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This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Keith Munday

The Bullying of Teachers Through the Use of Formal Disciplinary Procedures

by Keith Munday 2003

Bullying: Definitions, Organisational Culture and Legal Obligations
Research Approach
Background Information on the Target of Bullying and the Bully
Disciplinary Procedures
Breaches of Disciplinary Procedures
Techniques Employed by the Bully


Bullying comes in many different guises; ranging from the primitive and blatant through to the subtle and heavily camouflaged. Included towards the latter end of this continuum of behaviours are those situations where the policies and procedures designed to ensure fairness and justice at work are used by unscrupulous managers to thwart these aims.

This article draws on a case study involving a teacher subjected to disciplinary action instigated by her head teacher, who, in the opinion of the writer, used the school’s disciplinary policy as a ‘weapon in her bullying armoury’. Examples of the head’s conduct which caused a serious deterioration in the teacher’s state of health are examined. Specific areas of procedural abuse are discussed with respect to the control of information and the exploitation of ineffective checks and balances.

The article endeavours to show that bullying can ‘stack the odds’ heavily in favour of the perpetrator, thereby ensuring the likelihood of justice is significantly diminished.


The insidious nature of bullying in the workplace is being increasingly exposed and the world of education is no exception as far as this phenomenon is concerned (e.g. Adams, 1992; ATL, 1996; Blase & Blase, 2003; European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, 2002; Field, 1996; Graves, 2003; Hoel & Cooper, 2000; NASUWT,1996; Randall, 1997; Randall, 2001; Rayner, Hoel & Cooper, 2002; Tehrani, 2001).

Whilst the importance of high ethical standards is espoused in public, the reality, as seen through the daily experiences of many teachers, is frequently very different. The way in which they are treated is all-too-often unfair, degrading, and arguably illegal. Given this state of affairs, this article considers the tactics of those educational managers who set out to malign the professional, as well as, the personal lives of their colleagues through abuse of the disciplinary process.

The term ‘workplace bullying’ conveys a range of nuances. The Andrea Adams Trust talks of:

Unwarranted, offensive, humiliating, under-mining [sic] behaviour towards an individual or groups of employees


An abuse of power or position, that can cause such anxiety that people gradually lose all belief in themselves, suffering physical ill health and mental distress as a direct result. (The Andrea Adams Trust, 1997, p. 1)

Einarsen’s definition (1998) highlights the feelings of the victim: bullying occurs “when someone persistently over a period of time, perceives him/herself to be on the receiving end of negative actions from one or several others, in a situation where the one at the receiving end has difficulties defending him/herself against these actions” (p.2). Randall (1997) comments: “Bullying is the aggressive behaviour arising from the deliberate intent to cause physical or psychological distress to others” (p. 4), whilst White (1999) emphasises the stress caused by the bully’s actions which in large measure are the result of “organisational factors, such as weak management or a culture of fear ……….” (p. 29).

There are compelling grounds for believing that bullying is rife within teaching. The UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line, founded in January 1996, dealt with 1,992 cases of bullying during the first 25 months of its operation, and approximately 20% of these cases concerned teachers, lectures and school administrative staff (Field, 1998). The most comprehensive research undertaken in the UK, by Hoel and Cooper (2000), found that teaching was amongst those occupations at highest risk from bullying with 15.5% of teachers stating they were currently being bullied, and 35.4% saying they had been bullied over the last five years.

Consideration of the issues involved is helped by having in mind those overlapping and interwoven concepts implied by organisational culture. The labels applied to the dynamics of the psychological contract and management style, provide a vocabulary which facilitates discussion of the issues involved. It is the constantly evolving reciprocal nature of relationships which matters to those who constitute the organisation’s workforce. And it is the ability of researchers to capture the essence of these relations hips which adds credibility to their findings and conclusions.

Power, control and authority are useful in explaining both why and how managers bully. Morgan (1998) mentions in his list of the sources of power: reliance on formal authority; the use of organisational structures, rules and regulations; control of decision processes; control of knowledge and information; and interpersonal alliances, networks and control of ‘informal organisations’. All of these are at the bully’s disposal and have a clear resonance in the light of the evidence presented in this article.

