The Bermuda Triangle

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What happens when teachers are judged to be incompetent?.
This post is on behalf of an anonymous teacher who has given me permission to publish their story. Is this is a growing problem that needs to be discussed amongst teachers? This anonymous teacher thinks it does need discussion. 

This [teacher] would be very interested to read about other people’s experiences and how schools seem to be bullying experienced and expensive staff. “It seems to be a race to the bottom for costs, skills and experience. Not everyone wants a promotion!”

Results in free-fall!

I was treated unprofessionally and very poorly, with no right of appeal. After trying to relocate, I started working in a school in Special Measures after countless interviews in a number of years. The number of jobs that were given to (NQTs) Newly Qualified Teachers instead of me, with feedback stating I “had done nothing wrong” was proving time after time, that I was too expensive.

I will admit that I was not ready for promotion at that time. 

After a successful interview, my former school gave me UPS (Upper Pay Spine) and the new school did not seem happy with this decision. Previously, the department I worked with had all left and I was one of the replacements. As it was a January start into the academic year, the examination courses were nowhere near complete, and coursework had not begun. Student predictions and results were in free fall!

Eventually, we stabilised results and planned to improve next year. By November of the same year, the head of faculty left due to ‘ill health’ and we were informed later, that he had been forced out by threats of competency [as he had told us after leaving].

The Bermuda Triangle!

In 18 months, one deputy and one assistant principal, four teachers and an NQT vanished with no warning! Other colleagues joked about the Bermuda Triangle and where they had disappeared. 

I was called to a meeting with no warning and ripped to shreds by the new head of faculty and assistant principal.

shutterstock_505189753 Schematic vector map of the Bermuda Triangle.

Image: Shutterstock

The meeting was about ‘how grades were not all 4 levels of progress’. Impossible in the school. I was told after half-term that I was to be on a support plan and throughout all the time, the head of faculty said: “it’s nothing and don’t worry“. The help promised never materialised until two weeks before the end of the plan and in the re-observation of my classes.

I was told it was ‘inadequate’ and that I had made no progress. I was criticised because some students we’re ‘talking about football’ by the head of faculty instead of working! The students told me later they started talking just as I was walking over. 

shutterstock_339331112 Tired, stressed senior employee needs help. Frustrated elderly man with note on his forehead leaning his head on the table exhausted. Long working hours, aging concept

Image: Shutterstock

I was informed that I had failed the plan and called to another meeting. I was told that competency was next and I was offered to resign, which was accepted.

A lucky escape?

My union said that “I’d got a good deal and this is a common story“, and that most are forced out on the spot. Apparently, I was lucky! In the same week, four other members of the department were called in and threatened with the sack ‘for refusing competency procedures’ if they did not resign on the spot and leave that week. 

I was put under so much pressure I had a breakdown and my colleagues the same. Depression. My confidence was destroyed and I wanted out of teaching. I even thought I’d be better off dead! I had to have counselling and visit the doctor …

… I know this to be true for two friends: one who has left the profession to work in educational management and another who has gone to work in the private sector. Both suffered at the hands of unscrupulous bosses. One was taken to task over everything they did, from stapling bits of paper together to minuting meetings. The other was just fed up of being made to feel hopeless.” (TES)

Two of my colleagues and I eventually found new jobs at our first interview and had the mockery of praise for good interviews and lessons. I had the ‘reassurance’ I needed that what had happened to me would be kept confidential. My results were a big improvement on previous years whilst others who got terrible results were promoted. 

I hear colleagues telling me similar stories and I’d be keen to hear other stories. If I had no future there, surely I deserved a conversation and not this treatment and bullying?

Why is teaching the only job where your experience counts against you? 

What are your experiences? Please leave your comments below so that this teacher can feel supported; I will reply on this teacher’s behalf.

@TeacherToolkit

In 2010, Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit from a simple Twitter account through which he rapidly became the 'most followed teacher on social media in the UK'. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of being most influential in the field of education. He remains the only classroom teacher to feature to this day ... Sharing resources and ideas online as @TeacherToolkit, he has built this website (c2008) which has been described as one of the 'most influential blogs on education in the UK', winning the UK Blog Awards (2018). Read more...

