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Bullied teachers look for legal redress

An organisation launched this week aims to tackle the growing problem of teachers who are bullied at work.

Redress (the Bullied Teachers Support Network) will give advice on how to resist bullying, and press for changes in legislation to allow teachers facing dismissal the right of an appeal to a disinterested party. Rob Prior, a spokesman for the group, said: "Dismissal on spurious grounds is the ultimate form of bullying."

The organisation blames local management of schools and "macho management" styles for what they perceive as a sharp rise in workplace bullying. It is particularly concerned about the increased use of disciplinary procedures against teachers. Mr Prior said: "Gross misconduct used to mean really awful behaviour, such as abuse of a pupil or theft. But in the last few years it has been used as a cheap and vicious means of getting rid of people who are not wanted for any reason."

Several teachers at the inaugural meeting of Redress spoke of a "kangaroo court" atmosphere at meetings with governing bodies. One had had her "dirty classroom" cited in charges of gross misconduct. Another, disabled, teacher said that his lack of mobility was included in the charge of gross misconduct which led to his dismissal.

That bullying has increased seems certain. An article in last week's TES which mentional that Redress was being set up, resulted in more than 40 telephone calls from distressed teachers to the group's secretary, Jenni Watson.

A recent survey by the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers found that three quarters of respondents had either been subjected to serious bullying themselves or witnessed the bullying of others.

Intimidatory use of discipline or competence procedures was the second most common form of bullying reported. Most common was destructive innuendo and sarcasm, described by 57 per cent of the 3,500 NASUWT members who responded to the survey.

But Redress members express disappointment at the limited record of teaching unions in fighting on behalf of bullied members. Mr Prior said: "The unions realise that there is a problem, but have not come to terms with it."

Asked how Redress would differentiate between bullied teachers and cases where charges may be justified, Mr Prior said: "Our basic position will be to believe the person who's complaining to us." The organisation will set up a network of telephone counsellors.

For more information on Redress send an SAE to Rob Prior, 1 Meadow Way, Potters Bar, Hertfordshire, EN6 2NJ.

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