Notions of good practice and quality (Munday, 1999), coupled with the legal obligations imposed upon organisations, provide benchmarks or criteria, against which to examine the suitability of an organisation’s culture in practice for the business it is engaged in. West-Burnham’s (1997) seven key precepts help to aid our understanding of total quality; two of them, focusing on the customer and driving out fear, are worthy of note in this context. The significance of the former precept derives from the fact: “The customer is the raison d’être of the organisation and also provides the definition of quality” (p. 37). The customer is “anyone to whom a product or service is provided” (p. 41), and it, therefore, follows that customers include those who work within or for an organisation. When viewed in their capacity as recipients of services provided by schools, teachers are customers, and have the right to be treated with respect and courtesy by their employers. The significance of the latter precept relates to the fact that “the only way to a climate of improvement is to create a culture which is based on positive regard and a sense of being able to learn” (p. 37). It follows that schools cannot lay claim to being total quality organisations if they fail to act on any of the precepts. Bullying is the antithesis of behaviour based on positive regard.

Bullying is a major source of ill-health which can have profound consequences for organisations , as well as the victims. Employers may face heavy financial penalties and loss of reputation should they become subjected to legal action. They may also pay a high price in terms of increased levels of absenteeism, high staff turnover, and declining levels of performance, apathy and low morale. (European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, 2002; Trades Union Congress, 1998; Travers & Cooper, 1996). Problems associated with relationships with colleagues are a major factor causing stress amongst teachers (Webster, 1990; Brown & Ralph, 1994), and Health and Safety Executive publications are now including bullying as a cause of stress-related illness (e.g. 1997). Cooper has provided telling statistics: he estimates that bullying is responsible for one-third to one -half of employment-related sick leave (cited in Stephen, 1998), and “that some 40 million working days a year are lost because of bullying at work, more than 160 times the number of days lost through strikes. The cost to the overall economy probably lies between £3 billion and £4 billion a year” (cited in NASUWT, 1996, p. 1).

The implications of dysfunctional organisational culture have been highlighted in a number of reports dealing with abuse and malpractice. Scandals, such as those reported by the inquiry into children’s heart surgery at the Bristol Royal Infirmary (BRI Inquiry, 2001), are the more disturbing when they relate to a range of caring professions engaged in the provision of social services, medical treatment and education - areas where one would expect the highest standards of care and concern to ensure the safety and well-being of clients. A number of common themes emerge from the inquiries undertaken:

  • serious breakdowns in communication
  • flawed systems of managerial oversight
  • an unwillingness to act upon complaints which are merely ignored and swept to one side
  • a genuine sense of fear and helplessness on the part of those wishing to expose the truth
  • a climate of implied, and at times explicit intimidation, and
  • a disregard for the tenets of good practice and laid-down policies, let alone the law.

The judgements of employment tribunals and various inquiries make it clear there is often a complete breakdown in trust, in respect for natural justice, and in the application of the rule of law - all essential ingredients in caring and supportive relationships. Bullies have shown time and again an overwhelming contempt for the interests and well-being of their clients and fellow workers. They believe themselves to be unaccountable and above the law, and tend, at least in their own terms, to thrive where abuse is allowed to flourish and fester. The situation is compounded further when the bully occupies a position of leadership.

Whilst there is no legislation at the present time which specifically outlaws bullying, employers have legal obligations placed upon them to exercise a duty of care in order to safeguard the physical and mental health of their workers. If the employer engages in unreasonable behaviour which destroys the trust and confidence between employer and employee, the latter may be entitled to a claim for constructive dismissal (Joseph, 2000). Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations, 1999, employers are required to carry out risk assessments and to take appropriate action regarding the risks identified (Labour Research Department, 2001). Over time, it will be interesting to observe what impact the Human Rights Act, 1998, will have, and how successful the campaign to enact the Dignity at Work Bill will be.

We have a situation where many educational institutions have found it difficult to keep pace with the demands of constant initiatives and change (Munday, 1999). Short-term, ‘quick-fix’ answers have sometimes outweighed more appropriate, long -term considerations, and this has, on occasions, led to a denial of natural justice for those employees who have been subjected to the actions of management based on little more than ignorance or incompetence. Moreover, Ball (1998) states that the traditional bureaucratic professionalism of head teachers has been replaced in recent
times by a managerialism which is driven by a self-interest aimed at ensuring survival
whilst having to contend with the competitive nature of the educational marketplace.
He notes the “displacement of values-talk and of the ‘service ethic’” (p. 3), as well as
“ the dark side of the new relations and new organisational forms which manageri-alism brings into play” (p. 1). The growing sense of mistrust engendered amongst the workforce will inevitably adversely affect the employment relationship (Herriot, Hirsh, & Reilly,1998).


