Thursday, 3 December 2009

The Vicious Circle

A situation in which the apparent solution of one problem in a chain of circumstances creates a new problem and increases the difficulty of solving the original problem. Also called vicious cycle.

A fallacy in reasoning in which the premise is used to prove the conclusion, and the conclusion used to prove the premise.

It is evident that policy makers have created a vicious circle. The symptoms are classic. No matter what changes are introduced, the system continues to become increasingly unstable and complex to manage. It fails to respond to an apparently ever worsening set of conditions and circumstances.

There can be no escape from a vicious circle unless all those involved are prepared to step outside the boundaries and take a fresh look at the core problems. Only then can workable solutions be found.

There is great reliance on the teaching unions and their valued opinions and experience. I argue that they are responsible for the problem. No other profession in Britain today is so reliant and dependant on union support – why is this ?

They represent the only security that a teacher possesses. Every teacher, as part of their initiation, is instructed to join a union – it is crucial and is their only insurance. That is a very sad indictment of the management systems of the teaching profession.

Other professions enjoy a much greater diversity of support – enormous investment in HR departments – but there is nothing for teachers !

When you step outside the circle what do you see ? You see teachers being abused, victimized, failing, stressed without any independent support – they remain fearful, isolated and vulnerable.

After 20 years of failure by unions and government to resolve this catastrophic problem - is it not time that teachers were invited to join hands to make a fresh start with new eyes to address these problems ?

E. A. Francis of TES wrote the following article some years ago. I quoted it in an earlier blog ‘Horror Stories’. It is pertinent and relevant, capturing not only the devastating horrors of the existing ‘Vicious Circle’ process that destroys lives but the actual reality of the injustice of a corrupt and broken system.

Experienced, successful and skilled educationalists are leaving the profession ruined, destroyed and damaged beyond repair.

Confident personalities have been reduced to rubble by the grievance and disciplinary procedures in schools.

Some head teachers are getting away with condoning this travesty through the perpetuation of corruption or subterfuge.

I am talking of that all too frequent occurrence happening in schools around the country every single day. That fateful day when you walk into your place of work only to be summoned by the head teacher and told a colleague has made accusations about you.

Your world stands still. You feel sick, confused, hurt; and then you feel a fear beyond your experience and understanding.

At no time are you allowed to suggest these allegations are malicious; that would violate the accuser’s rights and interfere with the school’s policy to investigate.

You can not get angry; that makes you look aggressive. You can not say anything you have experienced; for example, isolation, being ignored, gossiped about, set up and not spoken to for weeks, months, years.

Oh no ! That would give the investigator ammunition to suggest you are not showing any remorse. You are guilty as charged. Condemned, judged and hanged – before you even get to your first grievance meeting.

Oh, and don’t, whatever you do, speak to another colleague about it. Not even if you are in tears or unable to concentrate on your job or that you have been found throwing up in the toilets. You will be told you are ‘canvassing’ for support which could result in a suspension.

An unofficial action group may form, those types who simply need to get involved, the one, two or three people who you have had a professional disagreement with in the past or maybe even the one or two who internally applied for your job and didn’t get it. They need to be heard, they make it their mission to be heard. Their evidence will help seal your fate because they have all been called as witnesses ! Your reports of this group are considered hearsay. Their reports of you are a vital part of a fact finding investigation.

Then that day arrives, after months of grievance and disciplinary interviews, the hearing, the decision. You receive a Verbal Warning if you are lucky, Written Warning – well not bad, let’s face facts, you have been told for months now you could be dismissed, so any Warning is quite a relief.

It was just such a shame no one believed you. It is even more sorrowful that tissues of convenient lies were believed instead. It is a tragedy you have lost all your confidence, faith, self-esteem and professional self-belief. For these things are to be dealt with by you and you alone, quietly and gratefully. Your life has been torn apart, your heart has been ripped out and every single thing you held dear has been dismantled, analysed and spat upon. You now have a stress related illness.

You need time away to recover. So now you have an official Warning and a sick record with a mental health diagnosis. Well that is fine, you didn’t get the sack. Just because you have lost the ability to go out, enjoy your hobbies, have peaceful evenings with your family, meet with friends, have restful holidays, sleep the entire night. None of that matters, as you didn’t get sacked !

Sometimes, untrained and unskilled members of a senior teaching staff act as a prosecutor would in a criminal court case. Even the police are not allowed to interview suspected criminals for more than a certain amount of hours at a time but schools can - and some do. So this untrained member of SMT who has probably never studied Employment Law, is unlikely to have read the Human Rights Act and who has possibly only just read the school’s grievance procedure is now responsible for your future !

Something has to change and it has to change quickly. I think it an outrage that so many good educationalists have had their careers ruined as a result of malicious allegations made against them by colleagues.

The system whereby a head teacher is able to act as judge and jury is ridiculous, unjust and only seems to favour what is ‘best’ for the school, which means no scandal, no press involvement and certainly no union clashes. Head teachers are seldom trained in law but disciplinary hearings are run by heads and senior managers as though they were QCs for the day.

Thousands of pounds of public money would be saved if this whole system were reviewed. These cases can result in a drawing up of a Compromise Agreement which has been known to involve ‘hush’ money. They are called ‘gagging contracts’ by those in the know.

Why can’t schools recognise the need for strategic management designed to avoid or at least preempt potential cases of staff against staff ? Ad hoc mediators should be available without the waiting lists. In-house counselling services should be available to everyone and the protection of vulnerable staff should be high on every head teacher’s agenda.

Grievance and disciplinary investigators should not be members of the involved school’s Senior Management Team. Be wary about who is taken on. Power in the wrong hands can only result in disaster.

Some cases are so trivial that dismissal may be threatened in order to encourage a resignation but if none is forthcoming, they are taken all the way and broken by the process. If they don’t leave, their Warning can be used against them for up to a year, like the Sword of Damocles hanging over their heads, so just add on a few more ‘misdemeanors’ and with a bit of luck this newly acquired sickness record could be very handy towards conjuring up a capability case.

Current policy must be reviewed, evaluated and changed. The ‘accused’ should be afforded the same rights and support as the ‘aggrieved’. Witnesses interviewed during the grievance and disciplinary procedures are called by the ‘aggrieved’ and cannot be called in defence of the ‘accused’.

How can that be a balanced and just system ? It should be policy to assign an HR support worker for the ‘accused’. Independently run disciplinary hearings must be a forum for outing truth, irrespective of how inconvenient that truth is.

If this does not happen, experienced and respected staff will continue to be forced to leave the profession in droves because this is happening too often and towards too many.