Toxic Headteacher: When A Bully Plays With Your Career

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Toxic People

A Teacher

I'm a teacher and sometimes I'm a combination of more than one voice. I'm sharing the things that are going on in our schools - things that need to be talked about and brought to your attention via anonymity - meaning I'm safe from attribution...
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What happens when the education system lets you down?

I am no longer a teacher because of a toxic Headteacher and I fear that my story may be all too familiar. I write to raise awareness and for closure. That chapter in my life is over; I am happy once again.

Leadership gloating

I was a member of the senior leadership team (SLT). It was custom and practice that emails would be sent day and night and throughout the weekend despite our policy stating differently. A work-life balance did not exist.

One such Sunday I received an email from the head teacher to our SLT gloating that they had got rid of a member of staff and had two more to go, by whatever means necessary. The head used a derogatory term that I cannot use here for fear of recognition. The following week I expressed my discomfort to the deputy head and as is custom and practice, they agreed but nothing was done.

I continued to challenge decisions being made but knew that my card was marked. Things began escalating when I was told to leave my union to show my loyalty! The politics were ugly and things were toxic.

The headteacher decided …

It is worth noting that I wasn’t a big trade unionist, up to this point I’d used them for the discounts my membership brought and nothing else. How things changed!  I received a written apology which accepted that the things were said; but that I over-reacted. For the first time in a 15+ year career, I had brought the union into school; I had a bullseye on my back and had become a moving target.

The head teacher took on my performance management and that of my team. Suddenly, I am an inadequate teacher; I am unable to complete documents and I am too generous when assessing my team. All things that were disproven by Ofsted and other members of the SLT – conducting paired observations and exams analysis – but the head teacher had decided.

Things reached ‘toxic levels’ when the head teacher accused me of sharing a Sunday night email with colleagues. This is something that I did not do. Despite the head’s best efforts, I remained professional in the face of adversity. Even though there was no evidence, letters were issued inviting me to a disciplinary hearing. The Headteacher believed it was me.

I made contact with my union and asked if they could get me out of the school by whatever means necessary. I would not and could not work for such an immoral, unethical, narcissist.

Beware of settlement agreements

Settling agreements are deeply unsettling. I, like so many others, (4 similar stories in the two years I was there) reached an agreement. The letter stipulated an agreed reference; proformas for recruitment would be completed in the spirit of the settlement agreement and that the terms would remain confidential.

  • Interview One: My reference is titled an ‘Agreed Reference’. A breach you say?
  • No, an administrative error. I apologise. Oops.
  • Interview Two: “Tell me, can you work well with senior leaders?”
  • Phone calls have taken place, and not in the “spirit of the agreement”.
  • The Union response? “There is nothing we can do.”
  • Interview Three: I ask for interview notes. Scribbled out but clearly legible “XXX is trouble”.
  • This wasn’t in my agreement! Indeed I have an unblemished record, but clearly, the head teacher has decided.

As I write this, my union is procrastinating.

My advice, beware when taking a settlement agreement; the union is happy to be a stretcher bearer and negotiate an agreement for you, but they are not so happy to push for ‘legal action’ when the head teacher breaches the agreement

I am no longer a teacher. That chapter in my life is over; I am happy.

21 thoughts on “Toxic Headteacher: When A Bully Plays With Your Career

  1. This article was very close to my heart. For very different reasons (and I’m bound by the terms of a non-disclosure agreement) I have been forced to resign from a teaching position in another country. This country is rife with bullying, both in schools and the wider workforce, and I have not met many people who haven’t experienced work-place bullying at some level. The toxic environment in which I have spent the last few years working, with leadership making every wrong decision they possibly could, has led to me being jobless and bereft of confidence. In the UK, I was considered a highly effective teacher. Years of being devalued and eventually being given the choice of suing my school at great cost to myself, or walking away with a pathetic settlement agreement, has left my family and I in pieces. And all this in the context of me getting the best results in the school and being hugely popular with kids and parents alike. In the end, the toxic power-brokers won out. As it stands, I have no intention of walking into a classroom again, which is sad because I valued my profession and the impact I had on young people. Staff well-being is by far the most important issue of teaching today. Its also something that is in desperate need of addressing in both the UK and the country in which I now work(ed).

  2. I too have left teaching because of a bullying head. It wasn’t just me though. By the end of three years, nearly the whole teaching staff had left and around 30 staff in total. I appealed to the union, and was told they wouldn’t support me because it was my word against his. I lodged a formal grievance which somehow was turned into a complaint. I am so much happier now, to not be in education. I don’t actually know how anyone does it anymore under such intense pressure from so many sources. Your managers are supposed to support you, mine didn’t and unfortunately, it seems to be the case in so many schools now.

    1. Hi Ceri Williams-I really would like to talk to you -am in a similar situation now?
      Are there any solicitors specializing in headmaster/teacher bullying?

  3. I love my current job and my current head was previously a deputy at my old school. He has a high opinion of me, and in my workplace I feel valued. In my previous post, however, I felt hounded simply for being the wrong kind of person. The Head did not like me on a personal level and it remains unclear why – I suspect because I am the type of person he acted at being, and fooled nobody. He insisted on a protocol for all teachers, including scripted language in both classroom speech and within emails. Everything I did was wrong – the way I sat, the way I spoke, the way I scribbled on paper during a staff training session. I existed in a culture of fear, waiting for what was next. I cannot go into how many things he put me through without being specific enough to give him away. he is no longer in post, thankfully. A good Head who supports you and allows you to be yourself is invaluable and I cannot express my gratitude enough for having one now.

  4. This exists almost everywhere. Some people become so consumed with the position that they forgot what they are there for. Leadership that’s understood negatively. Humility, forgotten.

