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bullying of staff

Discussion in 'Headteachers' started by tonymars, Oct 27, 2014.

  1. tonymars

    tonymars Established commenter

    This is an open invitation to all head teachers out there.

    I have seen some truly harrowing and shocking posts on these forums about the bullying and victimisation of teachers by head teachers.

    I would really like to know:

    why this is happening

    why head teachers can apparently behave like this with impunity

    what you think the solution might be

  2. Dragonlady30

    Dragonlady30 Star commenter

    I hope you're not holding your breath awaiting an honest response?
  3. asnac

    asnac Lead commenter

    I'm not saying bullying by HTs doesn't happen. I'm sure it does. But you only ever get one side of the story in these forums.

    What one person calls an assertive and hands-on management style could be called (maliciously or sincerely) 'bullying' by someone who feels their position is threatened.
  4. Quijote

    Quijote New commenter

    It's an odd question Mr Newton. Heads who are bullies are unlikely to admit it and tell you why. Heads who aren't bullies will be in the same position as you and only able to guess the answer.

    So here's my guess. In today's climate poor Ofsteds, dipping results, complaints from parents, concerns raised by LA, and lots of other unwelcome scenarios can - and do - cost heads their jobs. In my medium sized town over the past two years I have seen 5 colleagues hounded out, and I would bet they will never work again.

    The stakes for heads are very high. I don't think it's any wonder that a few pass their own stress down the chain to their staff.
  5. In my opinion the stakes are equally as high for those 'down the chain'.

    Having been in the forces and then the corporate world before becoming a teacher and having worked in several schools, what I do see is many 'senior leaders' who have been promoted way beyond their capabilities.

    They avoid teaching if they can and where they cannot they select the easiest classes to teach leaving those 'challenging' classes to the rest. The excuse being their 'leadership responsibilities' take up so much of their time etc.

    They are quick to criticize those down the chain when they observe them teach a 'challenging' class but would never dream of letting those down the chain observe them teach a similarly 'challenging' class.

    They hide behind an ever growing mountain of administration and bureaucracy and consider that their revelation of the latest educational fad during an INSET session is staff 'motivation'.

    They are frightened of independently minded staff 'down the chain' who might challenge their desire for a school full of automatons who simply comply with their diktats. They then use their position to intimidate rather than engage in intellectual honesty.

    For some reason an image of those First World War officers who sat miles behind the front lines comes to mind.

    In the forces they salute the uniform, not the dummy that is modelling it.

    "Yes sir! No sir! Three bags full sir! Now let me get on with doing the job properly" is what I suspect happens in the majority of classrooms in the UK.

    If schools operated as private sector businesses many would collapse under the weight of unnecessary in-house paperwork which detracts from the central purpose of teaching and learning. I doubt many 'leaders' of that ilk would pass the selection process for The Apprentice let alone face Lord Sugar's pointed finger.

    Frankly, if school leaders pass their stress down the chain to their staff they are not fit to be leaders and should find something else to better occupy their time.
  6. tonymars

    tonymars Established commenter

    Interesting posts so far. What about the impunity issue and solutions?

    asnac: fair point- so let's hear the other side.

    FRKinnell: so are the issues the appointment of suitable heads, the training they receive, the pressures they face?

    Fact: it is undeniable that SOME head teachers bully staff in an appalling manner. And this is causing a huge amount of damage, not just to the teachers being bullied but also to the schools and their students. Yes I do understand that heads are under huge pressures - maybe this too is part of the problem.

    This is an anonymous forum. Let's have a full and open and honest discussion for once. I honestly want to understand WHY this is happening and if there is any way forward.

    Repeat - I would welcome responses form any head teachers - active, retired, whatever your views. I would also to hear from anyone else on this subject:




    ANY union people

    journalists and other media people

    local authority people



    politicians of any persuasion


    Dfe people
  7. nomad

    nomad Star commenter

    I have no doubt that 'real' bullying does exist in some schools where headteachers misuse their power. In fact, I have seen it happen.

