Bullying – Not in the Playground

April 25, 2015 9:00 am

Bullying was once the domain of the school playground. The aggressive behaviour of individuals repeated over time against another. More often than not the children involved usually directed their abuse and intimidation towards a particular target. In the present educational climate it seems to many that the bullying has moved out of the playground, not into the classroom but more worryingly into the staffroom.

Teachers are increasingly becoming the victims of bullying. With the spectre of Academies (if failing) and Ofsted looming over their shoulders, it appears that the role of senior leadership teams in a number of schools is to resort to bullying tactics to put in place agendas that they believe will bring the ultimate ‘outstanding’ judgement that they crave. One teacher in three claims to have been bullied at work and a large percentage of these claims are linked to adult bullying. Why is this occurring? Who are the bullies?

There are a number of factors that explain why the bullying of staff is becoming more prevalent.

The pressure exerted upon leadership teams in schools is immense; excessive initiatives, the fear of under-achievement set against unrealistic targets and the dreaded ‘inadequate’ rating from Ofsted. In my experience Head Teachers are those people who no longer wish to teach. They were, a few years ago, the people who cared about their school, their community and the children. Now, they are administrators passing down the dictats from government who care only about their reputation. It seems that the welfare of their staff is a long way down their list of priorities.

bully

In 2007 the NUT issued guidance to teachers regarding the harassment and bullying of teachers. It was issued with the health and safety of members to the fore and indicated that local authorities should develop policies and procedures to deal with these issues. Most authorities will defer to their Anti Bullying and Harassment Policy which is largely generic and in most cases does not take into account the educational workplace. ‘Let the perpetrator know they are unhappy with their behaviour and ask them to stop’ (which tends to be the first piece of advice) is very difficult for any member of staff when the perpetrator of the bullying is the person at the top.

In July 2011 the Teaching profession was handed a set of standards that set out the ‘minimum’ requirements for teachers’ practice and conduct. The seven teaching standards on the surface look admirable and achievable but no substance was attached to the standards. Therefore the interpretation of these standards was open to debate and open to abuse on the part of managements. These standards allow for Head Teacher’s, (in order to cover their own backs) to put many into the category of ‘capability procedures’ on the basis that they feel the standards are not being met. In order to meet the standards in all areas is almost an impossibility because they are so open to interpretation and in large part unwieldy. This leads to random and impulsive decision making on the part of senior leaders and in some cases a complete inability to distinguish between the important and the trivial.

One of the major problems schools face is a lack of funding in order for staff to continue professional development that is congruent with the Teaching Standards. It is all very well having teaching standards if the implementation of them changes every time the criteria for Ofsted inspections changes.

These factors all lead to bullying in the workplace becoming more prevalent.

But who are the victims?

The victims, just like those in the playground, tend to be those the bullies feel are a threat. A typical target in the case of the teacher is the conscientious and competent who are well liked by colleagues, pupils and parents. These tend to be singled out by a bully usually for reasons of jealousy and inadequacies on the part of the bully.

As bullying is about power, the use of criticism is a major factor in a number of scenarios. This leads to the victim attempting to jump through more hoops in order to achieve what the bully wishes them to achieve, but in the long term the achievement is usually unattainable due to the emotional and crippling psychological pressures exerted on the victim. There tends to be little or no dialogue between the bully and victim. The only dialogue tends to be criticism and the threat of disciplinary procedures if the criticism is not worked upon.

Contrary to opinion teachers are human beings, subject to the same emotional range as every other member of society and in large part caring, thoughtful and conscientious in their profession. They thrive on support and when they have leadership that has balance and integrity the workplace becomes a cohesive unit. According to the Department of Education’s own statistics for 2014 the profession lost nearly 50,000 teachers, more than 4,000 a month with 60% citing ‘teacher bashing’ as a direct reason. Worrying- Yes. Surprising- No, when you consider the increased workloads and pressure exerted leading to the issues of harassment and bullying that continue to increase.

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