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Jean Walker

Outing Bullying

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I am feeling rather battered and bruised at the moment. Over the last decade a culture has been allowed to pervade our DoE of what someone describes as "command and control" which has ultimately flowed down from head office bureaucrats to principals and on to teachers. I think it came as a response to establishing our new and very radical curriculum and assessment and reporting which was not greeted with open arms by a substantial amount of teachers. It therefore had to be driven home almost by brute force if the momentum was to be maintained. This need for control and command eminated from the Minister's office and went down the line.

My union tried very hard to convince her that this was going on but it was constantly denied. At our recent election she polled very badly, was only just returned to her seat and was demoted to a less important portfolio.

With a new Minister coming in, I belived it was the right moment to start again and knowing that nothing would really happen by just raising the subject and asking for an inquiry, I made a speech to our Union Council last week which made the point that bullying had occurred. The speech was unanimously endorsed by Council with a request that it be made public. Of course, as I knew it would, the media jumped on it and it became very public. I am now in a position where I have scores of members telling me that for the first time they feel as if their union cares about them, while at the same time I am receiving angry letters and resignations from those members who are in curriculum offices who believe that I have "abandoned" them and "tarred everyone with the same brush".

I guess it was inevitable but I am feeling sad that these members are saying that I am uncaring and unfeeling, when I actually did it because I think I care too much. I could easily have ignored it all and led an easy life.

Anyone else had such an experience?

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I guess it was inevitable but I am feeling sad that these members are saying that I am uncaring and unfeeling, when I actually did it because I think I care too much. I could easily have ignored it all and led an easy life.

Anyone else had such an experience?

An interesting story. My experiences have not been as public as yours but there have been times when I have taken a position that has opened me up to attack by union members.

For example, I played a role in the shape of GCSE history and National Curriculum history. As a result I had to meet groups of teachers to defend these developments. The people who attacked these changes often did so in “union” based terms. “This is going to mean a lot more work” sort of argument. This was true and I attempted to defend these changes with the claim that the changes would improve the quality of education of their students. I believed it at the time, but later developments, mainly caused by interference by governments, undermined my claims. I must say that I feel a sense of guilt about this. I know that people like me caused a great deal of stress for teachers. Looking at the state of education at the present time, I am not convinced it was worth it.

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I must say that I feel a sense of guilt about this. I know that people like me caused a great deal of stress for teachers. Looking at the state of education at the present time, I am not convinced it was worth it.

I don't think you should. My reading of this is that you both faced the problem of supping with the devil, but not having a long enough spoon! However, what's the alternative? To withdraw and do nothing?

I think that the guilt should be put where it belongs - on the politicians and civil servants who screwed up what could have been a good educational system for political ends. The specific sin, in my book, has always been to demand specific outcomes from a process (i.e. the education of children) which can only provide certainty and specificity by subverting its own aims.

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I must say that I feel a sense of guilt about this. I know that people like me caused a great deal of stress for teachers. Looking at the state of education at the present time, I am not convinced it was worth it.

I don't think you should. My reading of this is that you both faced the problem of supping with the devil, but not having a long enough spoon! However, what's the alternative? To withdraw and do nothing?

I think that the guilt should be put where it belongs - on the politicians and civil servants who screwed up what could have been a good educational system for political ends. The specific sin, in my book, has always been to demand specific outcomes from a process (i.e. the education of children) which can only provide certainty and specificity by subverting its own aims.

This reflects the moral dilemma concerning the degree of involvement that an individual commits himself to government reforms of the education system.

I remember an INSET session that I ran for the heads of history in Gwent during the period when the government was consulting with teachers about the contents of the History National Curriculum. As it happens, I had provided two earlier sessions for this group of teachers. In 1981 I had run a session on the use of computers in history teaching and in 1984 on the introduction of GCSE. One head of history, who I had a great deal of respect for, made a remark that I found devastating. He said that this so-called consultation phase was a smokescreen. Therefore he suggested that instead of holding a discussion I should just tell him what the government wanted him to do. I thought he was wrong at the time but I have discovered over the years that he was completely right. That I was being used as some sort of salesman. It was a comment that I was often to recall in the future when I was on the receiving end of a “consultation” meeting. By this time I was aware that this so-called consultation was just an effort to persuade teachers that they had “ownership” over this particular reform.

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John, this is exactly what has happened here. We have been told over and over by the bureaucrats that our new system was "co-constructed". There was a little bit of this right in the beginning but it was then totally hijacked by the bureaucrats and top-driven down under what even the Minister in today's paper also describes as a "command and control culture" that he will not tolerate.

I suspect there are a lot of very uneasy top bureaucrats around at the moment. However, I do believe it had to be done and I agree with David that the blame should be put where it belongs on the politicians and top bureaucrats. Unfortunately, some choose to feel that they have been unfairly included in any general description.

I have been called to a meeting with what are loosely termed our curriculum officers who, although not top bureaucrats, were part of the top-down process and are feeling "tarred with the same brush". They probably know they were slightly guilty but also feel "it was not their fault". A bit like John's experience, I suppose. Oh well, it's what I'm paid for. Whether the new Minister will really be able to change it, remains to be seen.

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