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Independent investigation clears school of bullying.

Byline: ABBIE WIGHTWICK Education editor abbie.wightwick@waleosnline.co.uk

An independent investigation into complaints of workload, bullying and other issues at a high school has found no evidence of them, but says some complainants may be in breach of the school's social media policy for comments made on Facebook.

Members of the NASUWT at Ysgol Uwchradd Aberteifi/Cardigan Secondary walked out on the first of six planned days of strike action earlier this week saying they are working in a "climate of fear and intimidation".

Ceredigion County Council launched an independent investigation into issues at the 500-pupil bilingual school after a series of complaints last term from former and current members of staff, which it has now published.

In response to its publication Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT said the council had replicated the bullying attitude staff had complained of.

The school's governing body has welcomed the report findings and wriiten to all parents asking for their support.

One complainant specifically raised nepotism which was also used by colleagues as a reason for not raising their concerns with others at the school. the report says.

The head teacher Nicola James is not named in the report, but the document details how the head's husband and sister are employed at the school, adding that her husband was appointed in 1999 before her appointment.

The head teacher's sister was appointed head of maths and numeracy in 2012 but the headteacher declared an interest and was not involved in the process, it adds.

And although the current chair of governors is a friend of the headteacher she is in an appointed position in which the headteacher has no involvement.

In his report, independent investigator Peter Harrison says: "I believe the headteacher has done all possible to ensure she cannot be accused of nepotism.

"It may be that those who make such claims haven't been part of the school long enough to know how historic appointments have been made. It should be recognised that it is the Governing Body that makes school appointments...

"...during the past five years no member of staff has made a formal complaint to the governing body, and in the same period no formal grievance has been raised against the headteacher."

Looking to the complainants Mr Harrison says a closed Facebook group was used by a number of them, which breached the school's social media policy and Education Workforce Council code of professional conduct.

"I believe some correspondence has infringed on the rights and privacy of the headteacher and her family," the report says.

"In my opinion the Facebook account shows a lack of professional respect for the school and some staff discussed within it."

The council launched the investigation after receiving a phone call from a current member of staff last term, followed by a number of written complaints.

Mr Harrison spoke to 25 former and existing members of staff, including many who had not made any complaint.

The written complaints, received in November and December 2018, identified concerns as far back as 2013 up to the present day and outlined a range of accusations which included, among other issues: | Inappropriate use of Performance Management and Pay Policy; | Nepotism | Workload and; | Bullying, harassment and poor relationships.

But the investigator said a majority of staff he spoke to said the head was effective and approachable while a minority "felt that the headteacher put too much pressure on staff and more on individuals who under perform and this has impacted on some staff feeling whatever they do is not good enough.

"They perceive this has impacted on morale, attendance and wellbeing of a few.

"This group also felt that not all staff are treated the same by the headteacher."

The investigation found no evidence of bullying or intimidation, and makes a series of recommendations to the school including: | Working with staff to recognise their contribution in making Ysgol Uwchradd Aberteifi a successful school; | Reviewing existing monitoring procedures; and | Working with staff to establish a culture and process to enable staff concerns to be voiced and addressed in a constructive manner.

Responding to the report Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT, said: "It is extremely disappointing that the council has chosen to behave in this way.

"This is not the behaviour of a responsible employer concerned about its staff.

"This approach simply replicates the bullying attitude and behaviour about which the staff have been complaining.

"The NASUWT will not allow a report from the council, which in our view was anything but independent, to deter us from continuing to pursue the concerns of our members who have endured, whatever thecouncil may say, bullying and intimidation.

"Whilst the NASUWT is always ready to engage constructively to resolve a dispute, we will not be deterred from taking action to ensure our members are treated with dignity and respect."

Ceredigion Council said in a statement: "The council works closely with teaching unions and appreciates their role as advocates for teaching staff in Ceredigion schools. "It is regrettable that the NASUWT teachers' union has chosen to take strike action at Ysgol Uwchradd Aberteifi prior to the publishing of the findings of the investigation.

"However, it is hoped that constructive talks will continue with the NASUWT in order to find a resolution and avoid their further planned action."

It is understood the union members will still strike on February 5, 6, 12, 13 and 14.

A total of 16 NASUWT members took part in the strike at the school , which has around 500 pupils aged 11 to 18, earlier this month.

The school, described as "naturally bilingual" by Estyn was under monitoring by the education watchdog until 2016.

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Author:ABBIE WIGHTWICK Education editor abbie.wightwick@waleosnline.co.uk
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jan 31, 2019
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