A village primary school has threatened parents with legal action after “malicious and vexatious” criticism of teachers spread from the playground to social media.
The board of governors at Goodleigh Church of England primary, near Barnstaple, north Devon, sent a letter warning that “bullying and harassment of staff” would not be tolerated and accusing some parents of “seeking to undermine the reputation of the school.”
It is thought to have followed messages posted on Facebook by a mother and father who told parents in the playground that they were unhappy with the way their children had been treated.
Research has shown that parents are increasingly using social networks to criticise teachers, and the National Association of Headteachers has said its members should be prepared to take action if parents make potentially libellous comments on websites.
Many parents of Goodleigh children were shocked and surprised to receive the letter and were at a loss to explain what had provoked it.
The governors wrote: “It has come to our attention that certain individuals have been seeking to undermine the reputation of the school and its staff.
“We, as governors, will take seriously any malicious and vexatious gossip within the school community and the wider environment. This includes anonymous letters, texting and comments on social media.
“We, the governing body, view this as a grave concern and will not hesitate in taking legal action to eliminate the bullying and harassment of staff.”
After receiving the letter, one parent claimed that the school had become “insular” and said there were serious problems with communication and intimidation of parents by staff.
Writing anonymously to the local newspaper, the parent said: “I’m sure you would agree this letter is a classic example of how not to communicate with parents. As well as the threatening tone it’s very intimidating.”
Others suggested a “problem family” might have been insulting staff in the playground and on social media.
The school, which has about 60 pupils, has shut for the summer holidays.
Residents in Goodleigh praised its excellent reputation and said the head teacher, Clare Grant, had fostered high standards. Julia May, 43, whose 10-year-old son attends the school, said she did not know why the letter had been sent.
“I can’t speak highly enough of the school,” she said. “The headmistress and her team are exemplary. She’s amazing and the educational standards are amazing. You can walk in there and say ‘hello’ and just go and have a chat.”
Another source in the village said some parents were “scared” and confused by the letter. At least three sets of parents were said to have approached Ms Grant about the letter and were told that the matter had been dealt with.
A study in 2011 found that parents were responsible for a quarter of the online abuse of teachers, with one headmistress left feeling suicidal after becoming the target of an internet hate campaign.