    However, as all headteachers will attest, the word 'bullying' is all too often misused by pupils, their parents and also by staff. Certainly, if seems to be misused by some posters on this forum in their description of the manner in which they are managed in schools.

    Here is a classical example of such misuse.

  8. asnac

    asnac Lead commenter

    You won't hear the other side.

    If a child in the playground says to you, 'He's bullying me', I imagine you automatically talk to the alleged bully and get their side of the story, knowing you cannot make a balanced judgement when you only have the testimony of a single witness. Consider how often it transpires on investigation that there are two sides to the story.

    This is an anonymous forum. Anyone can air their animosity about their boss, spin the facts in any way they like, turn perception into their personal reality. All this is without fear of contradiction as the HT will not be aware that they have posted, and even if they were aware, they are not free to respond.

    There's no shortage of anecdotes. But the only way of even coming close to finding useful facts is to examine the records of hearings at tribunals where there have been allegations of bullying.
  9. tonymars

    tonymars Established commenter

    Nomad, thanks for the post. You may well be right when you say that the word 'bullying' is often misused. Exactly which parts of the posts on this forum do you think are misusing the term? What do you think a solution might be?
  10. DaisysLot

    DaisysLot Senior commenter

    I've yet heard a head teacher dare to voice how they are being bullied by their staff?. yet I absolutely know that that does indeed happen.
  11. Going back to your earlier comment about impunity, the current system of heads being appointed by and accountable to (a chair of) governors who at a later date would investigate any complaints about that head causes a conflict of interest.

    Put yourself in their place, it's like someone is casting doubt on your judgement and integrity when you receive a complaint about the head you appointed.

    Of course the Head is the person you work closest with in the school. You have regular meetings with them and generally only see their best characteristics.

    Of course Heads want to keep their governors 'on side' and manipulative Heads will go out of their way to do so.

    Governors are supposed to 'both 'support and challenge' Heads but far too often they can be nodding dogs who simply accept whatever they are told by the person they appointed to do the job in the first place.

    Therein lies the impunity.

    As for bullying, I agree what one person perceives as bullying may well be intended as assertive hands-on management by the person accused.

    However, a good manager knows the people they are managing well and would not let such a misapprehension develop.

    Poor management will often result in perceptions of bullying from those being poorly 'managed'.

    There are two sides to the story, but if the person listening to the story and forming the final judgement is biased or has the potential to be biased as (in a chair of) governors, then the final judgement is corrupt or has the potential to be corrupted.

    I know that there are difficulties in finding suitable heads. (Perhaps a reluctance on behalf of those who are eminently capable to put their necks on the block of 'special measures' and subsequent dismissal.)

    However, does that excuse the appointment of those who might be unsuitable for the position?

    For instance, one head whose "mystery absence" was reported in their local press, (later reported as not in school whilst governors investigated certain matters) obviously left their appointment under a mutually agreed arrangement to avoid costly dismissal proceedings. [I'm reading between the lines here but cannot find any other logical reason.] That Head was later appointed Head of a school some distance away.

    Was that desperate measures taken to get a Head appointed?

    Would a teacher further 'down the chain' get the same second chance in the current system?

    I would suggest that the whole system is at fault.

    Not just the system of appointment of heads is at fault, but also the whole system of accountability and organisation of schools, inspection of schools and public examinations. In fact every aspect of education seems to have been recently accused of corrupt practice in the media.

    The education system should not be about self-aggrandisement, league tables, all schools being at least "good", exam boards selling schools the text book for their exam, cheating at coursework and controlled assessments etc.

    However, when your job and therefore your home and family is at stake, you become desperate and desperate people will do desperate things. Cheating, lying, bullying and self deception eventually become the norm.

    What sort of message does this system give to our children?

    The education system is about them, our children, and giving them the best start in adult life possible.

    It's the future of the human race.

