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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 February 2004, 00:00 GMT
A teacher 'forced out of the profession'
By Bill Wilson
BBC News Online business reporter

Bullying at work is hard to prove

Teacher Andrew suffered palpitations, panic attacks, and a stress breakdown after a new head teacher was appointed at his school.

During more than 20 years in the profession, he had risen to the post of deputy head at a school in the north of England and was happy with his workload and responsibilities.

But when the new head took over, he found himself having his work closely scrutinised and was eventually put on a "review period".

We have to recognise that not only is bullying ruining people's lives, it is costing the UK economy millions every year in tribunal payments, legal fees and wasted talent
Tim Field
Bully Online

"In all those years there had been no problems at all about my work at the school, no complaints," Andrew told BBC News Online.

"The parents respected what I was trying to do."

Yet, after this six week period of appraisal Andrew was told he had failed to meet the head's requirements.

"That just broke me. I loved teaching and was devastated by what was happening," he said.

Under pressure

In 1997, an occupational therapist concluded that Andrew was suffering from "considerable stress" as a result of his work.

I thought I was a good teacher and could not understand what was happening
Teacher Andrew

He was then sacked in 1999 on the grounds that he was incapable of work due to long-term sickness.

The following year he brought an unfair dismissal case against the local education authority after claiming he had been mistreated by his boss.

He said his job had become intolerable and he was left needing psychiatric treatment.

'Trembling and shaking'

An industrial tribunal was also told the new head teacher would regularly sit in on his classes taking copious notes.

"Life became a nightmare," said Andrew.

"I lost my zest for life and would be trembling and shaking before I went in to school.
Woman under stress
Telling someone about what you are going through can help

"I couldn't sleep and suffered from the strangest dreams, and I lost two stones in weight.

"I couldn't eat and my stomach was churning all the time, I was having palpitations, panic attacks, and hot and cold flushes."

"It was a cumulative effect, chipping away at my confidence," Andrew said.

"I thought I was a good teacher and could not understand what was happening.

"My mental health suffered. One minute I was fine, then I was in the depths of depression."

Compensation award

Further medical examinations concluded that Andrew had suffered a loss of self-esteem and confidence requiring psychiatric help, and he also believed the head teacher was conspiring against him, the tribunal heard.

The head teacher was "shocked' to discover Andrew's views, the tribunal was told.

However the tribunal ruled that he had been unfairly dismissed, a decision accepted by the education authority, despite fighting its case at the hearing.

The tribunal awarded Andrew more than 15,000 compensation.

"The government should be doing something to outlaw bullying, by bringing in well-defined legislation. I believe bullying is rife in the teaching profession," Andrew said.

Legislation needed

Anti-bullying campaigners have expressed their dissatisfaction with the law, pointing out that there is no specific legislation to combat bullying.

The Dignity at Work Bill 1997, which might provide protection, has gone through the House of Lords, but has not been passed in the Commons and is therefore not law.

Andrew believes thousands of people are being bullied at work, but cannot take their employer to an industrial tribunal because it is not illegal.

"I feel I was driven to the breakdown which led to my dismissal on medical grounds, but I was not able to bring my case on the grounds of the bullying I had been subjected to," he said.

"I only won the hearing because the education authority had not followed the correct procedures in dismissing me."

'Andrew' is not the teacher's real name. His true identity cannot be divulged for legal reasons.

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