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The New Type Of School Shaming

October 8, 2017

I’ve written a lot in the past about school shaming.

I’m a big fan of Jon Ronson’s book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed (also available as an audio book from Audible) that explains how individuals can be subjected (often largely unjustly) to a barrage of online criticism and hate that has a huge effect on their lives. A similar thing can happen to schools. Schools are pilloried on social media, subjected to abuse, and often the story lives on for years afterwards. Most of the time there is a huge dose of ideology involved, with schools that espouse strict discipline getting a particularly hard time.

While a shaming can be started pretty much by any criticism of a named school on social media, and has been prompted by everything from job adverts to reports of political bias in PSHE lessons, the most common type of shaming is the one that starts with a newspaper website or facebook post and goes something like this:

  1. A school enforces a rule or follows a procedure.
  2. A parent is upset when this inconveniences their child.
  3. The parent’s complaint appears on a newspaper website, (often with a picture of them and their child) or occasionally just on Facebook.
  4. The school is not is a position to give their side of the story.
  5. The story is spread on social media, alongside commentary and abuse. Comparisons with fascism are particularly popular.
  6. The story then appears on other media.
  7. People on social media start challenging the original complaint or the abuse, but by this point the details of the original case are seen as irrelevant by those shaming the school with people often complaining that the school “deserved it” regardless of the facts of the original case or the disproportionate response.

A lot of schools have been subject to media reports about disgruntled parents this term. Possibly schools are tightening up discipline, in response to some positive OFSTED reports for schools (even one “shamed” school) with effective discipline systems. Warwick Mansell, a journalist who was also the catalyst for the big shaming of summer 2016, has run an extraordinary Twitter campaign against a school in Norfolk that many, including myself, can only interpret as having a strong element of personal vendetta.

However, there has been a new development. Whereas the old type of shaming always seemed to involve one family, and the reporting of their complaints, the new type of shaming seems to involve a close reading of what a school says (looking for their most provocative or badly worded policies) and then speculation about hypothetical children.

So far I have seen:

  1. Condemnation of a policy that suggested children pretending to be sick be given a bucket rather than sent out.
  2. Condemnation of a policy that requires students to make eye contact when they speak to teachers.
  3. Condemnation of a policy of giving bread and fruit to children whose parents do not pay their dinner money.

There are certain features to all three of these shamings (two of which are based around that one school in Norfolk). Firstly, they all hinge on something written by the school, that  could have been phrased a lot better, but would not have been written with the expectation of being interpreted by a hate campaign. Secondly, the shamings seem unsupported by any reliable reports of any specific child being affected by the policies. No reports of children being given buckets have occurred in the first case. The school specifically denied that an exclusion had anything to do with eye contact in the second case. And the school in the third case has stated that no child has been denied a school meal. Thirdly, the criticism often seems to ignore what actually normally happens in schools, i.e. people ignore that kids pretend to be sick, turn their back on teachers, or go hungry when their parents don’t give them their dinner money. Fourthly, there has been extensive discussion about hypothetical kids being treated cruelly. What about the kid who looks and acts as if perfectly healthy immediately before vomiting? What about the autistic child who should be in mainstream, but cannot avoid ignoring their teachers, or is physically pained by any eye contact? What about the child of a parent who does not qualify for free school meals, but nevertheless has no money to feed their children? The noticeable thing, apart from the fact that none of these kids are actually real, is that the discussion of these situations always assumes the school would not be able to make an exception if that hypothetical example actually happened. Finally, in the rhetoric of the school haters, the hypothetical kids are treated as real. Kids are really vomiting in buckets. Autistic children are really being punished for being autistic. Kids of disadvantaged (but somehow non-FSM) families are really being humiliated by fruit and bread.

School shaming is unfair right from the start. It does not solve a problem, it does license abuse of teachers and allows bullies an excuse to put the boot in, while claiming to be on the side of the children. But this latest wave of school shaming, based on protecting hypothetical kids, is the most ridiculous yet. It is bad enough when the grievances of one disgruntled, and usually unreasonable, parent are uncritically accepted in thousands of tweets, without bringing in imaginary victims to defend. People are using these hypothetical children to argue against rules, the point of which they don’t even understand. School rules cannot be designed in order to cater for the unusual children in an edu-Twitter troll’s imagination. We should just let schools do the best for the children they actually have, without asking them to design a discipline system for children who haven’t been invented yet.

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4 comments

  1. Sadly, there’s no good solution to ‘shaming’–we can’t uninvent social media, nor would it be a good idea to limit freedom of speech. Nor would it be wise or practical to expect Facebook and Twitter to decide what is defamatory and what is legitimate criticism–after all, they don’t have the resources to check the accuracy of allegations. Individuals certainly could sue for defamation, but of course this only prolongs the agony and gives more prominence to false allegations and rumours. We can only hope that a few people who have been shamed mangage to write well-judged accounts of the experience, and that eventually the shamers will find shame rebounding.

    I can assure you that avoiding social media altogether is good for the soul, if not the heart.


  2. You could have added a point 8 to your list above:

    8. Those people on social media that challenged the original complaint or the abuse directed at the school, then consequently have abuse directed toward them.

    Andrew, I think you’ve been admirably diplomatic in this blog post, given the vitriolic abuse directed towards you after your attempts to challenge this specific ‘shaming’ in a reasonable and informed way. I don’t EduTwitter because the atmosphere is utterly poisonous, but I made the mistake I looking today after reading your blog and I was horrified by the comments that have been made about you. I’m staggered some of the remarks come not just from the usual suspects – ‘educators’ , journalists, ‘consultants’ and the usual charlatans, but also from people that appear to be teachers!?! At least one person claiming to be a teacher from Norfolk has tweeted comments about you that are well within the realm of defamation.

    Shame on anyone who shames a school and a fellow teacher on social media – If you do then you’re no TEACHER in any moral, philosophical, or pedagogical sense of the word


  3. Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.


  4. Anyone familiar with Game of Thrones knows it’s the bad guys who line the road, point fingers and shout “shame!”



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