    However, who would dare to propose weeding out all this perceived and potential systemic corruption let alone be supported in doing so by the vested interests involved?
  12. GLsghost

    GLsghost Star commenter

    This is a really insightful commentary on the matter, with which I agree whole-heartedly. By choice, I spent my career in challenging schools, either in Special Measures or clinging on by their fingertips. I have done my time as a classroom teacher, Head of Department and senior leader. I hold NPQH and aspired to Headship , before recognising that the life expectancy of a HT in such schools is comparable to that of a Premier League manager. I made the decision that the rewards were not worth the hassle and suspect that many other prospective HTs would have made a similar choice. The gene pool of those applying for Headships, particularly in challenging schools, is seriously depleted and a lot of inappropriate appointments are being made to Headship of candidates who would once not have got a look in.

    Worth singling out these lines again because this is the crux of the matter. You make an important point, that those with poor leadership skills are at risk of resorting to desperate measures, when credibility and lifestyle is at risk. I lost my health and career to just such desperation and long-term posters will know that this is the subject of ongoing High Court action.

    The willingness to collude with such activity, however, goes beyond the school and governing body, to include a local authority which turned a blind eye to corruption (for such it was), even in the face of strong evidence to the contrary and a professional regulator (GTC(E)) ready to kowtow to pressure from a LA's legal department to drop formal complaints about the corruption and collusion without investigating.

    Gove was willing to listen and used my experience to train investigating officers of the new professional regulator to be independent of such practices. I have not heard of any cases in which his undertaking has been put to the test, however, and the teaching unions, as a body, lack the teeth to challenge effectively.
  13. GLsghost

    GLsghost Star commenter

    In my haste I did not respond to your final question, petenewton, of what can be done about it:

    * give authority back to Headteachers, so that they can run their schools without the fear of sanction for failing to meet impossible targets. Good candidates might then be encouraged to aspire to Headship;

    * for the unions to act as one and agree to support a number of very high value claims against employers. A few more six and seven-figure damages awards against them is likely to chasten the most reckless of employers.
  14. GLsghost, I agree.
  15. To justify my agreement with you GLsghost, you mention the "Target" word.

    I believe it is the prime cause of the loss of ethics and honesty in many professions.

    Back in the 1980s the financial services industry started to set its doorstep salespeople monthly sales targets - they had to achieve them or lose their job. To avoid that they resorted to desperate measures. Customers lost money and firms profited until the amount of customer complaints brought in regulation in the form of the Life Assurance and Unit Trust Regulatory Authority and eventually the Financial Services Act.

    No more doorstep salespeople by the mid 1990s.

    They went to the banks that also set them targets from where we see the P.P.I. scandal start. (Along with much more)

    However "targets" were such a good idea that police officers were set them. The prime directive of the police service is the 'prevention and detection of crime'. Detection "targets" were set and thus minor incidents which previously would have warranted nothing more than a telling off were suddenly recorded and 'detected' in order that "targets" could be met.

    You can?t enumerate and measure the prevention of crime so it got sidelined and subsequently ignored.

    In the NHS meeting targets has at times become more important than caring for the sick and injured and duly, the sick and injured have suffered as a result.

    We have all seen the harrowing press reports.

    Look back at the Hippocratic Oath where a doctor swore to act ?for the convenience and advantage of the patient;" and that the doctor would "willingly refrain from doing any injury or wrong from falsehood."

    Many nurses and others have left the service in disgust because of this replacement of professional ethics by targets and achieving them at all costs including by 'falsehood' though that fact is scarcely reported.

    Who has replaced them?

    People perfectly willing to achieve targets at all costs?

    The target culture has also infected education.

    Children enter the education system full of enthusiasm and natural curiosity only to have it rapidly knocked out of them.

    Children are set targets to achieve and trained to jump through the hoops that get them to meet their targets, often by the use of bribery in the form of extrinsic "rewards" from teachers and heads.

    Do they understand their targets? What benefit to their (future) life does achieving that target hold for them (intrinsic rewards)? All too often they perceive none.

    Teachers are set targets based on what number of children they teach achieve their target and so on up the ladder to local authorities, academy sponsors and even government.

    Mr Gove got rid of the National Curriculum levels because few people outside education could understand them let alone see the purpose of them.

