Frightened Staff: why school managers want teachers to be scared

It’s better to be feared than loved, apparently. This Machiavellian belief is very evident in schools today, where senior managers deliberately create cultures of fear amongst their staff.

Personally, I think there is a difference between being feared and creating fear. The former is encouraging proper respect in your employees, so that your presence creates a desire to work hard whether they believe in the work or not, they will at least want to please you. This is a good leader.

The latter is creating a permanent atmosphere of fear in employees, that is there whether you are or not. Staff think that any one tiny infringement against the establishment will definitely result in ‘terrible things’ happening. They may or may not work hard, but they will certainly work cautiously and on egg shells, yet at the same time know absolutely that it is only a matter of time before their human nature causes them to make a mistake, and that will be the end of them. This is a bad leader.

I think the second description is most prevalent in schools today because the response to raising standards has always been to raise pressure, not to improve conditions. Passing this pressure down the hill has been allowed to evolve unchecked, so that adding more fear is both allowed and encouraged.

Finding another way of operating would, in this environment of institutional bullying, be seen to be weak, and no one is willing to be the trail blazer and stick their neck out to change it. Running a school is a job for conformists.

Managers want teachers to be afraid of losing their jobs, their livelihoods, their reputations and their entire careers. All are within the control of internal SMTs and the destruction of them requires no input from external ombudsman, leaving teachers with little protection against managers who want to destroy them in this way. Excessive fear, even if nothing happens, contributes significantly to mental health issues.

Heads have, over the years, campaigned and won the right to this exclusive control over their staff in order to maintain the culture of fear properly. SMT now create this fear by spying, manufacturing evidence and using unofficial references, meaning that even teachers who have done nothing wrong should still be afraid.

Businesses know well enough that creating such an atmosphere would result in staff leaving for a better deal. I hope that the increasing numbers of teachers leaving the profession, and the difficulty that even politicians acknowledge there is in recruiting good staff, will result in a major shift that allows teachers to work without fear.

Are you teaching in fear? Have you been a victim of bullying and felt that you have been used as an example to invoke fear in other teachers? Please feel free to comment below.


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