During the recent Anti-Bullying Week, schools focused on bullying among students, running anti-bullying assemblies and PSHE sessions. Maybe you led one of these.
Far fewer schools will have held anti-bullying sessions for their employees. However, many of the teachers we have spoken to recently say they have encountered bullying at work.
Many people consider workplace bullying to be an inevitable part of working life, especially when the pressure is on due to budget cuts.
However, outside of schools, a survey of all workplaces found that the population has enjoyed relatively low stress and good change management since 2004. The Health and Safety Executive was responsible for charting working conditions until 2010 and its last report found that “psycho-social working conditions have remained positive”. So if conditions for the working population are good, what is the picture in schools, where there have been frequent changes, to practices and curriculum, for a generation?
“A feeling of constant anxiety for work that is not done. Extra responsibilities and unnecessary, time-wasting tasks,” wrote one respondent to our workload survey in 2011, who also spoke of “pressure to put in large amounts of unpaid work outside the classroom”.
Another respondent made the link between workload and his own victimisation: “Working up until midnight most nights, working through holidays, no support from management when asked! Victimised thereon for ‘not being able to cope’ after period off.”
For many teachers, these stories are all too familiar. Perceived victimisation accounted for 7.1 per cent of all calls and emails to our support services during the 2012 spring and summer terms. That is up from 5.9 per cent in 2011 and 2.7 per cent in 2010. These are not statistically irrelevant figures either: calls and emails in January to July this year totalled 10,556.
Meanwhile, sustained poor treatment, communication and school culture issues are being reported to us at more than double their 2010 rates.
Of course, not all bullying behaviour is intentional. Some of it is the result of managers lacking the necessary communication expertise or people management skill, responding to pressures placed on them by their bosses in turn. However, where bullying behaviour is tolerated, or ignored by senior leaders, it is tacitly condoned and an unhealthy culture is allowed to develop.
We believe the challenge is to train the education workforce, starting with its managers and leaders, in anti-bullying working methods. That is, positive management practices that fully consider the needs of the individual and balance them against the needs of the school and the requirements of the tasks.
We do not pretend that achieving this three-way balance is easy and people management is bound to be more challenging under the pressure created by rapid change. Yet educational change is not going to go away and the need to have people positive workplaces is stronger than ever. Doing nothing will see more stress among school staff and managers.
However, this is about more than the effect upon the individual employees. In discussion about workplace bullying, people forget about the effect on schools, such as high sickness rates, high employee turnover, increasing reliance on short-term supply teachers, lower teacher morale and ultimately poorer pupil performance. So, bullying holds no benefit for anyone. It need not characterise any school.
There was never a better time to meet the challenge of becoming a sector that is anti-bullying and pro-wellbeing – and not just for the students. We will be playing our part by compiling information for schools on becoming pro-wellbeing workplaces, which we will share in future columns.
Julian Stanley is chief executive of the Teacher Support Network. Visit www.teachersupport.info or call 08000 562 561 (England), 08000 855088 (Wales).