The case study is a much-favoured method of educational research, and its key features are dealt with extensively in the research literature. A major criticism of the case study is the inability to draw scientific generalisations from its findings, that is to say, generalisations for which there are no exceptions. However, as Bassey (1999) points out, fuzzy generalisations can be both useful and legitimate . These contain“ built-in uncertainty”, which is not necessarily a bad thing , in that:

…. in [using] the adjective ‘fuzzy’ the likelihood of there being exceptions is clearly recognised and this seems an appropriate concept for research in areas like education where human complexity is paramount. (p.52)

The writer wishes to make it clear that in addition to being an observer, he is also a participant in the research process as a result of his friendship with the teacher who is the main focus of this article. She first contacted him following a letter he had published in The Times Educational Supplement on the issue of bullying by school managers. As a result he offered practical support to help her deal with the problems she was encountering at work, including acting as her official representative on various occasions. Moreover, the writer acknowledges his own prejudices and deep feelings of injustice, which emanate from having been bullied himself, along with the fact that he is now involved in anti-bullying in the workplace support a nd campaign initiatives. He admits he is attracted by the emancipatory potential o f this kind of research and the opportunities it presents for facilitating social justice (Griffiths, 1998; Johnston, 2000).


For the purpose of this study the teacher who claims to be the target of bullying is referred to as X, and the Head Teacher, whom she regards as the main perpetrator of the bullying, is referred to as Y. The school in which they work is:

.......... a large primary school situated close to .......... [the] city centre and serving an area of acute social and economic disadvantage. Pupils live either in high-rise flats or in housing association or municipal housing. .......... The majority of pupils (85%) come from minority ethnic communities with over half (55.6%) having English as an additional language. (OFSTED Inspection Report, 1998, p. 13)

Teacher X is female, was born overseas, and was a late entrant to the profession. She speaks several la nguages; a considerable asset having regard to the pupils’ family backgrounds, and she has acted as a positive role model in carrying out the duties of a magistrate over many years. Her work as a subject co-ordinator was commented on in the most recent OFSTED Inspection Report in 1998:

The school policy and scheme of work are satisfactory and the co-ordinator has created an environment in which this subject is making a positive contribution both to the overall curriculum and to the life of the school. (p. 36).

Head Teacher Y, also female, was appointed from outside the school. Her management of the school is referred to in the Report in the following terms:

The management of the school is good. The recently appointed headteacher is providing very good leadership. She has a clear vision of the school and has begun, in the short space of time since her appointment, to introduce systems which will be effective in driving the school forward. (p. 24)

The reader will be able to judge the validity of these comments in the light of the views expressed in this article.


The School’s policy on staff discipline is contained in a 16-page document entitled Disciplinary Procedures and Misconduct of Teachers (Section 2.12, September 1997), hereon referred to as Disciplinary Procedures (Source: Teacher X). According to the Local Education Authority (LEA) the procedures need to be applied both in accordance with the Instruments and Articles of Government of the School, as well as the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service’s (ACAS’s) Code of Practice No. 1, ‘Disciplinary practice and procedures in employment’. The LEA is mindful of the potential consequences of failing to apply its disciplinary policy correctly:

If a disciplinary case should lead ultimately to dismissal and a claim for unfair dismissal were made to an industrial tribunal, the tribunal would examine the procedures as well as the reasons which led to the dismissal. If the employer’s stated procedures are not followed, the claim for unfair dismissal is likely to be upheld. ..........

[Also] failure to follow the [ACAS] Code of Practice makes an employer liable to lose a case at an industrial tribunal.

There are good reasons for both employers and employees having disciplinary rules and procedures (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, 2000). For example, they facilitate justice by:

  • promoting fairness in the treatment of individuals
  • setting standards of conduct at work
  • ensuring the standards are adhered to
  • providing a fair method of dealing with alleged failures to observe the rules

In order to achieve these objectives ACAS have provided a list of the essential features of disciplinary procedures. These cover such matters as:

  • the need to address the issue of confidentiality,
  • enabling employees to be given the opportunity to state their case before decisions are reached
  • the provision of the right of appeal and specification of the procedure to be followed

According to ACAS, employers should have regard for the requirements of natural justice, and procedures should not be viewed primarily as a means of imposing sanctions, but rather as a way of helping and encouraging improvement where an employee’s conduct or standard of work is unsatisfactory.


