Videos posted on TikTok are thought to be fuelling student protests over uniform and toilet rules. The social media platform says most do not violate its guidelines. But the disruption could reignite the debate about another rule – banning mobile phones in schools.
“There were multiple protests in schools across the UK over new toilet rules… schools in North Yorkshire, Cornwall and the Midlands reported pupils flipping tables and shaking fences…”ITV News
For days now, students across the UK have been walking out of their classrooms in protest.
The reasons differ… but the videos all end up in the same place. TikTok.
As more videos are uploaded and the protests get more attention… more pupils are getting involved.
One school in East London contacted parents and carers last week to warn them about TikTok videos “encouraging” disruption, stating that any students taking part in protests could be suspended. The Department for Education says it is “concerned at the reports of disruption” and that it will be in touch with all schools and local authorities.
So where have the protests come from? And why are students joining in?
Over the past couple of years there have been a lot of high-profile protests by school students.
There were the widespread Black Lives Matter and exam results protests in 2020. In 2021 students at Pimlico Academy in London staged a protest over allegations of racism linked to new uniform policies and curriculum changes:
“We want change, we want change…”The Guardian
But what’s different this time is that the protests have started a chain reaction inside schools.
In February pupils at Rainford School in Merseyside protested over newly enforced uniform rules. They said girls were made to line up so that male teachers could check that their skirts weren’t too short – which they described as “degrading”.
So they started an online petition and arranged a protest.
Videos shared on TikTok show pupils gathering in the corridors and outside the school, with male pupils wearing skirts in solidarity.
Pupils from more than a dozen other schools have joined in. The reasons vary but they’re generally a reaction against strict rules relating to uniform or toilet access.
At Penrice Academy in Cornwall hundreds of pupils left their classrooms because of a policy, which stops students from going to the bathroom during lessons… and requires girls to carry a “red card” to show a staff member so they can still access the toilet while on their period.
Students and some parents have compared these types of restrictions to “prison rules” and say they are outdated and humiliating.
But others have argued that some of the protests are just an excuse for disruption and poor behaviour – and that strict rules are necessary. Here’s Dr Tessa Dunlop, a broadcaster and writer, speaking on GB News…
“I think we have to recognize especially at Secondary School level children will work that’s always going to be a minority of children who are going to play that system and they’ve got additional tools now to allow them to do this so they can communicate with other schools social media being the obvious one and I’m a strong believer in education for everyone and if you’re in a school where there’s key disruptors then you need strong discipline so I first of all I want to say my sympathy tends to be with teachers I think a good discipline school is a school that can educate children better.”GB News
Most of the protests involve walk-outs and picketing… but some pupils have been accused of dangerous behaviour. At some schools students are reported to have climbed fences, flipped tables, kicked down doors or thrown chairs.
In at least one case the police were called. In another, the school closed for the day.
So what impact are the protests actually having? And what can TikTok do about them?
Headteachers and behaviour experts say that these protests are being fuelled by the use of mobile phones in schools with videos on social media encouraging copycat behaviour.
Comments on Tik Tok show students supporting each other, expressing their frustrations with their school rules and asking for advice about setting up their own protests.
A TikTok spokesperson told Tortoise that they are monitoring the situation carefully… but that the majority of videos show peaceful demonstrations which do not violate any guidelines, and so they won’t be removed.
It’s important not to exaggerate the scale of these protests. Currently they’re happening at a small minority of schools and many of the clips going viral are of the same events.
And although one school has reversed its new uniform policy following a protest… so far, most are sticking by their rules.
But it could reopen the debate about whether mobile phones should be banned from schools… making rules even stricter.
It was written by Claudia Williams and mixed by Patricia Clarke.