PGCE student is bullied at placement school - any advice?

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PGCE student is bullied at placement school - any advice?

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    Good evening,

    My wife is a PGCE student at one of the England's universities. She is currently at her second placement school and has been bullied by her mentor. Her mentor is a senior and powerful member of staff. My wife refused to accept bullying and situation has become intolerable. It is now becoming obvious that the school will do everything to fail her. She complained to university tutor but was told that there is nothing they can do about it, and it is becoming obvious that they do not want to do anything.

    Most of the advice we read in the forums was not to give up, keep complaining and create as much noise as possible. Below are some questions we have and would very much appreciate if you could share any answers/advice:

    1. What is the legal standing of the Trainee teacher at PGCE placement school? The school Staff Handbook does not have any information about complains procedure for bullied teachers, in fact no complains procedures at all, except for parents complaints.

    2. What are the appropriate complaints processes in this scenario? School seems to be an obvious party at fault, but Trainee teachers seem to have no rights there (not employees) University does not want to hear about this for obvious reasons.

    3. Are there any routes for complaints to OFSTEAD? They seem to have a process to complain about OFSTEAD and a whistleblower line, none seem to apply in this case?

    4. Is it worth spending any time talking to the unions? The problem is the bully in question is the union representative at school and is too powerful anyway, all representatives would be scared to do anything against the bully, can't expect any fair resolution within the school.

    5. Do you have any advice on how to start a legal process in this scenario? Can you recommend any lawyers who worked on similar cases? Again, what process has to be followed? I have read on the internet that some legal cases against schools were lost because the required process was not followed.

     Thank you all very much for your help. Please share your views on any of the questions above.

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    1. Generally the trainee would complain to the ITT provider. That provider would then decide what to do. If it is a genuine case of bullying, then the ITT provider would remove the trainee and stop all contact with the placement school. I'm not sure why they have chosen to do nothing in this case, do they agree bullying is taking place?
    2. The trainee could complain to the HT, but it is unlikely they would or could do anything. In my school I am the only mentor and no-one else could take on the role. All the Ht would be able to do is suggest the trainee contacts their ITT provider. Yes I'd probably have to explain to the HT what had been going on, but from the sound of things the mentor in this case wouldn't be seen to be at fault.
    3. No, Ofsted does not get involved with disputes between mentors and trainees. It is down to schools and ITT providers.
    4. Unions can help in cases of bullying, but it takes a lot of time and evidence to get any justice. A trainee on placement is unlikely to have been there long enough to prove bullying has occurred or to be staying long enough for a resolution to be reached.
    5. A legal process sounds a bit extreme. But yes you can talk to an employment law specialist and see what they say.

    To be honest, if your wife feels she will fail unfairly her best bet is probably to ask her ITT provider to defer this placement. She can then leave the school immediately and redo the placement at another school later. The school can probably justify all their actions (rightly or wrongly) and any HT will support their senior staff. It is unlikely your wife would win any dispute. I know this doesn't sound fair, but it is probably the best solution.

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    minnieminx - Thank you for your quick reply and advice. It sounds pragmatic and realistic, however unfair the situation may seem. Deferring placement and doing it at another school may well be the best option.

    Has anyone else seen a similar situation that was resolved positively? (i.e. student not failing) Has any one changed the mentors and/or schools mid-term? We would appreciate any thoughts on this.

    Thank you

     

     

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    I'm guessing she has spoken to her visiting tutor? they should be the ones to communicate with school and university and solve any problems Sarcastic. In the real world however and in my experience this doesn't happen.  Visiting tutors make out they are there purely for your interests but when you consider they are only a students link for probably a maximum of 12 weeks (in my case)  they are also there for the university and to keep a good relationship between the school and uni.  Placements are very hard to come by these days so uni will not want to have issues with this school.

    My advice for what it's worth, is for your wife to have a meeting with uni (not at school) write everything down and explain that it is not doing her health, learning etc etc any good.  She should ask to be deferred and they should pull her out of school immediately.  I did this and managed to finish my PGCE (Dec 2011 instead of July 2011).  In my case I was not bullied but more left to it with no support, I had no idea what was expected of me and no one cared if I was there or not.