It is legitimate to ask why non-compliance with disciplinary procedures should be regarded as bullying in this particular case. The answer is to be found in the totality of X’s situation over a number of years. By way of just two, out of many examples:

  • she was the target of the Head Teacher’s shouting and intimidation, and was told in no uncertain terms that if she was unhappy she could look for a job elsewhere
  • her repeated requests for personal meetings were constantly dismissed by Y who would find ‘last minute’ reasons for not attending. However, the Head still found time to summon X to her office whenever she wished to complain about her performance.

The abuse of disciplinary procedures can, therefore, be seen as an integral part of an autocratic, bullying style of management.

Failures to conform to agreed, laid-down procedures will now be examined with reference to three examples of contraventions of the School’s Disciplinary Procedures.

Example 1: Contravention of Disciplinary Procedures Head Teacher’s failure to preserve confidentiality

The Disciplinary Procedures clearly refer to the professional obligation to maintain confidentiality.

A month before the disciplinary hearing the Head Teacher prepared a memo for X which detailed her reservations about the way she had administered Key Stage 1 Standardised Assessment Tests. It also contained her view: “I can only conclude that there is a prima facie case that you are either incompetent or that you have been wilfully cheating.” (Source: Teacher X) This was a defamatory statement; it represented a most serious accusation against X’s integrity and honesty, and its ramifications were far reaching. For the Head to make her views public served to confound matters even more.

Y’s conduct in this matter was raised at the disciplinary hearing. The disciplinary committee’s record of the hearing noted:

Head-teacher acknowledged the importance of confidentiality ………. ..........

The Head-teacher responded that after further investigation and speaking to [name of an LEA Co-ordinator] she agreed on [date] to retract this statement and offered her apologies to [X] which was accepted. (Source: Teacher X)

Contrary to the Head’s assertion, X maintains that at no point did she accept an apology, nor was she offered an apology. She was denied the opportunity to pursue the matter further, when an LEA official pronounced, writing on behalf of the Chair of the Governing Body, that the appeal process was to be terminated on grounds which X considered to be arbitrary and spurious.

Six months after this decision, X decided to express her views on Y’s conduct by writing a formal letter of grievance:

My grievance relates to an incident on .......... when, in front of other members of staff, you said directly to me: “I can only conclude that there is a prima facie case that you are either incompetent or that you have been wilfully cheating”.

I consider such action, and the way in which it was carried out, to be unprofessional and malicious. I felt bullied and humiliated in front of colleagues. The comments were damaging to my good name, my integrity and my reputation .......... As soon as you had uttered these words, you had put your reservations as to my competence and honesty in the public domain.

At the time, and ever since, I have found that what you said to me to be extremely distressing. I wish to put on record the fact that your comments have been a significant contributory factor in determining my state of health. (Source: Teacher X)

The Chair of the Governing Body decided not to let the matter go further as part of a formal grievance process, and there is no evidence of any action having been taken at any stage against Y for breaching confidentiality.

Example 2: Contravention of Disciplinary Procedures Head Teacher’s membership of the Disciplinary Committee

The Disciplinary Procedures explicitly state: “The head teacher shall not be a member of any disciplinary committee ..........” This important safeguard prevents a head from acting as investigator, judge and jury in the same case.

The Disciplinary Committee’s own record of the meeting shows that this provision was ignored. An ACAS Adviser has stated that the record is unequivocal; the only conclusion that can be drawn is the Head had been a member of the Committee. Furthermore, the Clerk to the Governing Body has confirmed that the record was authorised and approved by the Chair of the Disciplinary Committee before being circulated.

It was manifestly a breach of due process and a denial of natural justice. Not only was it proscribed by the Disciplinary Procedures, but Y’s position was further compromised when, by involving herself in the gathering of evidence, and in the decision to proceed with the hearing, she had publicly expressed her doubts over X’s competence and honesty.

