The NASUWT conducted a survey of teachers and school leaders to ascertain the nature and extent of workplace bullying and harassment in schools.
The survey was conducted in February and March 2019 and nearly 2,000 teachers and headteachers responded to the survey.
Extent of workplace bullying
Teachers were asked whether they had experienced workplace bullying in the last year. Four fifths (80%) of teachers responding said that they had experienced such bullying during the last year.
Teachers who had experienced workplace bullying were asked who the perpetrator of the bullying was. More than two-thirds (69%) of teachers said that they had experienced bullying by senior managers or their headteacher. More than a third (38%) of teachers had experienced bullying by their line manager. Almost a quarter (22%) experienced bullying from other teachers. 8% experienced bullying by support staff and 4% by school governors.
Teachers who stated that they had been bullied by others, included in the following in their response: teachers, academy trust chief executives and pupils.
When asked how many incidents of bullying teachers had experienced in the last year, responses varied, with 16% stating that they had experienced more than ten incidents and 14% stating that they had experienced more than 20.
Types of workplace bullying experienced
Teachers were asked what the forms of workplace bullying were that they experienced. Responses were diverse but the top five responses were being undermined or belittled (84%), being ignored or ostracised (51%), having their work criticised in front of others (44%), being threatened with capability procedures (42%) and having rumours or allegations being spread about them (28%).
It is of extreme concern that 2% of teachers said that they were threatened physically and 1% experienced physical violence.
Experiences cited by teachers as ‘other’ included:
"Being isolated from supportive colleagues. Given unreasonable workload and no support with violent pupils and extreme behaviour issues. Given no support with abusive parents.”
“Stopping me from moving on to a different school.”
“Talking about my weight and making humour of it.”
“Told to deliver an unworkable timetable which constantly changed without consultation.”
When asked whether the bullying was linked to issues related protected characteristics, the vast majority did not choose one of these options citing ‘none of these’. However, almost a fifth (17%) said that the bullying was ageist, almost a tenth (8%) said that the bullying was sexist and 5% said that the bullying was racist or related to their disability.
When asked for a further explanation of their answers, teachers’ responses included:
"Being at the top of the scale and very experienced seems to go against you, rather than for you. It is almost as if management are keen to jump on you for any tiny mistake, rather than value your experience and allow you to develop further.”
“I am an English teacher, although of a different nationality, one in particular that has been in the news heavily since the referendum and some of us were treated as second-class citizens.”
“I was isolated, ignored and openly ostracised. I had voiced my concerns over the way the school was being led and governed, which was leading to more and more children leaving the school. One quarter of the school population left over a three-month period.”
“It was because I complained about student behaviour.”
One teacher simply said, ‘I am unable to explain it.’
Impact of workplace bullying upon the teachers experiencing it
Teachers were asked to state what the impact of the bullying was. More than four fifths said that it had led to a loss of confidence. The other reasons stated were: suffered from anxiety (80%), experienced depression (52%), visited their GP (45%) and that it had a negative impact on their career (44%).
In freetext responses for teachers citing ‘other’, the reasons demonstrated the personal impact that bullying could have, including:
"I contemplated suicide on at least 10 occasions.”
“Stress, pain in muscles from stress, tearful all the time over nothing. Avoiding going to meetings first, so they can't have a go at you without witnesses.”
“Nervous breakdown with PTSD.”
Reporting of workplace bullying and outcomes
Teachers were asked whether they reported the incidents of bullying that they experienced. Almost a third (30%) said that they did report all of the incidents and 27% said that they reported some of the incidents. More than two fifths (42%) said that they did not report any of the bullying incidents experienced.
Those that did report the incidents were asked who they reported them to. More than half (54%) reported them to their senior manager and almost half (49%) reported them to the NASUWT. Other options included medical professionals (30%), line managers (28%) and the police (1%).
Teachers were asked to describe the outcome following their reporting of the bullying. A third stated that no action was taken against the perpetrator, and 15% said that their claims were dismissed or they were not believed. 15% stated that the perpetrator was spoken to about their behaviour, and 1% saw either legal action or disciplinary action against the perpetrator. Many who stated ‘other’ (23%) said that the process was still ongoing.
