Chasten the rogue heads over bullying

5th May 1995 at 01:00
I write in response to Nigel de Gruchy (TES Letters, April 21). I am the NASUWT member at Claremont High School who brought the successful judicial review proceedings against the Secretary of State. Les Moore's comments on the case (TES, April 7) were as accurate as Mr de Gruchy's were misleading. It is true that the National Association of School Masters Union of Women Teachers eventually provided legal aid for my case, but this support was given reluctantly and only after intense lobbying by supporters and press attention.

I might add that if I had foolishly accepted NASUWT advice and taken part in the school's "kangaroo court", then I would have sacrificed the opportunity to bring the successful judicial review. The leading barrister who represented me in the High Court was so confident that the judgment would lead to substantial damages for breach of contract that he declined the judge's offer of asking for further relief. Nigel de Gruchy even issued a press release hailing the verdict as a victory of the NASUWT. However, it soon became clear to me that although the NASUWT had been prepared to risk the costs of litigation against the unpopular Education Secretary John Patten, it was prepared only to threaten litigation against the school. As a result, the school felt it need pay only derisory compensation to me, an offer which the NASUWT demanded that I accept.

The NASUWT deserves much credit for its achievements over the years, particularly the Wandsworth SATs victory. But while discounts on car insurance and other membership perks are valued, most teachers join a union for the legal support they would expect to receive if their career should ever be under threat. The introduction of local management has brought into some schools the worst aspects of private-sector personnel handling.

Dismissals on the grounds of redundancy or spurious charges of gross misconduct are now far from uncommon. "Gross misconduct" can be anything the head so defines, but recent examples include "using inappropriate language" and "complaining to an industrial tribunal". Some heads are emboldened to act in this way because they know that industrial tribunals offer little effective redress and the unions offer only a half-hearted defence.

Teachers might be surprised to learn that if they were threatened with professional oblivion in such circumstances, the NASUWT would send to defend them not a solicitor but an overworked official with no legal qualifications.

Worse, some of these officials find it expedient to accept at face value what they are told by the school. While this may have been a valid assumption when matters were handled by disinterested LEA officers, it is not the case now.

I am saddened that Mr de Gruchy blames his members for not standing up for themselves, but I can see the attractions for him in doing so. In my experience teachers have a proper sense of what is right, and many have the strength of purpose necessary to pursue a legal case if only the union would back them.

Unions exist to defend their members, but for the NASUWT this has become, at school level, very much a fringe activity. Now that Mr de Gruchy knows that so many members of his association feel they are being bullied, the real question is what is he going to do about it. If the NASUWT is seen to be fierce in defence of its members, it will both chasten rogue heads and encourage members to resist bullying.

ROB PRIOR

1 Meadow Way

Potters Bar, Hertfordshire

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