'Results at all costs'

26th September 2008 at 01:00
Scotland's top education authority is accused of being `authoritarian and dictatorial'

Allegations of bullying and a "dictatorship culture" have emerged from one of Scotland's highest-flying authorities.

East Renfrewshire more often makes the news for its outstanding exam results, but a report seen by The TESS reveals that many teachers believe the pressure to keep up appearances comes with blind disregard for staff and pupils.

The council has vigorously denied that there is a bullying culture and insists it is already tackling the problem where it does exist.

The findings can be traced to a 2006 survey of stress among all East Renfrewshire Council staff, followed up by focus groups in 2007. Issues that emerged in these sessions form the basis of the document, which is intended for senior staff within schools and the local authority.

Principal teachers' focus groups pointed to an "authoritarian and dictatorship culture", amid concerns that consultation counted for nothing. Class teachers reported a "dictatorial senior management style with no tolerance of dissent", while bullying was highlighted by principal teachers and support staff, the latter pointing the finger at the council.

Teachers at all levels complained that staff did not have a voice: depute heads said staff felt unable to be honest and express differing views; principal teachers reported "aggressive" responses to any questioning of a decision and a "fear of putting things in writing"; class teachers said senior management did not approve of employees going to their trade union.

There was a sense that, so desperate was the council to be seen as one of the best education authorities, the well-being of staff was sacrificed and results were prioritised over high-quality teaching.

Class teachers identified a "strong feeling" that the council was interested only in "achievement of targets and not in the quality of teaching". It had an ethos of "results at all costs", leading to a "feeling of failing children" among teachers.

A council spokesman said: "We would absolutely refute bullying as a persistent or pervasive workplace problem." While there may have been instances of bullying, this was not part of a culture that ran through the council.

The report highlights action to be taken, such as schools ensuring staff are aware of anti-bullying procedures and reminding headteachers to consult on how targets affect pupils. A full response was taking longer than anticipated, the spokesman said, largely because of recent council restructuring.

He stressed that school staff attendance rates were among the highest in Scotland, and that the authority had a relatively low number of grievances. Teachers tended to stay in jobs for a long time and vacancies could attract hundreds of applications. Issues such as bullying had not been identified as major problems when the council was scrutinised by HMIE and Audit Scotland.

The findings are being discussed by senior council and school figures, with similar processes going on in other council departments. A report is due in the next month, and an authority-wide action plan by the end of the year.

Alan Munro, the Educational Institute of Scotland's local secretary, said the council had been "very open" in its approach. The findings were "all a bit old", he added, so some issues might already have been resolved.

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