13 thoughts on “The Bermuda Triangle

  • 8th November 2016 at 7:40 am
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    My husband, a head of faculty is going through exactly this right now, he doesn’t want to comment as he is fearful of being recognised. The the first term of the academic year, he was told he was a poor leader and that his teaching had suffered, during the first time this was mentioned he was offered a classroom teaching post and one week to think about it, if he didn’t accept he would be put into competency, which is what has happened. Each year this head has been in post the results have significantly dropped.
    In my own role I have experience of competency processes, what is happening to him is not credible of competency but appears to be bullying, no evidence was provided for the decision to go to competency, other than a letter making untrue claims of offering support for months, which can not be evidenced. His support plan details demands that apply to the whole school and classroom observations. Support is detailed as opportunity to observe other teachers – 4 weeks in this hasn’t materialised and materials provided, also not materialised, this week there is a promise of guidance for development plans, the deadline for which to be handed in was 3 weeks ago, which he obviously met. There is no coherence to the feedback from the observations he has had so far, making it difficult to show that he is making progress. Everything that he hands in is sent back with comments, he makes the adjustments then a new set of comments is added.
    His union has advised not to let the process graduate to a formal process but the head is managing this ‘informal’ process and HR are in the meetings so it looks a lot like formal now. The union have suggested making a deal of 3 months pay. I think it would be impossible for the head to evidence support to a hearing, the evidence would not pass muster at a tribunal – there is even an email stating that my husband is expected to meet shorter deadlines than the rest of the school, there are patchy incomplete appraisals which do not mention the issues raised in the competency. The difficulty is the process is really damaging his self esteem and confidence, so cutting and running is attractive, whereas I am sure he could go all the way and win an unfair dismissal case with the evidence currently available. I am aware that the poster is looking for support and this isn’t helpful other than to show he isn’t alone, support or advice would be gratefully received.

    Reply
  • 8th November 2016 at 8:46 am
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    Its very difficult to comment on individual circumstances where only one side is presented. That is not to say the details or the impact of the process are not as described but rather that it would be useful to hear a different angle. Either way, I am dismayed at bullying tactics to “move people on” and some of the advice I was offered as a head by some senior professionals to that end. The presumption that harassing is an acceptable method of applying pressure to a colleague – irrespective of any view one has of competence – is utterly despicable. Support plans are there for a purpose and that is (oddly enough) to support!

    A well considered support plan can work bloody wonders and rescue tired-of-constant-change colleagues from the misery of poor performance management and negative self reflection. In both ‘cases’ above I would suggest a comprehensive meeting with union officers experienced in HR issues to establish the core arguments on competence and the criteria laid down in the ‘support plan’. Next, and best undertaken with a supportive colleague (plus a small glass of your chosen tipple?), use a suitable metric (your choice of course but some of the language in the teachers standards might add an interesting dimension?) to examine strengths not weaknesses or deficits. Aim to ascribe at least 10 POSITIVE descriptors of you as a professional (most teachers on their own struggle to get 3!). Then get another trusted senior colleague to add 3 which best describe you and to offer examples of how you demonstrate these characteristics.

    The exercise alone is affirming and spirit lifting leaving one final decision – to stay working with unappreciative line managers (if indeed that is what they are?) and ethos or move to one where coaching forms the narrative of staff development.

    Reply
  • 8th November 2016 at 10:43 am
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    If I said “the lunatics are in charge of the asylum” you may understand the comparison. Unfortunately the two words that can finish a career are “competency” and “depression” and these are often wielded by frightened leaders (and aspiring ones) as a way of managing a situation beyond their competence. A high stakes system is the engine that drives this way of managing staff.

    Not all schools are like this. There are good leaders in good schools. The question is what do you do when you find yourself in a poor one with, more importantly in my experience, poor leadership.

    I would advise it is a case of “damage limitation” both for your health and career. This appears to be the approach of the unions in the above. But how? Having been through a very similar experience (even whilst passing my NPQH!) I am happy to be contacted to offer what practical advice I can . Having survived and thrived after leaving full time teaching I have also successfully coached teachers in a similar position. Here are some immediate steps you can take.

    1) Be objective – are you really incompetent or is it a construct created by others – be honest.
    2) If you are not at your best identify the cause. often this is trying to do too much so priorities.
    3) Keep records.
    4) Take control. For example if called to a meeting without warning do not engage in discussion, instead use the following phrase. “Thank you for drawing these matters to my attention. I will give what you have said my full attention. Can we arrange another meeting now for N weeks/days from now whilst I am here?”
    5) SOCIALISE – friends and family will help you keep things in perspective. At the moment it may be your career/passion etc but for now it is only a job.

