Friday 19 January 2018

Two out of five principals are being bullied at work

John Walshe Education Editor

TWO out of every five primary school principals are being bullied at work, a shocking new study reveals.

And the problem is now so common that many school heads are suffering from depression and anxiety, with a small minority claiming they have had suicidal thoughts.

A quarter of those bullied actually fear going to work every day.

The bullying takes the form of everything from shouting and abusive language, ignoring requests, repeated criticism, ridicule and rumour to undermining the principal's work.

The first comprehensive nationwide survey of workplace bullying among primary school principals in Ireland -- seen by the Irish Independent -- reveals that a significant number are bullied on a regular basis.


A quarter of principals are being bullied almost every day in their own schools, a third on a weekly basis.

The study confirms earlier ESRI research, which found educational institutions have the second highest incidence of workplace bullying after the health sector.

"It (survey) shows that the primary school is a work arena in which unacceptably high levels of bullying thrive," Dr Paul Stevens, a principal in West Cork who conducted the survey among 746 of his colleagues, said.

For many principals, schools do not provide a safe working environment in which they can discharge their professional duties and lead school communities effectively, he said.

Instead, schools are often places where principals are frequently challenged by a wide range of negative behaviours and where fear, anxiety and isolation are not uncommon.

Dr Stevens, who is continuing his research with the School of Education at TCD, found the biggest bullies were other teachers or deputy principals, followed by parents and members of boards of management.

Key causes of bullying of principals by teachers are: the implementation of policies (25pc); requesting teacher documentation (23pc); and addressing teacher professional competence (17pc). Disappointed candidates for the post of principal can also be a source of bullying.


The three most common reasons for bullying by parents are: displeasure at principals' decisions (33pc); issues concerning pupil discipline (15pc); and criticism of educational provision (15pc).

As a direct result of bullying, principals experience: anxiety (67pc); loss of self-confidence (52pc); lack of sleep (57pc); depression (29pc); serious ill-health (8pc); and suicidal thoughts (3pc).

"Of serious concern also is the finding that 47pc of bullied principals experience isolation. This is not surprising as the study has already shown how principals are frequently bullied by those with whom they work closest," Dr Stevens added.

Dr Stevens warned the issue must be tackled immediately. If not, "this menacing and destructive aspect of principals' workplaces will continue to undermine their professional role, be injurious to their health and emotional well-being, negatively influence their personal lives and have long-term damaging consequences for school communities in general", he warned.

The Irish Primary Principals' Network (IPPN) last night called for procedures to resolve instances of adult bullying in schools.

"The scourge of bullying in any workplace has serious consequences. When the principal of the school is the target of bullying it has disastrous implications for the whole school community," IPPN national director Sean Cottrell said.

Irish Independent

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