'People just wouldn't believe what she did'

19th December 1997 at 00:00
One victim reveals how a callous head's regime of fear made life unbearable

"I really wish that we had fixed up a hidden camera in our school. People just wouldn't believe what they had seen.

"Blackmail was one of the ways she controlled us. She'd let you know she had friends in high places who could make or break your career. If she knew a senior teacher was looking for promotion, she'd say: 'You understand that any promotion you get will be on my say so.' To a probationer she'd say: 'You know I'm writing a report on you.' "She kept a file on us with all our alleged misdemeanours in it. Later on we saw our files. There was an element of truth in some of the incidents but they were blown out of all proportion. A substantial number of incidents were pure lies.

"She would make up things about parents, too. She'd claim that a number of them had phoned her to complain about, for example, the way someone was teaching shapes in maths. Of course, they hadn't phoned at all. She was just getting at you.

"Staff meetings fell into a pattern. They always began with the public humiliation of one member of staff. It was never constructive criticism. For instance she'd produce a worksheet and claim it was so poorly drawn that the child could not make it out.

"She put all her energy into demeaning staff, often because of their clothes or accent, not alleged educational faults. Often she would give this sarcastic laugh when giving you a row. If you came to someone's defence she'd put you down too or ask you to her office later when she'd complain about your bad attitude and say she could have you disciplined.

"If you did things well she didn't like that either, because you were a threat. If you got on well with staff and parents, she'd accuse you of empire building.

"The idea of standards is good but she would set unreasonable targets and say, for example, that by the end of P1 children should be able to write their name and address. In this as in everything else there was no discussion with staff, we were just told what to do.

"One girl who was a very, very effective teacher but was outspoken had her probation extended. All she was doing was asking pertinent questions. You were supposed to go to the head with any problems but if, say, a probationer did, it was never dealt with - just used against them as a sign of weakness, used to humiliate them.

"She would come to see us when we were on our own and pick us off one by one. Often it was at a time when you were vulnerable, such as at the end of a stressful day or when you'd come back after illness. The assistant head was her henchman, doing particularly dirty tasks. She would listen in to conversations in the staffroom and report them back to her boss. When you had to go to see them, they were like police detectives, one playing the soft cop, one the hard cop. Mind games.

"When we went into the grievance procedure and she found out we'd been collecting evidence for months, she just lost it. She couldn't believe that for once we'd got one over her. She knew she wouldn't lose her job but she knew she'd be given a warning, so she took an early retirement package.

"After that we had an open meeting in the staffroom where there was the most emotional outpouring. We could share what we had been put through without fear of retribution. It was the most moving experience I've ever had.

"But because it never went to a hearing, we were denied the therapy of seeing justice done. I want people to understand how harrowing this wicked situation was."

* The teacher's name has been changed and information which might identify the school has been withheld.

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