The day my life changed

11th February 2011 at 00:00
We confronted bullying head at last. Her response? She ignored us and went off sick

It started almost immediately. We realised straightaway that the new head had an intimidating management style. During our first staff meetings, if anyone had an opinion that was vaguely contrary to hers, she would be extremely rude and dismissive.

At that point it wasn't so bad as there were still older staff who weren't afraid to voice their opinion. But soon she got rid of the experienced staff. Some took early retirement, some went on ill-health grounds, while others got jobs elsewhere. And some just left, preferring to be unemployed rather than stay at the school.

I ended up working 14 hours a day to keep on top of the workload she put on me. I was tempted to leave. When I wouldn't be intimidated and spoke out, she made allegations of incompetence against me. She targeted others, too, but none of these claims was substantiated.

When I was teaching, she used to stand at the door and scowl at me. Pupils would ask what I had done or why she was so angry.

With male staff, she would stroke their faces or squeeze their legs. Teachers would be told off in front of pupils and colleagues. She would make comments about people's personal lives, repeatedly telling one teacher she should get married or she would lose her boyfriend.

One colleague was referred to a psychiatric nurse for a sleep disorder and the head publicly referred to his appointments with the "nutty nurse".

While experienced staff left in droves, she promoted new teachers well above their abilities. I remember two NQTs were promoted to management before they had even qualified. One was the daughter of a good friend of hers.

Complaints had been made over the years but none was taken seriously. Then, last year the head initiated police proceedings against a colleague for holding an aggressive pupil by the arm.

The police rescinded all actions, but the governors and head refused to clear the record. The teacher still has a final written warning for serious misconduct.

This vindictive criminalisation of a colleague galvanised staff and, last spring, concerns were presented to the head via the union. The collective complaint contained more than 30 allegations, including racism, intimidation, inappropriate allocation of funds, diagnoses of work-related stress, depression, industrial injury and more.

She didn't respond and went on sick leave. The chair of governors did not share the grievance with fellow governors and decided not to suspend the head while she was off sick.

An independent inquiry was initiated and staff gave detailed statements. But still absolutely nothing happened.

She retired at the start of the school year with full benefits and none of the allegations brought against her.

This head seems to have retired without blemish because she failed to respond to allegations and the investigation is incomplete. She should have been disciplined for gross misconduct and the chair of governors removed from his post.

The redeeming thing in all this was my classes - they kept me going. Nothing beats a class of children to focus the mind.

I cannot believe this is an isolated case. How many dedicated teachers are trapped in an institution where they fear for their jobs, health and reputation because of an oppressive regime led from the top?

The school has been much happier without her. But if the chair of governors feels confident in treating staff this way, there is not much hope for the future.

As told to Meabh Ritchie. If you have an experience to share, email

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