A school of bullies is no place to get an education

My school, it was recently revealed, is to be investigated following allegations of "outrageous bullying" among staff. As a sixth-form pupil, this comes as no surprise.

Most school pupils are taught not to bully, to address confrontation calmly, to treat others with respect – yet no such example is being set by teachers at the Stromness Academy.

A letter sent to Orkney Islands Council, which was signed by 40 of the school's 63 staff, claims there is an "atmosphere of fear and oppression" within the school. The letter also alleges that pupils are spoken to in an "aggressive way" for "minor offences".

Pupils here have grown accustomed to disproportionate responses to small issues: recently sixth-form students were informed that an inoffensive poster on a common room notice board amounted to criminal damage to a council building.

One teacher that I spoke to compares the disciplinary methods to those of Mrs Trunchbull in Roald Dahl's Matilda – "I'm big, you're little; I'm right, you're wrong" – adding that the school "has established an ethos that I absolutely do not want to be associated with; as a professional, or a human being".

But the big problem is the conflict among staff. In any school, a pupil being pulled out of a class to be spoken to has clear connotations. These do not change when it is a teacher being called out during a lesson.

One fellow sixth-form pupil remarks: "Older pupils in the school are definitely aware of disagreements between members of staff." They add: "Teachers have come to class quite shaken up after a meeting."

At Stromness Academy, this has led to a sense that there is a divide between senior management and everyone else. One of the 40 signatories observed that pupils, after being disciplined, have "returned to class to apologise to their teacher, because it was clear to them the teacher was being implicitly criticised."

The issues in my own school highlight a wider problem. A recent survey found only 33% of Scottish teachers would recommend a career in teaching and a mere 12% are content with the workload.

A school is not merely an exam factory, churning out as many A-grade students as possible. It shapes young people's perceptions – and not just on an academic level. An unhealthy work environment is bad for teachers, but it also shows pupils what to expect in our own working lives.

What lessons are we to learn from our experience? Our school is teaching us that we can expect to be treated rudely and condescendingly by our superiors. If we go above and beyond our job description and scheduled hours, we will have our commitment treated as a nuisance. When we are in charge of a team, we should be intimidating and insulting in order to get the best from them.

How can we be expected to form a healthy attitude to the workplace when what we observe is anything but?

• Contacted by the Guardian for a response, the school referred us to Orkney Islands Council, which said: "We take the wellbeing of all our staff and pupils very seriously. In situations such as this, it is important that the council takes time to investigate matters in a full and fair manner, supporting all involved and giving them an opportunity to express their own views as part of the process.

"Arrangements are currently being made to investigate the concerns raised. Meanwhile, if pupils or their parents have any concerns, these can be raised with the school's guidance team or with education staff at the council.

"The school also needs to be in a position to operate as normal. This is particularly important as our young people take their national exams. In the interests of the school and the pupils we ask for a period of restraint while matters are addressed."

(Source: TheGuardian)


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