by virtue of the provisions explained above, they may nevertheless be ordered to remove any offending material.

The Malicious Communications Act 1998

The Malicious Communications Act 1998 states that it is an offence to send another person a letter, electronic communication or article of any description which conveys:

  • A message which is indecent or grossly offensive
  • A threat
  • Information which is false and known or believed to be false by the sender

The act explains that people are guilty of this offence where they intend to cause distress or anxiety to the recipient or any other person.

The Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 amended the Malicious Communications Act 1998 to increase the penalty.

Creating a code of conduct or policy

Codes of conduct

Codes of conduct set out a school's expectations of parents. The 2 examples below refer to activity on social media.

Yeadon Westfield Infant School in Leeds has a code of conduct for pupils, parents and staff.

Parents are expected to refrain from discussing the business of school or children attending school in any public forum, including social media sites.

Little Hadham Primary School in Hertfordshire has a parent, carer and visitor code of conduct. The appendix covers use of social media.

It says that the school considers the use of social media websites for school complaints to be unacceptable.

The appendix explains how the school will respond to finding such posts from pupils or parents.

You can download the parents' code of conduct from the following website:

Social media policy

Schools also set guidelines concerning parental behaviour online in social media policies.

A social media policy shared by a federation of schools in Shropshire, including Worfield Endowed CofE Primary School and St Mary's Bluecoat CofE (VA) Primary School, has a section on comments posted by parents/carers.

The document says on page 2 that "parents and carers will be made aware of their responsibilities regarding their use of social networking".

It sets out 3 key rules for how parents should behave on social networking sites. 

Download the policy on social media, use of telephones and digital photography from the school policies webpage, under the heading 'Behaviour and safety':

 You can read further examples of social media policies in another of our articles. 

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