Example 3: Contravention of Disciplinary Procedures Incorrect implementation and termination of X’s suspension

X believed that the manner in which she was suspended showed contempt for her rights and feelings.

On the same day that the Head Teacher read out a memo addressed to X in front of others (see “Example 1”), she also issued a letter to X in which she wrote:

I am now requesting you to go home on paid leave as I need to carry out an investigation. I am unable to discuss the matter with you further until you are called for interview with a committee of the Governing Body, and I will let you know when this has been arranged.

In the meantime, you should not attempt to visit the school premises or make contact with other parties involved in the matter. (Source: Teacher X)

ACAS has confirmed that the letter, by its contents, constitutes a notice of suspension. Although the Head is pursuing the course of action in order to carry out an investigation, the Disciplinary Procedures state that an investigation should precede the decision to suspend, except in the case of employees suspected of gross misconduct. The concept of gross misconduct is dealt with at some length in the Disciplinary Procedures, and it would be perverse to argue that X’s alleged conduct would fall within this category of misconduct.

The Disciplinary Procedures require that, “The employee along with two witnesses (one for the head teacher and one for the employee) should be informed in person of the decision to suspend .......... and written confirmation of the decision shall be sent immediately afterwards.” It would be wrong, therefore, to infer that the letter of suspension itself should be read out in front of witnesses, especially as it has to contain information in addition to the notification of suspension itself. As already indicated, the issuing of the written confirmation only follows after the employee and the witnesses have been advised of the decision to suspend. Notwithstanding this, and the Disciplinary Procedures stated need for confidentiality, and the fact that “ PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL” was clearly placed at the head of the letter, the Head Teacher made the contents of the letter public. This must have been a deliberate decision on Y’s part because she had specifically requested that witnesses be present to hear what she had to say. Moreover, it follows from the Head’s conduct that the value of statements presented at the hearing was compromised in that the witnesses may have been influenced by knowing their Head Teacher’s low opinion of X.

The way in which the suspension was lifted also raises concerns, as an “employee must not return to school .......... until the governing body’s decision to end the suspension is communicated to the employee in writing.” As X received no writte n correspondence from the Governing Body, but was initially advised she could return by Y in a telephone call, she questions the extent to which the LEA was aware of her.© Keith Munday 2003 14 situation, and whether or not another aspect of the suspension policy was complied with, viz: “Any such suspension may be ended only by the governing body, which shall inform the local education authority and the head teacher concerned immediately.”


Based on ‘the facts’ of the case outlined so far and the writer’s many conversations with Teacher X, it is possible to postulate a variety of techniques employed by the Head Teacher as part of her (ab)use of the Disciplinary Procedures.

The writer’s views are based on assumptions which may not be shared by everyone - and certainly not Y, whose comments have not been sought. Nevertheless, if one accepts the Head has bullied X, or accepts there are grounds for suspecting that this might be the case, then it is legitimate to speculate as to what these techniques might be. Indeed, the identification of malpractice requires suspicion in the first instance in order to initiate and then guide any investigation. The credibility of such speculation can be judged, not only with reference to X’s views on her treatment, but equally importantly, with reference to the documentation in X’s possession which contains statements made by the Head Teacher, the Chairman of the Governing Body and various LEA officials, indicating their thinking and reasoning when dealing with X.

For the purposes of this article, speculation will concentrate on two techniques. The first relates to the control of information which was exercised in such a way so as to be detrimental to the interests of X. This was the case when the Head Teacher:

  • denied X the opportunity to check and, where appropriate, challenge the accuracy of records of meetings;
  • failed to respond to legitimate questions regarding accountability and the suitability of action taken;
  • refused to supply documentation, even when there was a legal obligation to do so; and
  • was obstructive when asked to supply copies of school policy documents.

An illustration of the Y’s attitude is demonstrated in an extract from a letter written to Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools, Chris Woodhead:

……… . I have written to [Y], Head Teacher, requesting a number of documents, viz the school’s latest Ofsted inspection report, the school prospectus, and copies of the school’s health & safety, equal opportunities, teacher professional development & training, and anti-bullying/ harassment policies (or their equivalents). .......... The Head Teacher has responded by stating: “I will not be supplying you with any of the documents or information that you request.” ..........

I should particularly like to raise with you the issue of [Y’s] refusal to supply me with a copy of the school’s latest Ofsted inspection report. ..........