    They were used to set targets throughout a child's' time in compulsory education yet despite their abolition, school leaders and others are still clinging on to them in desperation because the government has given them nothing to fill the void. (Perhaps they have never experienced, can't remember or haven't read about education without an embedded target culture?)

    How can progress be measured without levels and targets?

    You can't measure enthusiasm, natural curiosity and interest in things outside the remits prescribed by the set target so it all gets ignored.

    Oh dear! No future Newtons, Darwins, Watts, Bairds, Whittles etc. Just an Orwellian future population of automatons chanting the mantra of "achieve targets at all costs."

    I go back to an earlier point, targets are just another administrative and bureaucratic fabrication that detracts and distracts from the central principle of education that being teaching and learning.

    A learned foreign colleague and well respected teacher observed - "You are set targets? You must cheat then."

    One has to ask what happened before the introduction of the National Curriculum, its levels and the subsequent target setting.

    Maybe teachers (and schools) taught "for the convenience and advantage of the child" and willingly refrained "from doing any injury or wrong through falsehood."

    Heads should run their school for the benefit of their pupils and not to meet targets then perhaps future generations would benefit from an honest and ethical education rather than being trained to survive (at all costs) in a target culture.

    The education system is about our children and giving them the best start in adult life possible.

    What matters most, achieving our targets and getting good publicity, or their futures?

    Unfortunately the individual unions are fairly impotent and to some extent are political beasts and thus have their own vested interests.

    So I would again ask who would dare to propose weeding out all this perceived and potential systemic corruption and be supported in their stand against the vested interests involved?
  16. tonymars

    tonymars Established commenter

    Insightful posts from FRKinnell and GLsghost.

    I entirely agree. I think that most of the heads who behave in a shocking manner do so because of OFSTED and so called results and targets pressures.

    There have been recently some changes to the OFSTED regime, but I would argue that in its current form it sill has far too much power, and this power is often used with negative consequences. Some countries, such as Finland do not have such an inspectorate. Isn't it also true that a head teachers union recently voted that it was unfit for the purpose? I was speaking recently to someone who was moving houses. He said that his current house was valued at several hundred thousand pounds more than a similar house quite close simply because his current school was in a catchment area which had two schools that were currently rated as outstanding by OFTESD. Surely there is a colossal scope for corruption here?

    Targets and so called results are another crucial area. The current system is that teachers and schools HAVE to meet computer generated targets based purely on inflated KS results, or else... This is nonsense... young people simply do not, for a number of reasons, progress at the same rate. Yes head teachers are treated like football managers these days, but hold on, teaching is not the same as football, is it?

    Can you just imagine for a moment what schools would be like without the pressures of OFSTED and meeting such targets?

    These pressures are damaging teachers ability to teach and head teachers ability to ability to manage. Now perhaps I am being naïve here, but if the removal of such pressures is in the interests of both teachers and head teachers, might it not, in principle, be possible for head teachers and teachers to work TOGETHER on this? Is such a us-and-them approach really helping? Of course if there was only one head teachers' union (is there?) and one teacher's union this would be lot easier.

    If such pressure were removed would not this also make the recruitment and retainment of head teachers a lot easier?

    There will also be, however, some head teachers who are not up to the job and are simply very nasty people who have the power at the moment to wreck teachers' lives. I completely agree with your comments, FRKInnell, about the conflict of interest that governors face when dealing with such head teachers. Perhaps the solution therefore is to have an independent body investigate such cases of bullying WITH the power to enforce effective sanctions.

    I am a classroom teacher and I do not pretend to be aware of all the issues. It might be that this post provokes responses of the don't be stupid - you're stating the obvious.-have you no grasp of the practical obstacles - variety. But then again, sometimes a new set of eyes and perception can be useful. Isn't it true that a lot of the energy of teachers and head teachers and their unions is being dissipated in conflict rather than resolution? Who knows, perhaps some people in a position to effect changes might read this.
  17. Middlemarch

    Middlemarch Star commenter

    Did you follow Nomad's link to a thread in which I was accused of "bullying", merely for advising a poster on the best way to approach their head about needing time off for an interview (for a job the head at this point did not know the teacher had applied for, nor had been asked to provide a reference)?

