Two cases of teachers forced to take sick leave after being bullied by their heads have been recognised by the Department of Social Security as industrial injury accidents.
The move - believed to be the first in the country - makes the teachers eligible for compensation of up to Pounds 99 a week and the recognition could provide crucial evidence for any future legal action. The cases, which were in Somerset secondary schools, involve a woman told her job was being axed without the head following proper procedures and a teacher who was systematically over-burdened with work.
They were registered with the DSS as industrial injuries by the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers. Under a DSS scheme, compensation of between Pounds 19.80 and Pounds 99 a week will be paid for industrial injuries from next month. The non-contributory, no-fault benefit for disabilities caused by accidents at work is payable in addition to other incapacity and disability benefits.
Following its success in getting the cases recognised, the NASUWT is likely to seek more support from the DSS where bullying behaviour causes its members to take sick leave from school. Its national executive last week agreed that it would contact the DSS as well as recording the incidents in the school accident book.
Dorothy Baker, national executive member for Avon, Somerset and Gloucestershire, said: "We have got to use what we have creatively in the interests of our members."
Claims for compensation, or in some cases, criminal prosecution could be made under common law, the Sex Discrimination and Race Relations Act, the Health and Safety at Work Act, Criminal Justice and Public Order Act or the Employment Protection Act.
Mrs Baker sought DSS recognition for the two cases in Somerset under employment laws and said: "The more documentation you have if you are going for a legal battle, the better." Both cases involved male headteachers. The woman who was told her job was being scrapped without going through proper procedures has since moved away from the area. The man has been off school for a year and taken ill-health retirement at the age of 42 - and has a young family.
"He was destroyed and found wandering in the grounds of the school," said Mrs Baker. The NASUWT claims there is an escalating problem of management bullying in schools. It said victims were shouted at in public and private, frozen out and ignored, suffered persistently unjustified criticism and "death by memo".
An equal opportunities conference organised by the union last week heard that bullying bosses cost industry billions of pounds a year. Charlotte Rayner, from Staffordshire University, said they were causing Pounds 4 billion damage in lost time or legal redress. And she said Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, found that industrial relations cases were the fastest growing category of civil action.
A survey by Mrs Rayner of 1,000 students on secondment from firms to courses at Staffordshire University found that more than half had been bullied. Male managers were twice as likely as females to bully. More than 80 per cent of attacks were likely in a new power situation - a recent change in job or change in manager. And more than seven out of 10 bullies were either line managers or senior line managers.
The conference heard of a woman primary head in Leeds who bullied nearly every male member of staff and a head in Sheffield who was "stunned" to hear that a member of staff was frightened of him - only to learn the rest of his staff were, too.
Chris Keates, from the union's national executive, spoke of the "horrendous" plight of newly-qualified teachers. "One was subjected to the headteacher coming in and out of the classroom every few minutes and standing there and staring to the point of the teacher collapsing in class - only to be followed into the toilet and yelled at through the door."
Dave Battye, from Sheffield, added: "We have got to get away from this macho image that teachers can cope. It is a whole workplace problem. But what happens is that teachers who are not bullied often think that the victim should be lost from the system and not the bully. They think the fault lies with the one who is crumbling under attack."