Two of your colleagues at Alexandra House have advised me on the telephone, that inspection reports are in the public domain, and refusal to provide them is contrary to a school’s legal obligations. ..........

Not only do I find [Y’s] failure to respond positively to my request as unhelpful and discourteous, but I also believe it to be prejudicial to [X’s] interests at the forthcoming appeal hearing. (Source: Teacher X)

The writer personally asked Chris Woodhead’s successor, Mike Tomlinson, about head teachers denying access to inspection reports. His response was unequivocal: “ They are breaking the law.” (Munday, 2001)

The view that Y was uncooperative is reinforced when, nine months later, X again requested copies of the policies on health and safety, equal opportunities, and harassment. Y wrote:

You have written to me before requesting Policy documents. In providing these for you I am using valuable time which could be better directed to my main aim which is to provide a quality education for all the children at [name of School]. ..........

Could you please direct any further requests for policies to the Personnel Department of the Local Authority. (Source: Teacher X)

The hint of exasperation indicates Y’s lack of appreciation of the importance of the issues being raised by X, as well as her own responsibility to supply the information. The Head’s actions raise the obvious question: what is the point of the School having policies if the teaching staff cannot gain access to them?

X’s reaction to the letter was to write to an official in the personnel section mentioning the fact that her previous request for policy documents had been met with a blanket refusal on the Head’s part. She then proceeded to draw attention to a number of issues:

As [Y] has sent me an incomplete version of the [name of Local Authority] Equal Opportunities in Employment Policy document, I would be grateful if you would let me have a copy of the complete document.

In response to my request for information on health and safety, [Y] has sent me a single sheet entitled Health and Safety Policy Statement prepared during the period of the headship of her predecessor .......... The final paragraph states:

“A comprehensive whole school policy is available in school. One copy is kept in the main staff room and another one is retained by the headteacher. Staff should make themselves familiar with the contents of this policy and refer to it when necessary.”

I have searched for this document in the main staff room, on a number of occasions, but without success. If it is in the staff room, then for a document of its importance I would suggest it is not located in a sufficiently prominent position. As I wish to make myself familiar with the contents of the policy, I would be grateful if you would advise me on how I might be able to find or gain access to the document. (Source: Teacher X)

The official forwarded a complete copy of the equal opportunities policy to X, and went on to contradict the Head by asserting: “School policy documents are entirely a matter for the school and therefore I suggest you ask the school secretary where the document you seek is filed.” No doubt X’s determination to pursue this matter, at the same time sharing her correspondence with the Chairman of the Governing Body, would not have endeared her to the Head Teacher. Certainly, as far as X was concerned, she detected no improvement in the way Y continued to behave towards her. An outsider would have been intrigued by Y’s conduct, bearing in mind how much time she could have saved herself by supplying the policies in the first place - assuming they were available.

The second technique, relates to the exploitation of ineffective ‘checks and balances’. The term exploitation implies deliberate intent, and needs to be used with caution. Even assuming there had been no deliberate intent on Y’s part, there are still grounds for asserting a failure on the part of those responsible for overseeing the management and ethos of the School, to undertake their duties with due diligence. This failure, whilst not instigating the bullying, allowed it to take hold and flourish. Either, or both, of these explanations seem(s) feasible.

As far as deliberate exploitation is concerned, is it hard to believe that LEA officers, and the members and Chair of the Governing Body, along with its Clerk, supposedly possessing an understanding of procedural matters and wishing to undertake their duties conscientiously, could have allowed such significant violations of process to happen in the first place, and, once they had occurred, would not have wished to investigate such apparent failures? X found she had to stay permanently on guard against what appeared to her to be a constant stream of insupportable and unwarranted decisions, and she was the one who ultimately paid the price, in terms of the debilitating effects upon her health, morale, and performance in the classroom.

