There are three elements to fair comment: It must concern something of which you can have personal knowledge; It must be comment; It must be fair.
We may refuse to accept your comment if it does not fit with the Fair Comment guidance below.
You are allowed to defame a school if what you are saying is fair/honest comment; we will support your right to do so if you stay within the law.
There are three elements to fair comment:
- It must concern something of which you can have personal knowledge
- It must be comment
- It must be fair
If you want to say something rude about a school you must make the basis of your opinion clear to the reader - that you are a current or former parent, for instance - and it must be a basis that entitles you to the opinion that you express.
It must also be clear to the reader that everything you say is comment, rather than a statement of fact.
- ‘In my opinion far too many good teachers have left since the new head arrived’
- ‘Far too many good teachers have left since the new head arrived’
This may seem tedious, but it is the law. Telnikoff v Matusevitch  UKHL 2, since you asked.
As to unfairness, only you and the school will know. The school would have to prove that no fair person could have held your opinion based on the facts as they were, or that your opinion was actuated by malice. We encourage schools to respond to comments, under the same rules as to what is fair and acceptable, but will in general not publish further comments in a thread unless we judge them useful, as opposed to entertaining, for our users.
You can expect a school to take a fair degree of commonplace criticism. You can call a school dilapidated, rowdy, ugly, evil smelling or anything similar without worrying that we might cut the comment for fear of offending the school (which it probably will).
But if you want to say something which will hit the school hard, such as stories of bullying, unresolved bad teaching, bad management, drugs/alcohol or any of the other common vices, you will need to consider what you want to say carefully. As your criticisms become more serious, there comes a point where, in order to sustain your criticism, you have to bring in facts, and to able to prove them.
'Parents of three children who left the school last term have told me that this was because they were being bullied, and in my opinion the school has done nothing to address the causes or adequately discipline the perpetrators' is a much more effective comment than 'In my opinion the school has done nothing to address the causes of bullying or adequately discipline the perpetrators', but for us to publish it you would have to be able to show us that the facts stated were true - in this case by correspondence from the parents concerned. If the school then told us that your facts were wrong, you would have to furnish us with evidence that we could use in a court - in this case signed affidavits - to enable us to continue to publish your views.
You will make it much more difficult for us to publish a comment if you defame individuals, either by name or with sufficient information to enable identification. Schools (and school guides) are expected to be tough enough to take a good deal of criticism on the chin, but courts recognise that individuals can be much more vulnerable. The head teacher and the chair of governors are the only usual exceptions, but even with them we would want your fairness to shine through.
If we feel that you have strayed beyond the bounds of the lawful, we will decline to publish your comment. If we feel that you have strayed in one or two phrases only, we may, as an alternative, cut those phrases out. In either case, if we feel that we are missing out on a worthwhile comment for technical reasons, we may offer you an explanation for what we have done.
We are not permitted to alter the sense of what you have said to comply with the law - only you can do that if you wish to.