Whistle-blowers of the world unite - let's beat the bullies

13th April 2007 at 01:00
Kenny Frederick is headteacher at George Green's community school in east London

The recent education select committee report on bullying puts the problem back on the agenda. While I get annoyed that schools are constantly blamed for getting it wrong, like most headteachers I still can't say that my school is bully-free. The truth is that bullying is endemic in our society and we need to continue to find new ways to tackle the problem. This work will never be done and is never finished.

I was a victim of bullying - first as a child, when I attended more than 11 schools. Being the new pupil is never easy when friendships are firmly established and there is no room for the new girl. I learnt to cope and to fight back with my tongue and my sense of humour.

However, being bullied as an adult and a senior manager in the not-so-distant past was a lot more difficult to handle. In fact, it nearly destroyed me and could have brought my career in education to an abrupt end. But, being a naturally positive person, I used this very negative experience to drive me forward and become a headteacher myself, so that I could ensure that no child or adult in my care would endure what I had gone through.

Becoming a senior manager in a school had lulled me into a false sense of security. I was under the impression that I was in a fairly powerful position and had some influence. I was assertive and confident and well able to stand up for myself. Or so I thought. But I was unfortunate enough to move to a school where there was a climate of mistrust and bullying. As a naive newcomer, I accepted the status quo and possibly even colluded with what was going on. I thought this was the way leadership was meant to work.

It was not until I became a victim myself that I realised what was happening. By then it was too late to do much about it, though I did try. I used every trick in the book and followed all the advice I was given (and continue to give now when someone is being bullied). I kept a diary of what was happening and wrote down what I wanted to say before I said it. I used the broken-record technique and I responded to put-downs in writing. But the sad fact is that if a bully does not recognise what they are doing or does not see it as wrong, then they don't change. In the end I left.

I was not the only person to be bullied in that school. We took turns. My turn came when I was no longer the new girl and became more confident in my role. Then I became a threat. Numerous staff underwent a similar experience, but none of us went to our unions or to the local authority or the governors. I still wonder why we did not take more affirmative action.

The answer is fear. We were frightened about what would happen if we complained. How could we continue to work in the school once we had told our story? Once I left the school, I thought I should do something to "out"

the person who had caused such misery. But the truth is, I never had the nerve.

The person who bullied me was very manipulative and pulled strings, getting others to collude with them. Bullies come in all shapes and sizes and can infiltrate organisations at all levels. We must ensure that those who "blow the whistle" are protected. Otherwise, it's just too risky.

I still think about my own experience as a bully victim. I was talking about it just the other day when one of my team caught my eye and said:

"Get over it, Kenny. It happened and you survived." She was right. I did.

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