ACU (Australian Catholic University)


Issue 6, Spring 2012

Teachers hounded by bullie


Despite the movement to stamp out bullying in schools, the issue is still prevalent among staff. Caitlin Ganter spoke to Adjunct Professor Dr Deirdre Duncan, who found the majority of school staff experience bullying.

Sadly for some children, being bullied at school is part of growing up, but what is surprising is that schoolyard bullying doesn’t always end with adulthood. 

A new book co-authored by Dr Deirdre Duncan, Adjunct Professor in Educational Leadership at ACU, has revealed more than 95 per cent of staff in schools have experienced some form of workplace bullying. 

Bullying of Staff in Schools, by Dr Duncan and Dr Dan Riley from the University of New England, aims to assist school employees to understand the phenomenon of staff bullying, its existence, the forms it takes, and its impact on staff and schools.

The book draws together responses from more than 2,500 Australian government, Catholic and independent school employees, and outlines 42 separate kinds of bullying behaviour – revealing that more than 95 per cent of respondents had experienced at least one of those behaviours.

More than 75 per cent of respondents experienced a third or more of the bullying behaviours.
Dr Duncan said that bullying behaviour is largely invisible in the school workplace – except to the target – because it is so typical of the behaviour encountered there.

“In many cases the bullies are quite unaware of the fact their behaviour is seen as bullying,” she said. 

“For example, many school and system leaders did not consider the most commonly experienced forms of bullying as such. Bullying behaviour needs to be named and shamed if it is to be eliminated from the workplace.”

Staff who are bullied face a number of issues such as depression, stress and exhaustion, as well as fears around job security or early departure from teaching. 

“What was quite alarming is that seven out of 10 respondents indicated that bullying had a negative effect on their physical or mental health,” Dr Duncan said. “The research found the major offenders are parents of students and work colleagues when the whole group was aggregate across the ratings, but drilling down deeper, the principal was found to be the most persistent bully.

“Even so, bullying is not necessarily top down; for example, a principal may be harassed by a teacher. 
Bullying can be wielded against any individual if allowed – the challenge is to determine what conditions within a workplace are allowing such conduct to exist and then to eliminate them.”

According to the research, the types of bullying behaviour most likely to be experienced by staff in schools are the questioning of one’s professional judgement and being set impossible targets, deadlines or workload. More than 80 per cent of respondents had experienced these behaviours.

The least experienced types of bullying behaviour were those actionable by law under the sexual harassment and anti-discrimination legislation, or criminal action such as assault. Dr Duncan said this suggests that simply having a school policy on staff bullying is not sufficient to ensure a bully-free workplace exists.

“If location, location, location is a guiding principle for real estate investment, then education, education, education is the mantra for investing in a bully-free workplace,” she said.

“Prevention is better than a cure and schools need to be developing a bully-free culture. Educating school leaders, working to a framework, bringing in independent arbiters and monitoring the workplace with staff surveys are just a few of the tactics that can help.”

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