Pupils could face disciplinary action if they stage ‘TikTok-inspired’ protests

Pupils who take part in “unacceptable” protests in schools – which are said to have been inspired by videos shared on TikTok – are likely to face disciplinary action, a headteachers’ union has warned.

Students have posted “abusive” material online about staff and displayed “disorderly behaviour” during school protests, Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said.

The union has received “a number of reports” about student protests taking place at schools across the country over the past week and a half – and it said the majority are connected to rules 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 for Education (DfE) has been made aware of the protests and ASCL has said it will reach out to TikTok directly about the trend.

Mr Barton said: “Staging protests in schools is extremely disruptive and the last thing that schools need when they are already under huge pressure in terms of time and resources.

“Students should raise any concerns they may have through normal and established channels such as student representative bodies or talking to their class teacher.

“They should not participate in protests and they need to be aware that doing so is very likely to result in disciplinary action.”

He added: “The material posted online is sometimes abusive about named members of staff and involves disorderly student behaviour which is clearly unacceptable.

“We have signposted our members to a helpline run by the UK Safer Internet Centre which is flagging posts with TikTok.

“We will also be talking to TikTok directly and we have made the Department for Education aware of the situation.”

When asked about the online posts, Mr Barton said: “The abusive material reported to us includes highly offensive and totally unfounded allegations being made against members of staff.

“We don’t want to go into too much detail for fear that this will in itself lead to copycat incidents.

“Suffice to say it is deeply distressing to those being targeted, and utterly unacceptable.”

When asked about the school protests at an online Westminster Education Forum and Westminster Media Forum conference on Monday, Ben Bradley, government relations and public policy manager at TikTok, said: “We do allow content that features protests and people speaking up against what they see as injustices. That is something that is not against our community guidelines.

“What we don’t allow is content of violence or anything of that nature and we have been removing any content that we see that veers into that space.

“But video content of people protesting what they see as injustices is allowed on the platform.”

A DfE spokesperson said: “We are concerned at the reports of disruption and will be in touch with all schools and local authorities to ensure they are supported at this time.

“We will always back headteachers to take the action required to maintain calm and supportive classroom environments as they are best placed to work with their teachers, parents, pupils and local communities when developing and implementing policies.”

TikTok has safety teams closely monitoring the content to ensure it complies with its community guidelines, according to a spokesperson.

Any content found to violate its community guidelines – such as content which depicts violence or aggression, or harassment and bullying – will be removed.

The current assessment by TikTok suggests that the majority of content linked to pupil protests on the platform does not violate its policies.