Teachers were asked whether they were satisfied with the outcome when incidents of bullying were reported. Two thirds of teachers said that they were not satisfied, over a quarter (26%) were satisfied with the outcome in some instances, and only 6% were satisfied overall.
Witnessing of bullying behaviour of colleagues
Teachers were asked whether they had witnessed bullying behaviour towards colleagues. More than three quarters (76%) of teachers said that they had.
When asked who has carried out this bullying behaviour, three quarters said that it was by senior leaders or the headteacher, almost two fifths (39%) stated that it was by line managers, over a fifth (22%) by other teachers, 9% by support staff and 3% by school governors.
Others cited as being the perpetrators included parents, pupils and academy trust senior managers.
Teachers were asked to classify the types of bullying that they witnessed. Responses were varied, but the top five responses were being undermined or belittled (85%), having their work criticised in front of others (55%), being ignored or ostracised (45%), being threatened with capability procedures (44%) and being shouted at in front of colleagues (28%).
When asked in free text why this might have occurred, responses included:
"The head is a controlling person who doesn’t like it when things don’t go her way. She has no people skills and is rude.”
“I have worked at my school for more than a decade. I have observed members of staff being made so miserable as to encourage them to resign.”
“Bullying led by unpleasant individuals, playground-like behaviour, ganging up on others.”
Support by employers
Teachers were asked a range of questions about how their schools or colleges deal with bullying.
When asked whether their school had advice or policies in place on how to report incidents of bullying towards staff, just over a third (35%) of teachers said that they did. The remainder either said they were not sure/that it was not applicable (42%) or said that they did not (22%).
Teachers were asked whether the situation in their school or college had changed in the last 12 months. 8% had seen improvements, whereas over half (52%) had seen the situation worsen or worsen significantly. Two fifths said that it had stayed the same.
When asked to explain their answers, responses included:
"Three staff on long-term sick leave (stress/anxiety), more talking about leaving. Staff morale very low. Staff happier when headteacher out of school - no respect for headteacher.”
“The intimidation I feel comes from staff OTHER THAN SLT. It is from those whose opinions I do not agree with.”
“There is a constant fear amongst some in my department that is heartbreaking. Experienced, fantastic professionals pushed deeper and deeper into a hole rather than supported and encouraged. It's the constant doublespeak, temperamental nature and need to divide which increases the division between staff and SLT in my view.”
Teachers were asked how confident they were that their employer is committed to taking action to deal with the bullying of staff. Over four fifths (88%) either said that they were not very confident or had no confidence, and only 12% were quite confident or extremely confident.
Finally, teachers were asked to make any additional comments that they had about bullying. This included:
"I get bullied by my students a lot. Another member of staff at work bullies me and I have spoken to the manager in confidence but they took no action”
“It is a bullying culture. You do what you are ordered to do, or you pay. Many other teachers and staff have been singled out and often driven to tears. They are afraid to complain or expose this toxic behaviour.”
“I left the school due to my treatment by the head and deputy. I had a breakdown and contemplated suicide. As far as I know, the situation at school for remaining staff is still the same and morale is at rock bottom. Absence due to stress is very high.”
“Workplace bullying in schools is now almost expected. The academy system makes this much worse, by having a lot of managers, who are rarely on site. They are also not usually held accountable for HOW they try to improve standards. Bad practice at senior levels is encouraged.”
Next steps by the NASUWT
The NASUWT will be using this survey as part of the process of lobbying with governments and employers to do far more to support teachers who have experienced bullying and to develop strategies to overcome these issues, including the use of grievance procedures.
The Union has continued to lobby for appropriate further legal protections for teachers experiencing bullying and harassment at work.
Help and support is offered for teachers who are experiencing these issues, either through the NASUWT’s website or by contacting the Union.
The NASUWT has carried out a number of ballots for industrial action in schools across the UK on adverse management practices, including management bullying, in the last year.
The Union will continue to challenge, using every means necessary, any employer not treating teachers with dignity and respect.