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I Was Bullied by my Headteacher for Years

My manager created a toxic culture in my school, but I was determined not to be pushed out...

  • I Was Bullied by my Headteacher for Years

When you hear about bullying in school, it’s natural for your first thought to be about pupils, yet there are countless cases of bullying amongst staff. I know this only too well – having experienced it for several years. Only now it has stopped am I able to take stock and really think about what I went through.

I began my career as a supply teacher, working in a primary school on an extended contract. I enjoyed my time there, so when I was offered a permanent role I was happy to accept. I soon settled in and continued to find it a pleasant place to work.

Sadly, that all changed towards the end of my first year as a permanent member of staff.

I can’t quite pinpoint exactly what I first noticed, but I started to detect a very toxic culture within the school. Most of the negativity and bullying was driven by the headteacher. She would suddenly turn on people for seemingly no reason. Before I knew it, it was me who was in the firing line.

Her behaviour was erratic and essentially a process of attrition. She would make rude and derogatory comments or shout at me in the corridor and would often make disparaging remarks in front of other colleagues or, even worse, the children.

She didn’t seem to care who witnessed her poor conduct – it was almost as if she felt everyone was too frightened to challenge her. Sadly, I think she was right.

I also faced her overly critical approach when it came to my work. She would find the slightest thing, no matter how small or insignificant, and use it against me.

I lived in fear of being subjected to her criticism. I have confidence in my abilities as a teacher, but I was so worried about her finding fault in something I had done that I would overstretch myself to make sure there was nothing she could pick on.

It’s a habit I still can’t get out of, and it’s exhausting. I never feel fully able to relax.

To make matters worse, the culture she created filtered down into the senior management team. It was almost as if they wanted to deflect any attention away from themselves to avoid becoming her next victim.

It made working there almost unbearable, and it wasn’t just me who was suffering – there were plenty of other colleagues who were also being victimised. Teachers started to leave the school to escape, but I was determined I wasn’t going to be pushed out of the place I had once loved. 

One particular incident has stayed with me. It started when I was refused my pay increment. Her grounds for this were based on her opinion of some of my behaviour. This made me feel self-conscious and question myself.

I was eventually diagnosed with a specific learning difficulty. I underwent a needs assessment and a number of recommendations were made to help me manage my condition at work, but the head almost refused to believe my diagnosis and made me jump through many hoops to prove it to her.

It felt like it was all about her need to have complete control of any situation.

Outside of work I was suffering with sleepless nights due to the stress and worry. The bullying went on for four years and only ended when the headteacher retired.

I remember the day I heard the news. I felt such a wave of relief and joy that the situation was coming to an end that I cried. I have never done that in front of a class before, but I was overcome with emotion. 

Since she left, there has been a huge improvement. One member of the senior management team who worked under her has shown signs of carrying on the negative legacy, but I reported this to the new headteacher. It was dealt with very quickly and efficiently.

I’m trying to move on and find a way to process what took place over those years. I still love teaching and I’m not willing to let my negative experience spoil that for me.

I’ve also now joined a union so I can feel more protected and supported at work. I hope that by bringing these issues to light we can encourage more dialogue about bullying and help victims to realise it’s not their fault and they are not alone.

The writer is a primary teacher in the north of England and has recently become a NASUWT (@nasuwt) member. She was supported by the union to tell her story.

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