The 13th of November marks the beginning of National Anti-Bullying Week. Thousands of schools across the country will be carrying out assemblies, school initiatives, activities and fund-raising events to stamp out bullying in schools. No one would deny the important message this week signifies. But are we being hypocritical in our celebration of national anti-bullying week while simultaneously staying quiet about the bullying that happens in our own staffrooms?

This is not to trivialise or diminish the issue of bullying in young people. The past decade has seen an alarming rise in specific forms of bullying in schools. Homophobic bullying in particular has presented a big problem with Stonewall reporting this year that nearly half of all LGB young people face bullying at school while over 60% of trans young people have experienced bullying for being trans. Meanwhile, the Brexit vote seems to have caused a spike in racial and religious related bullying. In addition to this, social media has presented ever-more difficulties in preventing the rise of cyber-bullying over the years.

Anti-bullying initiatives like anti-bullying are increasingly important in schools. They provide some awareness and clarity during divisive times and promote open-minded, tolerant attitudes. And with mental health finally reaching the forefront of educational discussion, anti-bullying is an essential area of dialogue. However, anti-bullying week is really the tip of the iceberg when it comes to schools. There is another very big elephant in the room hiding in the shadows of the staffroom.

A man walking down an empty corridor.

Staff Room Bullying

Teachers and support staff are experiencing bullying too. A UKEdChat survey found that, of 200 teachers, a quarter claimed they left because of bullying and SLT behaviour. The 2015 teacher support network survey found a significant factor for teachers leaving the profession due to “unreasonable demands from managers.” If significant numbers of teachers are leaving due to bullying behaviour, then we need to take a step back and look at what is happening in the sector. Back-stabbing behaviour from colleagues, bullying of teachers by senior staff and domineering management are sadly common occurrences in schools. Meanwhile, trainee teachers and NQTs newly entering the profession experience bullying in the form of spontaneous observations, belittlement, harsh criticism and lack of support, leaving NQTs wanting to quit before being given the opportunity to thrive.

significant numbers of teachers leave due to bullying behaviour

How can we teach our students the importance of anti-bullying while knowing our schools do not always practice what they preach? Most workplace bullying in education is not reported. There are a number of reasons for this. There is the threat of losing your job, being given a bad reference or of receiving a misconduct label. Many of those that do leave do so on settlement agreements and even gagging clauses. Many also avoid speaking out for fear of being put in capability measures, originally a tool to support those who may be struggling but has in some cases been used as a weapon to undermine those who may be ‘causing trouble’.

A collection of hands painted red to form the shape of a heart.

A Culture of Fear

The effects of workplace bullying not only negatively impacts the victim but is often detrimental to the entire school as a workplace. If staff do not feel secure, comfortable or happy, it shows. The NSPCC have reported that thousands of student absences every year are due to bullying and teachers are no different; if staff feel bullied at work, they are far more likely to take extensive periods of sick leave due to stress and mental health problems. The behaviour of the management trickles down and creates a culture of fear within the school building. Of course if you can’t speak out, your next option is to move schools, increasing the turnover rate during already difficult times of poor teacher retention. In the end, workplace bullying in education is ultimately damaging to the students as they are the ones who suffer from teacher’s low-morale and absence.

staff bullying is detrimental to the entire school as a workplace

So remember during anti-bullying week that this is not just for the students but for staff too. We do not tolerate bullying behaviour in our students so why is it ignored in our very own staffrooms? If we are truly serious about anti-bullying in schools, then we need to lead by example.

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