  5. Same here. Had to leave a job I loved because of the head. Why are they allowed to continue and have power over their staff and decide who stays and who goes? I feel so bitter and angry. Trying to move forward but it’s hard.

  6. I am working with a head that is very similar. The better you are the worse he looks. Will not make any decisions and hates to admit you have good ideas and are productive. He protected two bullying members if staff that all slt knew were purposefully sabotaging my work in the school with t and l. Both close to retirement and clearly not liking any change. Rather than deal with these two members of staff he then went on to start an investigation against me. Powerless, i knew I had to play the game and make it go away. Everything he had said was rubbish- we both knew it! Now, a few months on I’ve made a grievance against him, it’s the only way I could survive. I knew I was being watched carefully. I’ve been creating a time line of events for my union. I can’t believe I put up with so much!!!! I was failed on even single level by this head teacher who couldn’t see past his own ego! What’s more he’s still being protected by the powers at the top- all politics!!! The only way to survive is to ignore your instincts that something is seriously wrong, which means you have to compromise your integrity. For some it’s just not worth it. I can’t wait to get out. I’m going to find a new job and get out quick!!! Ive even considered leaving teaching. At the end of the day I think it’s about the personal investment good teachers put into their work. You wake up and realise it’s just not worth it!!!!

  7. This sounds very familiar… I’m in a very upsetting situation right now and hoping to get out but worried about references. Last year my observations were all excellent, children made good progress and I am liked by pupils, parents and (most!) staff. However, the head has taken a dislike to me and has tried to criticise me in any way possible, including resorting to blatant lies. I responded to all unfair allegations as I wanted to set the record straight. Now I am under constant surveillance – extra observations, extra ‘book looks’. What’s worse is that my class is suffering for it too and, bless ’em, they don’t understand why. Their recent achievements haven’t been acknowledged by school at all. In a school that hands out certificates for everything, this has really stood out and parents are confused as to why. Right… Off to work on job applications!

    1. Hey, how are you now?
      I’m in a similar hellish situation. I hope you have got out of yours and things are better for you now.

  8. Same my head teacher refused to give me a reference and being the only job after qualifying and needing a teaching reference to get a new job in teaching leaves me problems. I can’t work in teaching anymore due to not having a teaching reference and I can’t move on. I have to leave a career.

    1. I’m so sorry to hear that. I’m in a similar position. Have you contacted the unions to help you get your references?

  9. I’m in a toxic school. Head has made up bizarre comments about me that I can prove are untrue and is refusing to now meet to discuss. I’m being forced to stay off work due to the stress of it. She seems to be able to do and say whatever she wants. It’s stressful and frustrating to see a school I love be ruined by her ego. She lies, bullies, misuses the budget, has employed someone she knows should be struck off for their behaviour. But no one cares.

  10. Good evening, I am a parent writing as I believe our primary school has a bullying headteacher which is creating a toxic culture amongst the staff, which in turn is making things quite unpleasant when interacting with the school as parents. Our son has been a pupil for nearly two years, with his younger sibling due to start in 2021. During the this entire time, a majority of interactions have been rather unpleasant to say the least. The whole school is run like a tight ship, which is fair enough, but the staff working at the reception (front desk) are very cold and curt. No matter how minor the enquiry or request, the feeling one gets is that one is being a nuisance, an irritant, unwelcome.
    As it is a church school and we are fortunately in the financial position to be able to donate more than most, we have done this repeatedly whenever asked. Each time we do this discreetly and not once has we ever had a thank you, On several occasions where we’ve donated expensive equipment to the school, the head teacher appears very positive and pleasant at the beginning – but when it comes to the logistics of delivering said items, we are made to feel as if we are imposing. Questions about where to park to unload items are treated with hostility as the ‘carpark is full’, and we’ve been told to just come back later when the school is empty, with the tone of voice that is very unpleasant.
    Another issue is the sheer volume of tasks and requests made to parents and carers to ‘participate’ in school life, which in itself is not unreasonable – but every week there are at least 2-3 school days where we are expected to be involved with activities, be it donations for various causes, sending pupils in with prepared items (over and above homework), it is truly overwhelming as we both work fulltime. This means that on many occasions carers and parents forget the occasional task, which is then met with passive aggressive comments by school staff.
    We really value the education that our child gets at this school but are becoming increasingly concerned with the toxic environment, and unrealistic expectations from the school from the parents and carers.

    1. I’m sorry to hear this. I’ve certainly felt like this too as a parent of a primary school child. The demands from primary to respond, sign this, donate that, dress up like this, attend this morning coffee meeting and so forth can be overwhelming. I think it’s important to always communicate with the school what you can and cannot do so they are always kept in the loop.

      As for the culture and way you are being treated/and how you are feeling, I’d always advocate arranging to have a meeting with your child’s teacher as a first port of call to express with them how you feel. Then if you are not satisfied, write a formal letter (on paper) seeking a meeting with the headteacher. Good luck.

  11. I have been sacked from a school I worked at for 33 years. I was very good teacher, very popular and worked extremely hard but I called out a bully in the leadership team and then the school turned around to point the finger at me instead. All internal grievances were lost and I spent a fortune on legal fees. Now I’m waiting for a court case to seek justice. My case is against the head teacher and the bully but the trouble is that the head teacher is very weak and just does what the bully wants. My hatred of the people that treated me so unfairly and who have lost me my entire career, my dignity and my salary, and who continue to mistreat me, grows and grows. I am a little worried that they will offer me a settlement and that I will succumb to this. They have deliberately delayed the court case for a further year, blaming covid, when they are just wanting me to crumble and give up. But I won’t! It’s been good to read other people’s stories.

  12. Jo, did you take out the court case after you left? I have been fortunate enough to get out and move to another school. I however think that the head needs to be accountable for his actions.
    Many thanks,

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