6th July 2001 at 01:00
WE have a seriously under-performing teacher whose shortcomings were identified by an OFSTED inspection and other evidence. She has been monitored and supported over a long period, with support from the local authority inspectorate. She is now alleging that the senior management team has been harassing and bullying her, to the detriment of her health. Are we right to feel as vulnerable as we do?

Bullying in the workplace is a serious issue and not to be tolerated, but it is not to be confused with strong and effective management.

In order to substantiate a charge of bullying, this teacher would have to show that she had been the subject of sustained, unwarranted criticism, had been singled out for adverse treatment, nagged at for petty or non-existent faults, belittled or shouted at in front of others or generally treated in an unfair and unjustifiable manner.

Your defence against such an allegation is that her under-performance is real and on the record, that appropriate supportive measures have been put in place and that monitoring of progress is clearly necessary, if the situation is to be improved. You have been acting responsibly, on behalf of her employer, in ensuring that she delivers the service for which she is employed.

Above all, this case demonstrates the importance of keeping proper records when competence is called into question. Given that you are able to provide the evidence and have not subjected this teacher to more pressure than is inherent in her situation, neither you, nor your management team, has any reason to feel vulnerable. Rather you should feel some sympathy for someone who is still trying to blame others for a situation, the reality of which she finds too painful to confront.

IT has been the custom at this school for a member of the teaching or non-teaching staff to accompany a sick or injured pupil being taken to the hospital. Members of one non-teaching union have been told they should not do this. Should we include the duty in job descriptions?

Yours is obviously a very caring school, because your practice goes beyond what is required or might be expected.

There is no obligation to accompany a pupil being taken to hospital when the parents cannot be contacted. From the moment that the paramedics take charge of the patient, the health service takes over responsibility for his or her care, including the duty of contacting the parents.

This is not to say that you should abandon your policy, which does you credit. It does suggest, however, that you should not regard it as a duty which you can direct your staff to undertake. If there are volunteers, by all means let them go.

I suspect that the union was objecting to the task being seen as a duty, which might be included in a job description, and might not feel so strongly about voluntary action.

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