Teachers spend a lot of time watching out for and educating their students about bullying. But what happens when teachers themselves feel bullied by their colleagues or senior leaders? Being bullied in the workplace can make you feel uncomfortable in the staffroom, uncertain of your ability to complete your job, and anxious about going into work.
Two-thirds of teachers told us in a poll earlier this year that they had witnessed homophobic harassment in school. This is just one example of bullying and harassment that can take place.
The government’s Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) defines workplace bullying as “offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient”.
Bullying in itself is not illegal, but the Equality Act 2010 says unlawful harassment can include unwanted behaviour relating to someone’s age, sex, disability, gender, marriage or civil partnership status, pregnancy, race, religion or sexual orientation. The following stories show how bullying can come from senior leaders or from a disagreement with colleagues.
A support teacher, 61, who helped dyslexic and deaf children in Glasgow, resigned after being bullied by a new manager for being off sick regularly with what was later diagnosed as advanced kidney cancer. “At the time this new manager started to take umbrage with me for being frequently off sick,” she said. “When I took ill once she was saying I was a burden and there was nothing wrong with me. I was feeling so terrible and she changed my timetable so I was doing more work to make it as difficult as possible for me. I would get phone calls from her when I was sick. She wouldn’t let me take breaks between my school placements within the same day. Eventually, I couldn’t take it anymore. I didn’t know what else to do except resign. I turned to colleagues but no-one was willing to help because they were scared of their own positions.”
A teacher with 10 years’ experience began to feel bullied by a colleague. She told us: “Work was going really well in my department until a new member of staff started working with us. She had experience in a private school and didn’t understand how I wanted to run my lessons. She wanted too much structure for the students, while I wanted to give them a bit more freedom. Rather than discussing her problems with me she just started complaining to my line manager. It was just so stressful and the way she treated me was so upsetting I would leave school crying.”
We often hear restructuring can be used as a form of bullying. Capability proceedings, which used to take up to a year for dismissal, can now be fast-tracked in as little as five to 10 weeks.
From the point of view of heads, they may be under pressure and feel there is no other way. However, many teachers in schools going through rapid change say redundancies are too often used as a smokescreen to get rid of staff who heads don’t like or who cost too much. Ultimately, a good leader should not need to result to bullying tactics.
And what about feeling bullied by your peer colleagues? While having a robust conversation with a co-worker is not necessarily bullying, it can be a problem when this turns into concerted intimidation or public humiliation. The NUT and NASUWT both advise teachers in the first instance to address the issue with the individual before involving line managers. If things don’t get sorted, then you should report it to management and union reps can support you with legal advice. Our counsellors can help talk through your feelings by providing emotional support too. The important thing is not to feel isolated. Do not suffer alone – ask for help. A small issue can become a big problem quite quickly if you don’t.
Julian Stanley is chief executive of the Teacher Support Network. Visit www.teachersupport.info or call 08000 562 561 (England), 08000 855088 (Wales).