A growing number of teachers are being driven close to mental breakdown and PTSD after being bullied online by parents.
Mums and dads even set up Facebook groups to gang up on them, posting abusive comments about their attitude to their children, a union reveals.
And social media firms are failing to clamp down on their posts, says the NASUWT, which wants the Government to act to stop the “trial by trolls”.
As the new school year begins, teachers across the country say they’ve been close to quitting after social media slurs ranging from their ability in the classroom and their race to accusations of physical or sexual abuse.
The union says its evidence shows pupils “stoke up” parents with one-sided stories – then mums and dads unleash a barrage of abuse online instead of following official complaints channels.
The NASUWT’s latest figures show almost a fifth of its members said they had been victims of abusive comments on social media, with half of those coming directly from parents.
Acting union General Secretary Chris Keates said: “It’s cyberbullying – trial by trolls. Children are going home and telling their parents things.
“But rather than finding out the facts or arranging a meeting with the teacher, some parents stick it online.
“It can be anything as small as the teacher giving a pupil a detention the parents don’t agree with. They’ll write a post which is shared, liked and commented on. Before you know it everyone’s seen it.
“We’ve heard of one distressed pregnant teacher accused by a mum on Facebook of being selfish for taking maternity leave ahead of SATs, with comments from parents agreeing.
“Another group of parents took to Facebook to criticise a teacher who gave a sex education lesson to a primary class, calling it ‘sick’.”
The union claims many school staff have reported mental health issues due to online abuse – or that they had quit or considered leaving because of it.
Ms Keates added: “At the very least teachers lose confidence. At worst, livelihoods are ruined. This bullying can be accessed round the clock. Teachers have no haven in their own home.”
“They are under enough pressure as it is without having to deal with cyber-bullying. There are still too many schools that don’t have a clear policy – far more regulation is needed.”
The union’s findings echo an Ofsted report in July which revealed nightmare parents are making teachers’ lives hell with personal attacks through social media and emails.
The watchdog’s end-of-year survey found a lack of support from mums and dads is a key factor in teachers’ poor wellbeing. Cases reported to the union by teachers highlight the extent of the issue.
One said she came close to a mental breakdown after a mum posted derogatory remarks online after a parents’ evening. A male teacher faced a year of hell when he was accused of sexually abusing a child in his class by a parent on Facebook. He was suspended from the school for a year while an investigation cleared him.
One distraught teacher revealed: “One parent accused me of ‘slapping’ their daughter in a post on a local paper’s site. Another wrote on Facebook I shouldn’t be in a leadership position as I’d told her to keep her child under control. Both claims were investigated and found to be untrue.”
Another teacher added: “A parent asked others on Whatsapp to gather evidence I poked their child in the head. The claim was investigated and no evidence found.”
Teachers told the union many parents formed Facebook groups to gang up on them. One described “insulting and abusive” comments by parents who believed they had a “licence to insult” them.
Ms Keates warned social media firms do not tackle reported posts quickly enough.
“The problem with Facebook is when we try to get things taken down, it takes a week or two,” she said.
“By then people have liked and shared it. In some cases we advise teachers to report it to the police – especially when there have been threats.”
A handful of cases have led to legal action. Head Julie Thomas won a restraining order against dad Gerard Knight in 2018 after he posted photos of her on Facebook accusing her of discriminating against his kids.
Campaigners are calling on the Government to protect teachers. The NASUWT now runs workshops giving staff tips on how to protect themselves from cyberbullying.
Ms Keats said: “The Government recognises the issue – but it’s now about cracking down. Every school should have a clear policy on abuse clearly publicised to parents. Local authorities should be cautioning parents on their behaviour.”
Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner said: “Teachers have already been hit by years of real terms pay cuts, rising workloads, growing class sizes and collapsing school budgets.
“Now ministers are failing to protect them from abuse and threats. Enough is enough.
“A Labour Government will ensure our teachers are safe in their schools.”
A Facebook spokesman said: “We do not tolerate bullying or harassment and have strict policies against it.”
A Department for Education spokesman added: “We have published guidance for heads and school staff about how to tackle cyber bullying.”
Dad from hell left me with PTSD
A primary school head teacher today tells how harassment by a parent left her battling post-traumatic stress disorder.
Julie Thomas suffered 14 months of abuse from a father who posted photos of her on Facebook accusing her of a vendetta against his kids.
Gerard Knight uploaded snaps of Julie, her car and screenshots of disciplinary letters from the school alongside captions urging other parents to rally against her.
Julie, 50, needed counselling after his harassment conviction landed him a suspended jail sentence. It left her with night terrors and fearful he’d target her nine-year-old daughter.
Julie, a teacher for more than 25 years, revealed she needed treatment for PTSD after the case: “It affected every part of my life.
“He was convinced I had a personal issue with his children. His posts were aggressive and accused me of being incompetent and unethical. I was paranoid other parents would believe his lies.”
Knight, 39, was hauled to court after turning up at Julie’s home one weekend. He got four months suspended and a restraining order for harassing her from April 2016 to June 2017. The judge said his posts were “irrational to the point of paranoia”.
Julie, who remains head at Clandeboye Primary in Bangor, Ulster, said: “Social media is a huge problem.
“Parents used to gossip at school gates. This is much more aggressive – it’s 24/7, and as a professional you can’t publicly defend yourself.”
She said the harassment began when Knight was banned from school premises as police investigated an allegation he had “pinned a child to a wall’ in school after an incident involving one of his children.
The school’s governors asked Julie to hand Knight a parents’ code of conduct, but he refused to accept it and demanded to a speak to the governors’ chairman.
The following term, Knight’s child was suspended and Julie’s nightmare began.
She recalled: “He would stand outside shouting derogatory things like, ‘If this school was run by a man, it would be better’.”
In a handful of posts over 14 months, he even accused her of discriminating against special needs children.
Julie, who is not on Facebook, was alerted to the posts by colleagues. “I was worried for myself and family,” she said. She says Facebook failed to remove up to half a dozen posts – and that the Education Authority “took little action”.
Knight was arrested after turning up outside her home with his kids in May 2017.
“I saw him through the window and froze,” Julie recalled. “It felt like he had invaded my sanctuary.”
She “broke down” after the case and was soon diagnosed with PTSD.
Julie said: “Even now my daughter asks if that man wanted to hurt mummy. But I never considered giving up teaching. I refuse to let one parent force me to quit.”