Sack the wrecker heads

10th January 2003 at 00:00
The David Brent factor should have no place in Scottish classrooms, says one teacher who has suffered at the hands of a serial control freak

IT was with a mixture of recognition and sadness that I read Alan McLean's uncannily accurate description of my former headteacher ("The David Brent factor", TESS, December 6). I felt sure he must have been a fly on a wall as he described so accurately what happened to me and other "selected" colleagues over a number of years.

At the hands of the head, I suffered bullying and destructive interference; I was made a scapegoat and was marginalised while others were treated favourably. I was increasingly expected to spend excessive amounts of time on unproductive tasks while the more important and satisfying elements of my job were allocated to others less able to do them well. Opportunities to attend relevant courses became seriously limited - "these are not for the likes of you". Experience and extra qualifications were ignored or sneered at.

I never expected to be a "victim". My training and area of specialism encouraged me to understand the needs and motives of those whose behaviour was upsetting. With children we have to see the behaviour as misguided, not the person as evil. I extended this understanding to the headteacher.

There were times when I would be lulled into a false sense of security by a spell of apparent co-operation and pleasantness, only to have it dashed by yet another incident of sarcasm, criticism or sidelining. Eventually I began to doubt my ability. I felt inadequate in a job I used to love and believed I had done well for several years. I tried in vain to cope with an ever increasing workload, determined to do my best for the vulnerable children for whom I was responsible.

I was working in school most nights until 7pm or 8pm, and still taking work home. Any reference to my workload was met with disbelief or reference to "poor time management". More favoured members of staff were praised for staying late occasionally to rearrange displays. Never was I given any credit, even for effort.

Attempts by other members of staff to have the head's behaviour addressed by the education authority had come to nothing. I realised that the only way to preserve my sanity was to get a job elsewhere.

I went through the process of "psyching myself up" for a series of interviews and rejections. Just when I had all but reached the point of mental and emotional collapse, the perfect post was advertised and with a last-ditch surge of optimism and much encouragement from colleagues I was successful.

Now I do not long for Fridays and holidays. It is hard to stop smiling. I work just as hard as before, but I have infinitely more control over what I do. I am part of a team where the work of others is valued and supported. Staff meetings are lively and participative. People feel confident that their views will be treated with respect and that democratic decisions will be reached. Now at last I am experiencing what McCrone described as a "collegiate" way of working.

I know many excellent headteachers but my experiences are far from unique. Can it really be acceptable that unsuitable members of management teams are allowed to cause so much unhappiness? Teachers must be secure in their self-esteem to be able to promote it in their charges.

I was one of the lucky ones - I survived and escaped. How many perfectly capable teachers are on long-term sick leave or struggling daily to prevent themselves becoming gibbering wrecks at the hands of emotionally inadequate control freaks? What can be done about these headteachers - and those who appointed them? Has the rot already permeated the hierarchy?

The author wishes to remain anonymous "for obvious reasons".

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