Belfast Telegraph

Trolls left Northern Ireland teacher's mental health 'hanging by a thread'

Warning: Carney Cumper
Warning: Carney Cumper
Adrian Rutherford

By Adrian Rutherford

A local teacher's mental health was "left hanging by a thread" after a sustained campaign of online abuse, it has been claimed.

The Ulster Teachers' Union said virtually every school here has experienced online abuse of staff.

In one case a teacher was stood up for a date, set up by her pupil using a fake Tinder account, and the event photographed and posted online.

Members are calling for changes in legislation, saying there are no safeguards in place to protect teachers.

Jacquie White, UTU's deputy general secretary, said: "Online abuse used to be about a parent saying a teacher gave too much homework but now we're seeing a rise in often increasingly sinister and creative elements.

"At the minute there is absolutely no protection in place against these attacks. There is nothing to stop this happening. Teachers are easy targets.

"In rare cases the bullying ends up in court and makes headlines.

"But it appears the abuse has to turn into physical bullying before any action can be taken.

"By then, and often before this, a teacher's career and health can be ruined. Legislation offers no protection and the employers have no duty of care either.

"Our members are completely isolated.

"I visited one school recently where a teacher's mental health was hanging by a thread due to the sustained campaign of abuse they'd faced over months of online bullying."

A Getty poll recently revealed that a third of teachers had encountered online abuse.

Ms White added: "Too many teachers are finding themselves subjected to - and at high risk of being subjected to - unacceptable levels of online harassment, victimisation and humiliation from pupils and also parents.

"No amount of guidance and circulars from the Department of Education - which is as far as it goes to fate - will stop this.

"Employers have a duty of care and if something work-related is impacting on an employee's health, that duty of care needs to be invoked."

At today's conference in Newcastle, Co Down, teachers will hold a minute's silence to mark the 808th day without a functioning Stormont.

Carney Cumper, president of the Ulster Teachers' Union, said: "When words aren't enough sometimes silence speaks volumes.

"It seems nothing we or anyone has said over the parlous situation schools face has got through to those in a position to effect change. This time we hope our silent protest will say even more," continued Mrs Cumper, who is vice principal of Killyleagh Integrated Primary.

"We believe the education system is facing a potential death knell, the greatest threat here in a generation due to swingeing fiscal cuts and the increasing workload being placed on teachers.

"There isn't one area of our education system which hasn't been profoundly negatively affected and isn't struggling to maintain the high standards teachers want to deliver."

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