    I'm also guessing that you have paid a significant amount of money to do this course which I would also bring up at a meeting.  I emailed one of my unions and they replied that it wasn't something they could get involved in - so pointless trying them.

    I really feel strongly that something needs to be done about this, as you read on this forum the amount of bullying that goes on in ITT is shocking - it makes me so angry Angry.

     

    good luck

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     Trainees on placement are guests in the school and most schools will have partnership agreements with providers that should outline expectations. As the trainee is registered with the university and not an employee of the school the university must deal with any accusation from a trainee about a mentor and most providers I have worked with/for have a procedure where a complaint is made firstly via the tutor and, if there is no joy, then via the head of department/head of ITT. The university has a duty of care towards the trainee and in such cases I know that the trainee is removed from the school and another placement found. It feels 'unfair' but the fact is that there is no legal obligation for a school to take a trainee and they can (and have in my experience) terminated a placement at the drop of a hat. If they feel that a relationship has broken down then sadly, regardless of weho is at fault it is inevitably the trainee who has to move.

    There is (for a few more weeks) a professional body for teachers the GTC, but in its wisdom the DfE has decided that an independent professional body which could receive and investigate complaints is not necessary - a year or so ago this may have been a possible route for a professional complaint if the university route did not work, now the DfE is taking on some of the roles of the GTC but I don't know if they will hear such complaints or if they intend to restrict them only to very serious offences such as child protection issues. I suppose that you could contyact the chir of govenors of the school but they may refer you back to the university.

    The Sage

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    john3838
    Has anyone else seen a similar situation that was resolved positively? (i.e. student not failing) Has any one changed the mentors and/or schools mid-term? We would appreciate any thoughts on this.

     

    Yes.  I am the professional mentor is my school and oversee a team of subject mentors.  We are frequently used to host trainees on repeat placements because of the level of pastoral care that we offer.  My most recent repeat trainee left a previous placement without completing it because of what might be termed "a personality clash" with his previous subject mentor.

    He passed at a grade 1 just 6 months later than the rest of his cohort and we hope to be able to offer him a job next year.  

    There is always hope.

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     F1sydney - thank you for your support, it is good to know that other people have managed to overcome similar challenges.

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     Sage, sleepyhead - thank you for the information, it is extremely useful. It is always great to get views of the professionals who are involved with mentoring on the daily basis. Very much appreciated.

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    I'm not sure if anyone's mentioned this but you could go to a regional representative of the union rather than the school rep. You could also contact ACAS for legal advice. To be honest, I wouldn't recommend contacting the union or ACAS because you will have very little evidence and very little weight to add to your argument.

    Also, bullying is endemic in teaching, and you might want to think about the fact that your chance of encountering this sort of behaviour again is very high.
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     theedudicator - thank you for your thoughts, I got similar views on the union and ACAS from other sources.

    Yes, having done research on this subject, it does seem that bullying of teachers is not an uncommon problem. We agree it is very realistic (and likely) to encounter it in the future. What makes it different when you are a fully qualified teacher is that there is at least an option to find a new job that will hopefully be better.

    It is different for PGCE students and NQTs. Your mentor has almost absolute power to fail you, there is almost no chance to resolve the problem without failing. Even then there is a good advice on how to deal with bullying, you can be prepared to this if you know what to expect.

    The hardest part is when you had no clue about how it works and experienced bullies quickly pushed you into a corner, to the point of no return. I do agree with some posters here, that PGCE course should teach how to deal with bullies, both bullying of students and bullying of teachers.

     

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    john3838

    She complained to university tutor but was told that there is nothing they can do about it, and it is becoming obvious that they do not want to do anything.

    This is nonsense. 

