'Bullied' staff bite back;News;News amp; Opinion

19th November 1999 at 00:00
'Common trend seems to be a lack of effective communication and bad management at school level'

THERE has been a sharp rise in the number of grievance cases taken out by teachers against school managements, according to senior union figures. One education authority official called it a virtual "cottage industry".

Willie Hart, Glasgow secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, warned that the complaints could turn out to be "the tip of the iceberg" if there was a move away from clear national agreements on pay and conditions towards more flexible arrangements at school level.

Drew Morrice, EIS secretary in North Lanarkshire, said he had had to process only three grievances from the formation of the council in 1996 to April this year. But there have been five since.

"The common trend seems to be a lack of effective communication and bad management at school level," Mr Morrice said. "There are also cases of alleged bullying and of employers failing to maintain a duty of care, resulting in stress being triggered by poor management."

Mr Hart, national convener of the key EIS finance and general purposes committee, denied that teachers were simply "stirring it". "We would never encourage frivolous cases and we would expect problems to be sorted out informally in the first instance."

Glasgow disputes have included refusal to allow teachers time off for hospital appointments or to take their children for check-ups, frequent failure to consult with staff on matters such as assessment, setting and the structure of the timetable, and reinterpretation of local agreements by individual schools.

One EIS primary member, teaching modern languages, had a day's pay docked for sitting her Higher German. "This at a time when we are supposed to be promoting continuous professional development," Mr Hart said.

The same picture is reported from Inverclyde, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, South Lanarkshire and West Dunbartonshire where the EIS is handling twice as many grievances as it did last year.

David Liddell, EIS secretary in South Lanarkshire, suggested that stress-related staff absences should be monitored. "That might raise the eyebrows of the authorities when they see how widespread these absences are in some schools," Mr Liddell said.

The EIS was backed by the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association. Jim Docherty, the association's assistant general secretary, said staff were increasingly making grievance claims as a result of bullying, harassment and ineffective communication.

But George Gardner, Glasgow's depute director of education, said heads can be harassed too. "A distinction should be drawn between a rightful grievance and a reasonable request or instruction from a headteacher," Mr Gardner said.

Nigel Lawrie, president of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland, agreed there was an increase in the number of formal grievances but said the HAS was not aware that any of its members forced staff to work beyond contractual requirements.

Frank Mitchell, professional advice convener for the Association of Head Teachers in Scotland, said a major concern is the number of teachers who bypass primary heads and complain directly to unions or the authority.

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