‘Bullying of staff does occur in schools,’ report says

Published 04 May 2009

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A national online survey of school teachers has shown that almost all of the participants have been the targets of some form of bullying in the workplace.

More than 800 school staff members participated in the study, which found that 99.6 per cent of them had experienced one or more of the 44 kinds of bullying listed in the survey.

The Executive Summary of the research team’s report, published this week, says the results “highlight the indisputable fact that bullying of staff does occur in Australian schools”. “When bullying affects the mental and physical health of those being bullied, as results show, then it is time for some action to be taken to eliminate staff bullying,” the report says.

“The survey’s findings are highly disturbing, as zero tolerance to any form of bullying is the expected norm in Australian schools,” said the University of New England’s Dr Dan Riley, who led the team that conducted the research.

The research focused on answering the following questions: “Does bullying of staff occur? Who are the bullies and who are the targets? Who are the persistent bullies? Who are the primary targets? What forms of bullying of staff occur? What is the effect of bullying on the individual? Are there gender differences in the incidence, form and effects of bullying? What strategies diminish the practice of bullying?”

Dr Riley said the results showed that bullying was “very much related to a power imbalance”, with the target of bullying usually being lower in the staff hierarchy than the perpetrator. “The report reveals that the most persistent bullies were identified as the school executive staff and then the principal, and that the typical victim is a teacher,” he said.

“Staff bullying at schools relates to situations where an adult is either the perpetrator or target of bullying,” he explained. “It has been defined as ‘repeated and persistent negative acts towards one or more individual(s) which involve a power imbalance and create a hostile work environment.” The 44 kinds of bullying listed in the survey include “tasks set with unreasonable or impossible targets or deadlines”, “attempts to belittle and undermine your work”, and “areas of responsibility removed or added without consultation”.

“A major implication of the results is the role that leadership should be taking in eliminating the phenomenon of staff bullying,” the report says.

Dr Riley’s colleagues on the research team were Professor Deirdre Duncan from the Australian Catholic University National, and the statistical analyst John Edwards. The survey covered primary and secondary schools in both the government and non-government sectors in all Australian States and Territories.

The Executive Summary of the research report (Investigation of Staff Bullying in Australian Schools, Riley D., Duncan D.J. and Edwards J., 2009) is available free at www.schoolbullies.org.au, and the full report will be available later this month at info@schoolbullies.auz.info.