'Teachers must be whistleblowers about workplace bullying'

We encourage our pupils to speak up when it comes to bullying – so why don't we lead by example?

Samantha Shearer

People do the bullinyg - but social media helps, writes Tom Starkey

According to NASUWT, 4 out of 5 teachers have experienced some form of bullying in the workplace. This is an extraordinarily high number of people who are admitting to feeling that they are bullied, either by adults or children.

I am truly amazed by the number of colleagues across the profession who have admitted that they are victims of workplace bullying, usually at the hands of a senior colleague.

Admitting to this is in a survey, however, very different to whistleblowing.

Data on whistleblowing within education is notoriously difficult to find. With the rise of large Mats, this data may become even more difficult to locate within disparate groups of trusts. Why would you advertise your rate of whistleblowing, let alone the impact and consequences? Mats, like any large organisation, sing their own positive praises, not share their failings.

What totally confounds me is the “do as I say, not as I do” culture that pervades education like the bad smell of fruit infested with the flies of hypocrisy.

Consider the school production. When it’s your own child’s, you’re not allowed to go – your own work is far too important. But then when your school production comes along, the headteacher complains about the poor tur out and the lack of parental support for children in your school. A little bit ironic, don’t you think?

Back to bullying. As is only right and proper, bullying is a hugely important item on any school agenda. Time, money, training and effort is ploughed into prevention. Both the perpetrators and victims are supported to ensure any unruly behaviour is well and truly flushed out. Their families, too, are supported to ensure that the issue doesn’t go beyond the school walls.

What puzzles and infuriates me is that we do not offer the same to adults. How can education claim to take bullying seriously when it does not work to end workplace bullying?

The culture of extreme accountability, expectations of improving data, results and Ofsted means that pressure is often projected onto staff with a great downward force.

Individuals can be at the mercy of a powerful a senior colleague, and you’ll see them wither – physically, emotionally, professionally – before your eyes. Absence rates increase, skills diminish, they may be depressed, consider self-harming, or worse. Their livelihoods are at stake, their very sense of self threatened. This can all too easily lead to a downward spiral that affects everyone – the children, colleagues or that person’s self-esteem.

So what do we tell children who are being bullied? We tell them to speak up. We tell adults to blow the whistle.

There’s no denying it: doing it takes a lot of guts. By highlighting this issue, you are making yourself vulnerable. There is very little support. Other colleagues may be supportive but ultimately they don’t want to be the next target. The unions may be of some support, but they don’t have to face that person daily in order to pay their mortgage. Many teachers just knuckle down or buckle under the stress.

We know of the mental health crisis within teaching. I suspect that workplace bullying plays a major role.

Of course, this applies to any profession or scenario where adult bullies are concerned, but what other sector has developed such an enormous profile dedicated to anti-bullying?

My question and my challenge to the educational sector is this: do we offer the same support to adult victims in our profession as we offer children? Do we support their families?

An adult who is unravelling at work may be doing the same at home as a consequence of being bullied. Their own children, attending schools where the bullying of children is taken seriously, will now be victims of bullying from within the education sector itself.

It is almost laughable that an education professional may well be planning your anti-bullying week activities within school or be investigating and dealing with a case of bullying among your pupils, yet they may be a victim of bullying themselves at the same time and within the same four walls.

It is time to take workplace bullying seriously. We need to unpick the causes and afford our staff the very same treatment that we offer to our children.

Samantha Shearer is a deputy head in England

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Samantha Shearer

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