TikTok and teaching: what do school staff need to know?

Overview

TikTok is the latest app which is the newest craze for pupils. There are also a number of teachers potentially putting themselves at risk sharing videos of themselves, their pupils and classrooms on the platform. 

As ever, you will need to adhere to your school’s social media and e-safety policies to make sure you know the rules which apply to you. There are also concerns about TikTok because of the sexualised content and nature of many of the videos which are uploaded. As teachers you will need to consider the balance of risk when using the app.

We’ve written another article which provides a guide for teachers for staying safe on social media.

In this article, we explain the origins of TikTok, the functionality of the app and the privacy/safeguarding concerns for teachers who are on it.

What is TikTok?

TikTok is this international version of Douyin which was developed by ByteDance in China in 2016.

It was launched in 2017 for iOS and Android in most markets outside of mainland China. TikTok became available worldwide after merging with Chinese social media service Musical.ly in August 2018.

Essentially what started out as an app for teenagers to film themselves miming and dancing to songs has gone more mainstream with major advertisers, brands and organisations using the platform. In addition, the user base has grown dramatically to over 2 billion downloads and it has become significantly more popular in the UK and USA over the 18 months.

‘Users’ can watch short videos and create clips with video editing, filters, music and special effects. There are a number of viral trends, which many teenagers will try and have their own take on and recreate. Some of these are of an inappropriate nature, and can rack up millions of views in a very short amount of time.

How old do pupils have to be to use it?

According to TikTok, the organisation explains the app is intended for users aged 13 and over. TikTok has a support centre with some of the most popular FAQs on the topic of age restrictions and privacy.

It says if you learn that your child under the age of 13 has registered for a TikTok account, you can contact them at:

If pupils are using TikTok at your school and they are under the age of 13 you will want to notify the e-safety lead at your school. In addition, if pupils of any age are filming videos of your lessons, or you are aware they are filming other teachers you will need to follow the behaviour management policy at your school.

We know that schools will have different policies on the use of mobile phones, with some schools not allowing pupils on site at all. As ever, if you are unsure of the procedure at your school you should consult your staff handbook or talk to your line manager about what action to take.

Can I just make my account private and be ok to use TikTok?

TikTok explains users can control who can see their uploaded content, follow them, and send them messages by making their account private. With a private account, users can approve or deny followers and restrict their uploaded content and incoming messages to followers only. If a user has a public profile, anyone signed into the TikTok app can view that user’s public videos. However, only approved followers can send that user a message. 

Whether users choose to have a public or a private account, they can always:

Even with a private account, profile information – including profile photo, username, and bio – will be visible to all users. So you will need to be careful about the information you disclose on your profile information.

How are different schools responding to TikTok?

The Vaynor First School in Redditch has information on its website for parents. It explains:

“Other than restricted mode, there’s no way to filter out content on TikTok, so parents are encouraged to share an account with kids under the age of 13. This will let you keep an eye on what your kid is viewing and posting. Parents of older kids who are more resistant to monitoring can ask about their favourite video creators and get to know their videos (with or without your kid). Also, take the time to regularly look at the most popular songs, videos, memes and challenges.”

The staff at St Peter’s Catholic Primary School in Romford filmed TikTok challenges for their pupils over lockdown.

Trinity Academy Newcastle Trust has a factsheet for parents on its website. It says:

“TikTok is very image focused and there is a notable preoccupation with appearing cool and attractive. Many teenagers now attempt to go viral and become what’s known in-app as ‘TikTok famous’. TikTok (and its predecessor musical.ly) has spawned its own celebrities – social media stars Loren Gray and Jacob Sartorious have been catapulted to fame through their initial exposure on the app. 

Obviously, most budding influencers looking to become the next big thing will be disappointed, but this may have the knock-on effect of making them go to more and more drastic lengths to get noticed.”

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