November 11, 2007

Teachers’ helpline sees 400% increase in calls

INCREASING numbers of teachers and lecturers in Wales are seeking help for bullying, charities and unions said yesterday.

New figures also show a 400% rise in calls to national helplines. Teacher Support Network received 338 calls and emails regarding bullying and harassment by colleagues or managers across Wales and England last summer term, compared to just 83 in the summer term of 2006.

Research into the problem has now been launched by the University of Glamorgan and Teacher Support Network.

More than 130 people have taken part in the survey so far, with first results expected early next year.

Professor Duncan Lewis from Glamorgan’s Business School, who is leading the research, said it was unclear whether bullying had actually increased or whether people were more likely to recognise and report it.

He is also doing a second UK-wide study with £70,000 from the Economic and Social Research Council to look at bullying across the workforce in general.

“The Teacher Support Network and Teacher Support Cymru get increasing numbers of calls about bullying and harassment,” Professor Lewis said.

“We want to find out what people consider bullying and whether perceptions have changed. Are people who say they are being bullied really being bullied?

“We are also trying to find out where the source of bullying comes from. Quite often its reported as managers but it is just as likely that someone will be bullied by a colleague of equivalent grade or it could be school governors, parents or even pupils.”

The survey asks teachers and lecturers whether they have experienced 22 different types of “negative behaviour” at work including:

Gossip about themselves; Violence; Being denied access to leave or benefits; Being humiliated or ridiculed; Being ignored or excluded.

“None of the list mentions bullying because we don’t think there is a scientific definition for it,” Professor Lewis said. “It’s a matter of perception. One person’s bullying may be another’s banter.”

Sam, a 28-year-old primary teacher from Swansea, was bullied by two of her classroom assistants. She was so distraught that she considered going on long-term sick leave. She felt unable to talk to anyone about the situation but eventually contacted the Teacher Support Cymru helpline.

The verbal bullying took place in the classroom in front of the children and she said she also worried about the impact it was having on her pupils.

Sam said she felt unable to raise the issue because she was new at the school and “didn’t want to rock the boat”. She was also worried that she would not be believed.

“Bullying is a sensitive and difficult issue for most people. “There is usually a great reluctance among victims of bullying to speak out – they already feel isolated from other colleagues so don’t want to alienate themselves further and many have fears about lengthy disputes and tribunals – and this can often lead to time off due to stress and ill health.”

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers Cymru, which is launching its own survey into bullying in the new year, believes the problem is on the increase.

Director Dr Philip Dixon said, “Bullying happens across the board. Part of the explanation is increasing pressure on senior managers to improve results.” He said there should be better training for lecturers and teachers becoming heads or principals of colleges.


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