I recall many years ago a head that I worked under making public announcements that there was ‘no bullying in my school’ – he was somewhat deluded. There is bullying in all schools most often short-term. The same head then decided that the school needed a ‘bullying policy’ (I kid you not). I questioned this and said, ‘surely we need an anti-bullying policy rather than one promoting bullying?’, I was asked to see him in his office and told never to embarrass him in front of staff again. Remember, he told me, I am the head and I can make or break your career!
Well, he neither made it nor ‘broke’ it (I think).
The recent report that many teachers feel that they are being bullied in their workplace raises very interesting questions. When is ‘strong management’ bullying? If someone is ‘underperforming’ in their post should you place them under intense scrutiny and add pressure to see if they can improve or should you support and help them and, where necessary provide extra training?
It is, in part, about management style and knowing how and when to use different leadership and management approaches. My concerns though are on the way that the new coalition is taking teacher education and changing the terms and conditions of teachers’ employment (by stealth – even though it is self-evident when you think about it).
Teachers are covered by national terms and conditions and some heads, managers and subject leaders feel that these provide too much protection to weak teachers. Add in unions and getting shot of inadequate teachers is, they say, very difficult. So this could, I would infer, lead to bullying in the workplace – especially if some feel that this is the only way to get rid of poor teachers.
Many NQTs do not pass their induction year. In total about 5%. Very few fail but many leave their posts at short notice to avoid a ‘fail’. In my role on the TES forum I advise NQTs about their rights and responsibilities during induction. There are some shocking things happening on induction if the posts directed to me are to be 100% believed.
Here is another problem. On an anonymous forum I only have one side of the argument and invariably it is from those who claim unfairness and bullying. I can’t see the big picture, I can’t question the mentors and Heads about what really goes on. So I cannot generalise.
But even if only a small percentage of the claims are true there is still a worrying picture out there of schools not fulfilling their responsibilities (legal ones at that) and of NQTs being driven out of jobs rather than helped.
If Michael Gove intends to redefine the standards and possibly the induction of teachers to concentrate on things like behaviour management, there also need to be safeguards in there where the responsibility for management of poor behaviour is not just on the individual but which requires the management of schools to also deal with behaviour issues collectively.
I predict that induction year problems will increase if ‘strong management’ is left to individual heads.
So am I just a wet ‘academic’ who only wants to keep poor teachers in schools?
Poor teachers are often not poor, just the wrong type of teacher in the wrong school. We have a mentality here that says that qualified to teach means you can teach anywhere. That is just not so. Certain teachers suit certain schools and certain kids. One of my jobs is to advise trainees on where I feel they are best suited to teaching. I can’t make them follow my advice, but I can at least warn them of the consequences.
Heads also have a duty to root out poor teaching – but they need to do it properly, they need to follow the rules and ensure that the teacher in question is properly assessed supported and provided with the right advice. Bullying is bullying – it is not acceptable if you call, it ‘strong management’. It is not acceptable full stop.
Getting rid of poor teachers should not be a long, protracted difficult process, but neither should the process be so easy that it can be abused. Adequate protection is needed for the children suffering poor teaching and protection is needed for teachers who are doing a good job, but for some reason not living up to unrealistic standards imposed by school leaders.
NQTs who are told that they are ‘failing’ if their lessons are not adjudged as ‘good’ by OFSTED standards serves no purpose. If schools only wish to employ ‘GOOD’ OFSTED standard teachers then they should not employ NQTs. We have to remember that at present teacher training is just 36 weeks. It’s like having to pass the driving test. By stating that from day one they must consistently perform at the OFSTED ‘good’ standard is like saying that although you have passed your driving test you cannot get your licence to drive as you are not at an advanced driving skills level.