    The university tutor can, and should, move her to a new placement - as the tuor will know perfectly well.  As others have said, this would mean that she qualifies late but that should not prevent her from getting the PGCE and getting a job. She must apply pressure to the university and remind them gently but firmly that she has paid good money for this course and her welfare is their direct responsibility.  Complaining to the placement school, unions or OFSTED is utterly pointless in this instance.  She needs to move on for her own benefit - and quickly.  Act firmly.

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    paully
    She needs to move on for her own benefit - and quickly.  Act firmly.

     

    Totally agree. As I said in my previous post I went for a meeting listed all what had happened and told them I could not go back to that school, they tried to make me but I stuck to my guns and was withdrawn, they explained the consequences (finishing the course later) but for my own sanity I had to do it that way.

    This was on my first placement. However, come my second placement there was also a small issue.  This time it was bullying, not by my mentor but another staff member.  I was extremely lucky to have support from the HT as without it I know I would have probably been asked to leave the school.

     

    Please john3838 let us know how you and your wife get on.

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    Sagacious, is providing the best advice, imo - I am not an educationist btw - use the ITT provider's complaint process to seek out a deferment if you have no hope of resolution within the school.

     

    When you come up against disputes with Public Bodies, the rule is you have to exhaust their Complaints Procedure, if you don't do this no one else will touch you.

    Needless to say, despite what is said - these compliant procedures are not designed in your interest. The most likely cause of complaint with them, is the length of time they take to process - it's just of no practical use.

    The school concerned is not recieving any funds for your placement, this means that the ITT has to very careful not to upset them, as the ITTs funding is based - in part - on how many placements it can organise.  In turn, a ITTs can only offer courses have been allocated by the TDA.

    The TDA will however look at the ITTs complaint procedures, and indeed will look at how many and the nature of complaints the ITT received from students prior to it's allocation of courses.

    So make sure your complaint is in writing and you follow the process exactly. Anything verbal does not count, and is no threat to the ITT as TDA will not see any of it, nor will you find it easy to employ verbal accounts in a Small Claims Court. Make no threats with regard to future actions, no matter how provoked.

    If the process is exhaust you are enitrely within your rights to complain to your MP - the ITT is in receipt of public funding. You next port of call should be the TDA - they will ignore any complaint, but they will register the inciden and maybe get around to checking their records a bit more closely on the next allocation.

    If your ITT will not give you a deferral, put in a Freedom of Information Request - ask for details regarding how many deferrals have occurred in the past, how many students have quit the course, reasons etc.

    Prepare the groundwork for the Small Claims Court - you can recover up to a maximum of 5K - and in particular pay very close attention to whether the ITT is following it's own procedures.

    You can do all this, with your own labour at very low costs.

     

    The most likely outcome will be that the ITT gives you a deferral.

    However be aware that as a student - despite forking out considerable sums of money - you have very little in the way of 'rights' - you have more protection if you buy a second hand car in the UK than if you purchase an educational course. So it is best to live and learn and ofc remember that lessons learnt from dealing with one public sector organisation are also reuseable with other such organisations as they essentially operate in exactly the same way.

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    Dear John

    I am sorry to learn of your wife's experience.  I am a PGCE MFL student who has had an horrendous time on my PGCE  not only at the hands of the school mentors but the university as well.  In my experience pursuing a complaint may make you v. unpopular and your situation far worse for eg  the University may respond negatively and question your professionalism, fittness to teach and be very obstructive when it comes to finding another placement etc which is currently happening to me.   I have had 2 bad placements one in this country and one in France, after my first day of teaching my mentor (who was the head teacher) asked me if I was now ready to clean the latrines?  He was always making sexual innuendos and jokes about me with the caretaker of the school.   I received no written feedback from him.   This placement left huge gaps  in my teaching practice, skills and experience which contributed to my failing my final block placement last year.  I have since been granted a deferred placement.  Although, the univeristy have finally found me a placement  they have been really obstructive I should have done my deferred placement in September 2011 but the search started in January 2012.  I have not done any teaching for 1 year.  My PAT tutor has not provided any guidance, advice or information about my resit which is due to start on 30 April 2011.  When we met after the failure of my final block placement last summer she was really nasty, she even lied and told me that I had missed the deadline to apply for a re-sit - which I had not and she tried her upmost to make me feel so discouraged about my teaching that I would leave.

