Teachers are now subjected to cyberbullying from both pupils and parents, according to research by Plymouth University.
Almost 400 teachers were questioned by Professor Andy Phippen earlier this year, who discovered parents were responsible for more than a quarter of the bullying.
“Everyone acknowledges this is a problem and something needs to be done about it, but schools lack support. It is a sticky area as some of the things posted may not be considered illegal," he told the Huffington Post UK.
“If you have a member of staff feeling isolated or depressed, which are often the symptoms of bullying, they will turn to senior management.
"I heard of one case where a teacher told his employers about the bullying and not only did they tell other members to staff to ignore this teacher, they also suspended him. Their reasoning was ‘there is no smoke without fire’.”
After realising teachers as well as pupils were being targeted by cyberbullies, Phippen conducted research on behalf of the UK Safer Internet Centre.
Some 377 professionals were surveyed and 35 helpline cases analysed. The results showed 35 per cent of participants said either they or their colleagues had been subjected to some form of online abuse.
Incidents ranged from postings on Facebook to campaigns of abuse on Twitter. The survey found 72 per cent of bullying was committed by pupils, but 26 per cent was initiated by parents.
Phippen said: “The parental statistics were particularly surprising. Schools are definitely playing down the severity of the issue, whether it’s because they just don’t realise, or because they don’t know how to deal with it.”
In one case, a headteacher described a 12-month abuse campaign by a parent at her school who used the internet to post potentially libellous untruths about her practices.
“I eventually had a mini breakdown in the summer holiday and needed an emergency doctor to be called out- as I had become suicidal. I had intensive support from the mental health unit via my GP," the unnamed teacher reported in the study.
Phippen is calling for a nationwide support network to deal with the problem.
“I think coordination and consistency in this area would be incredibly helpful. Schools are giving knee-jerk reactions to a complex issue which needs addressing.”
A spokesperson for the National Union of Teachers (NUT) said any of their members affected by the cyberbullying should consult their guidelines.
The union released the guidance for their members last year, providing a brief on how to stay ‘Cybersafe’. The document details more than 10 dos and don’ts including:
• You should not post information and photos about yourself publicly you wouldn’t want colleagues, pupils or
parents to see
• You should not befriend pupils on social networking sites
• You should not personally retaliate to any incident
The NUT also advises their members to contact their local association or division should they feel subject to any form or degree of cyberbullying.
Phippen added: “We live in a society where we expect teachers to be subjected to this abuse. It simply is not acceptable. We wouldn’t let a child verbally abuse a teacher in the playground - why should it be allowed to happen online?”