    Reply
  • 8th November 2016 at 1:24 pm
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    You are not the only one and if a HT wants you out they will make it happen. I thought my union were there to protect memail. Unfortunately their advice was get out quick and find yourself another job. Easier said than done. The HT has the power to do what ever they want. I just hope they can sleep at night. Even their anti bullying/ long term sickness policies were not worth the paper they were written on. The support plan might as well have been called termination plan. I hope you manage to get a better job in a better school. Good luck

    Reply
  • 8th November 2016 at 7:27 pm
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    I returned from maternity leave to a department that had made some major errors in my absence. The HOD had entered pupils for the wrong unit of the then modular exam so all their efforts were in vain and the results plummeted. I was was told on my return the poor results were because I went on mat leave in the March before their exam. I was observed for PM in the last week of term and it was a disaster, my confidence had slowly been eroded by the school in the term I had been back at work having been told things like “we thought you wouldn’t come back” “we don’t have many married with children types in this school” ” your not as good in reality as were in interview” “do you think having a baby has made you crap at teaching”. I was given a “4” and failed my performance management, I contacted the union as I had been given three targets to achieve in 9 weeks so passing was highly unlikely. The union rep was also on slt and I was called for a meeting with the head who resented the fact I had contacted the union. Which I thought was my right as an employee. I then developed a stress induced medical condition that mimics pregnancy and menopause and I was signed off sick by my endocrinologist. Whilst off sick I received no advice or support from school. I made the decision not to return and resigned as I knew that I would face the same barrage of what was essentially bullying. My competence as a teacher was questioned because I had a child.
    I spent a year away from the classroom and then returned on supply. The first school I went to employed me permanently after 4 weeks there. I have been there 3 years now I have never faced anything like it since and my competence because I was a mother has never been questioned again. I am currently pregnant with my second child, I was terrified of telling school as I thought I would face the same problems again. I couldnt have been more wrong. Sometimes good schools are ran by bad people and sometimes playground bullies just grow up to become the teacher that runs the playground. Your circumstances whether they be family or ill health do not make you a bad teacher, lack of support when it is needed does. If you have been good or outstanding in the past in the right school you will be again. I am testememt to that!

    Reply
  • 23rd November 2016 at 9:30 pm
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    It’s extremely sad to hear of the amount of teachers that are forced out of their job by bullies. This happened to me 6 years ago. My life was made a living hell by the HT and resulted in me almost having a nervous breakdown. Whilst still in education, I no longer teach…

    Reply
  • 3rd December 2016 at 7:14 am
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    My experience was very similar to that you wrote about. I spent six months off work ill and returned to a part time post, I still struggle with confidence and have meltdowns with the formality of observations, but I realise now, I am, and always was a good teacher. I know I never want to return to the pressures of a full time role so my professional development is finished. Who knows what the future holds, but I do believe I am one of the lucky ones.

    Reply
    • 3rd December 2016 at 8:32 am
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      Best of luck Tracey – some of the best teachers I know work part-time. Important that all schools offer flexibility in the current climate of retention.

      Reply
  • 3rd December 2016 at 8:44 am
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    I feel this needs major discussion-bullying is exactly the word I would use. I’ve just had a ‘requires improvement’ observation-I did point out they were wrong to grade lesson. This is my grade despite my 5 year olds using similes and enjoying the lesson-every child was sitting at a desk engaged. The photos were criticized for being too small….my career hangs on photo size….this is why we need to discuss it. We have a new head. I was employed by a different head in January and the current lady is the third head we’ve had since then. I work hard and the children are at the centre of my work. I’m looking for another job, again mid year….I was not the only teacher to receive this grade. Trouble is I argued with observers-one of whom advised my top child to write an’I like’ sentence despite the success criteria saying use similes, which she then did under my guidance-awful mess we’re in.

    Reply
  • 3rd December 2016 at 11:55 am
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    I think I’m slowly being forced into a similar situation, if SLT want to they can make anyone appear incompetent. All I get from them when I ask for support is well what are you going to do about it, no effort to support me or help find solutions just that attitude of well it’s your problem so you solve it. I do solve nearly every issue that comes up but some require decisions or interventions from them, so they are either choosing not to help to make me look incompetent or they do not know how to resolve the issue and so bar it back to me. Either way they are causing a huge amount of stress for me and my team.

    Reply
  • 9th May 2019 at 10:45 pm
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    This hits home for me that I am too emotional to even write a coherent reply. I just want you to know that, unfortunately, you’re not alone. I have had the same experience which led to my resignation last December. I called them out in my resignation letter as verbal and emotional abusers and harassers because the fabricated reports they made contradicted all my previous reports, observations and accolades. It was just appalling. It is not good enough to hear that you are not alone because this is just admitting that those horrible bosses are out there and we’re just trying to cope around them while licking our wounds and supporting each other while they are the ones who need serious therapy. You know what makes it worst? I already work overseas in an international school which makes those megalomaniac, abusive bosses travel around spewing their toxicity. It’s like there is no escaping them. Don’t believe what they have said about you. You know your worth and you know you’re clever. The more we speak up about this and expose them for the abusers they are the better chances we have in eliminating this culture of workplace harassment that borderlines on defamation. It happens to be teacher appreciation week, remember that you are doing a fantastic job. Power to you ✊

    Reply

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