    So my advice is cut your losses and go for a deferred placement but do check how many deferred placements or re-sits you are entitled to - just in case.  When it came obvious, by mid-term placement report, that I was not going to pass the school could not be bothered any more and wanted  me to leave but I stuck it out till the end.   I was put in a class shadowing a supply teacher and when the class teacher eventually returned she was having domestic problems so I was taken out of her class and put in a Y4 class - this class teacher described his class as being "not the most detested in the entire school but certainly the most hated"  - things went downhill from there.  Also, my fellow PGCE student that was in the school had been offered a job at the school so the school had a more vested interest in him passing so he had the best mentor, computer access was set up for him from the first day whereas it took 1 month before I had access.   The headteacher said that my university had to take responsibility for my failing my final placement but would not admit to any mistakes on his own part. 

    Good Luck 

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    When I was bullied on the GTP I complained to the ITT manager. Luckily she believed me over my school mentor and the headteacher who lied about the situation. I left the training programme for a term while the GTP manager found me an alternative (lovely and supportive) school to train at.

     

    When I finally passed with QTS, I politely emailed the bullying school saying that I'd passed the course and thanks for all their help in acheiving this. It was a thinly veiled way of saying 'up yours' as they had always doubted that I could acheive it. They never did reply... can't think why. This was 6 years ago.

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    john3838

    It is different for PGCE students and NQTs. Your mentor has almost absolute power to fail you, there is almost no chance to resolve the problem without failing. Even then there is a good advice on how to deal with bullying, you can be prepared to this if you know what to expect.

    The hardest part is when you had no clue about how it works and experienced bullies quickly pushed you into a corner, to the point of no return. I do agree with some posters here, that PGCE course should teach how to deal with bullies, both bullying of students and bullying of teachers.



    You're right in that the bullies often go for newest and student teachers because they are easiest to push about because they've not yet figured out that the profession is full of bullies. Classic bully behaviour, targeting the weakest.

    I think established teachers are still at risk, because the head has the absolute power to fire you and once they've made up their mind on that it's impossible to change. It's difficult to get another job because of references and other underhand tactics that are used to block you.
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    Hi john3838,

     Without reading all of the replies I hope my two pennies worth is of some value.  What your wife needs to quickly realise is that she is a customer.  No matter what circumstances are contributing toward a negative experience she is still a paying customer.  She is paying for a service that is to be provided by the institution whom she is paying, therefore any problems concerning bullying or any other element of the experience for that matter, should be directly reported to the university in writing.  University is an ever increasingly expensive commitment.  If you bought a brand new car for £15,000 and it developed a fault within a few weeks of having it, you complain immediately to the originating source from where the car was purchased.  Exactly the same with university courses.  The only reason I am aware of that the university would not want to get involved, is to ensure the relationship with partnership schools are stable for future customers.  As much as this may well be an important factor for universities to take into consideration, this is of no concern of you wife.  It is also vital that every comment or remark that has been made is recorded and kept on record for the purpose of any further issues arising. 

     

    Best wishes,

    Mr Groves

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    Typo: 'this is of no concern to your wife' - I type far too quickly my apologies!

     

    Having just read paully's post, he/she is perfectly right in what they are saying.  An alternative placement school sounds like the ideal solution however, please take those points into consideration and act fast as unfortunately, universities will not compensate for delaying your career kicking off.

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    Hi, I was bullied on the PGCE too and I ended up recently quitting. Other teachers I spoke to said it doesn't really change, you just develop a thicker skin. Teaching is a nasty profession. MY university were supportive but didn't actually do much, just commented on my "professionalism"... pah! Good luck to your wife whatever she decides.
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    i know of pgce students who are being bullied.

    teacher trainers need to be regulated by ofsted. if our new teachers are being bullied in school, what does this say for the children?

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