The opportunity for head teachers to exploit the situation to their own advantage has been identified by the NASUWT (1999) in its presentation of evidence on the role of school governors to the House of Commons Education and Employment Committee. The Union maintains:

Governing bodies have responsibility for all personnel matters. The inherent weakness in the system is that governors lack the necessary expertise to deal with often complex employment issues .......... In addition, many governors view their role simply to be supportive of school management. Consequently, ………. if a disciplinary procedure has been instigated by the headteacher, governors are more inclined to be influenced by misplaced loyalty to the manager rather than by evaluation of the evidence presented. (page 7, paragraph 30)

Bearing in mind the lead roles of chairs and local education officials when appointing head teachers, it would seem hardly surprising they should not want to give credence to the view that they might have made a wrong decision. They cannot be seen to be responsible for a decision which reflects badly on themselves and the reputation of the school; a condemnation of one is in effect a condemnation of them all. In these circumstances, it takes considerable courage on the part of well-intentioned, but inexperienced governors to seriously probe behind the actions of heads which cause them concern - a situation which is compounded by the realisation that many heads insist on keeping governors uninformed on many important matters (Thornton, 2002), and the knowledge that some heads and chairs of governing bodies appear to be in collusion with each other when it comes to preparing agendas and dealing with procedural issues at meetings (Sallis, 2001).


The case discussed in this article demonstrates a complete breakdown in the psychological contract, and it is argued that the disregard for official policies and procedures, in spirit and in letter, is indicative of a slide into a culture of bullying and abuse. It is the attitudes displayed, the decisions taken, and the actions of senior managers that are the manifestations of an organisation’s true culture. In many respects legal requirements and policy documents say very little, in themselves, about a particular institution. On the other hand, the degree to which the relevant legislation and policies are adhered to, or ignored, can say a great deal.

Teacher competence is not the issue at stake in this context; justice most certainly is. Greenberg and Lind (2000) have stated that in situations dealing with conflict resolution and complaints, employees are much happier with the outcomes - even when they are undesirable - of adjudicative procedures when they have had the opportunity to present their evidence and voice their concerns. Positive perceptions of justice and fairness are also enhanced when they are treated with dignity and respect. It is axiomatic that attempts by managers to deliberately contravene the provisions of their own disciplinary procedures, especially when formulated in line with the ACAS approach, will lead to a denial of justice. A single act of contravention, when based on ignorance, and which is capable of being rectified, may seem to be relatively trivial and excusable. A number of contraventions based on ignorance constitutes misuse of the procedures. They indicate managerial incompetence, and may lead to harmful consequences, albeit unintentional. Repeated and deliberate contraventions, on the other hand, warrant total condemnation. Misuse becomes abuse when it represents integral part of an overall campaign of prejudice, intimidation and harassment. It represents the actions of bullies, who, far from viewing the procedures as a means of protecting rights and ensuring justice, cynically see the abuse of the procedures as a crucial weapon in their bullying a rmoury.


Teacher X - X gave permission for the writer to have access to her correspondence, notes, copies of policy documents, disciplinary papers, etc. for the purposes of this assignment.

Adams, A. (1992). Bullying at Work: How to Confront and Overcome It, London: Virago.

Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (2000). Draft Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures, Public consultation document, Strategy Directorate, ACAS.

The Andrea Adams Trust (undated - obtained by the writer in 1997). The Andrea Adams Trust Factsheet on Workplace Bullying.

ATL (1996). Bullying at Work: A Guide for Teachers, London: Association of Teachers and Lecturers.

Ball, S.J. (1998). Good Management Makes Good Schools? What are We Doing to Ourselves?, Essay/notes prepared for a talk given to a group of Head Teachers, Chesterfield.

Bassey, M. (1999). Case Study Research in Educational Settings , Buckingham: Open University Press.

Blase, J. & Blase, J. (2003). Breaking the Silence: Overcoming the Problem of Principal Mistreatment of Teachers, Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin Press.

BRI Inquiry (2001). Learning from Bristol: The Report of the Public Inquiry into Children’s Heart Surgery at the Bristol Royal Infirmary 1984-1995, CM 5207(1).

Brown, M. & Ralph, S. (1994). Managing Stress in Schools, Plymouth: Northcote House.

Einarsen, S. (1998). ‘Norwegian Research on Bullying at Work’, The International Harassment Network First Annual Conference on Harassment and Bullying in the Workplace, Proceedings of the First Annual Conference held at The Oxford Conference Centre, Oxford, on 13 and 14 May 1998, pp. 1-8.

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© Keith Munday 2003

Just Fight On! Centre Against Workplace Bullying UK, 40 Liverpool Road, Slough, SL1 4QZ
Telephone 01753 610536 Email info@jfo.org.uk

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