Students who take part in “unacceptable” protests in schools – said to have been inspired by videos shared on TikTok – are likely to face disciplinary action, a principals’ union has warned.
Students have posted “abusive” material about staff online and engaged in “messy behavior” at school protests, said Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL).
The union has received “a number of reports” of student protests taking place at schools across the country over the past week and a half – and it said the majority have to do with regulations about school uniforms or toilet use.
“This appears to have spread through students posting material on TikTok, leading to copycat protests at other schools,” Mr Barton said.
The Department of Education (DfE) has been made aware of the protests and ASCL has said it will notify TikTok directly of the trend.
Mr Barton said: “Holding protests in schools is extremely disruptive and the last thing schools need when they are already under tremendous pressure of time and resources.
“Students should raise any concerns they may have through normal and established channels such as student councils or by speaking to their class teacher.
“You should not participate in protests and be aware that doing so will very likely result in disciplinary action.”
He added: “The material posted online is sometimes abusive towards named staff and involves disorderly behavior by students that is clearly unacceptable.
“We have directed our members to a UK Safer Internet Center helpline that tags posts with TikTok.
“We will also be speaking directly to TikTok and have brought the situation to the attention of the Department of Education.”
When asked about the online postings, Mr Barton said: “The abusive material reported to us contains highly offensive and completely unfounded allegations against employees.
“We don’t want to go into too much detail because we fear that this in itself will lead to copycat incidents.
“Suffice it to say that it is deeply disturbing and absolutely unacceptable to those who are being attacked.”
When asked about the school protests at an online conference hosted by Westminster Education Forum and Westminster Media Forum on Monday, Ben Bradley, Government Relations and Public Policy Manager at TikTok, said: “We allow content featuring protests and people speaking out against what what they see as injustices. This does not violate our Community Guidelines.
“What we don’t allow is content of violence or similar, and we’ve removed any content that we see that drifts into that area.
“But video content of people protesting what they see as injustice is allowed on the platform.”
A DfE spokesman said: “We are concerned by the reports of disruption and will be contacting all schools and local authorities to ensure they are supported at this time.
“We will always support school leaders in taking the necessary actions to maintain a calm and supportive classroom environment, as they are best placed to work collaboratively with their teachers, parents, students and local communities in policy development and implementation .”
According to a spokesperson, TikTok has security teams that closely monitor content to ensure it follows community guidelines.
Any content found to violate the Community Guidelines—for example, content that depicts violence or aggression or harassment and bullying—will be removed.
TikTok’s current assessment suggests that the majority of content linked to student protests on the platform does not violate its policies.