    I was - and remain - astonished to be called a "bully" for giving someone advice aimed at getting the best possible result in what could be a tricky situation.

    Nomad's point is that misuse of the word "bully" has served to (a) create the image that it's happening more than it actually might be and (b) undermine those who are genuinely bullied. Sometimes, people are struggling to do their jobs well enough and feel that pressure put upon them is "bullying" - it isn't necessarily so, but over-use of the word (usually by people who should substitute the phrase "Something I don't agree with it") has convinced some people that they are being bullied when they're not.
  18. tonymars

    tonymars Established commenter

    Yes Middlemarch I did and a fair point.

    But do you have any ideas about my last post?
  19. I cannot deny that there are many good people who are heads out there.

    A teacher friend was recently denied pay progression as their GCSE results did not meet the target set by their school. (Head and senior team.)

    It was the first group they had taken through to GCSE in that school.

    Lessons were observed and deemed initially to be at least good if not outstanding.

    The controlled assessment grades achieved by that teacher?s class were identified as the cause of their overall grade being lower than those achieved by their colleagues some of whom had less able groups.

    The teacher had been scrupulously honest in their conduct of the controlled assessments and had followed the instructions to the letter.

    Subsequently they suffered peer pressure and pressure from above (head of department, senior team and the head of the school) to ?bend the rules? on conducting controlled assessments and to conform to the accepted norm in their school.

    That teacher felt as if they were being pressurised into effectively condoning their students cheating in a GCSE examination contrary to their personal and professional ethics.


    Targets of course.

    Their colleagues and leaders didn?t intend my friend to feel pressurised. They are all nice, caring people. They are simply under pressure from a corrupt system.

    The trouble with corrupt systems is that eventually corruption becomes the norm within the system.

    I agree that it is a fair point you make Middlemarch, but let?s not get distracted from petenewtons's original question by a discussion about what is and is not perceived or intended as bullying.

    petenewton originally asked;

    ?This is an open invitation to all head teachers out there.

    I have seen some truly harrowing and shocking posts on these forums about the bullying and victimisation of teachers by head teachers.

    I would really like to know:

    why this is happening

    why head teachers can apparently behave like this with impunity

    what you think the solution might be

    It doesn?t take much imagination to think what might have happened to my friend if they hadn?t conformed to the accepted (corrupt) norm in their school.

    The pressure would have increased and could easily have turned into victimisation and bullying by peers and the head.

    The choice would have been conform or go. (Via capability procedures undoubtedly).

    As I have previously stated, when people?s jobs, homes and families are perceived to be under threat then they will resort to desperate measures.

    I am trying to address each of petenewton?s questions.

    The most difficult to address is that of a solution.

    Having spent a little time earlier today reading it, perhaps we could start by adopting wholeheartedly the EI Declaration of Professional Ethics for teachers and those involved in education.

    Perhaps we should start with the Prime Minister, the secretary of state for education, Ofsted and anyone else right down to the PGCE student and anyone else with an interest in educating children.

    It makes interesting reading when you compare it to the reality in many schools in the UK.

    Here?s a link if you are interested.

  20. Middlemarch

    Middlemarch Star commenter

    Do you mean, "Why is bullying taking place?"

    If so, I tend to agree with those putting it down to the pressure from above - I don't recall anyone even mentioning the word (with regard to staff) before Ofsted were invented in the early 90s - and the rise in cases seems to me to go alongside the introduction of targets for pupil achievement, together with pressure on schools in the 'categories' adopted by Ofsted, etc.

    As for solutions - I'm afraid I can't see an end to it without removing those things which cause it - and that's never going to happen, unfortunately.

    I will add, however (and this relates to a point made earlier) that bullying doesn't always happen 'downwards'. I've known heads be bullied and in two cases (both primary schools) this bullying has been done by a group of TAs!

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