Study exposes teacher-targeted bullying

La Trobe researchers are focussing on research-based solutions to an issue in Australian schools, after their exploratory study revealed teachers are being bullied by both students and their parents.

Five hundred and sixty teachers responded to an opt-in online survey looking at teacher-targeted bullying and harassment, including verbal abuse, swearing, yelling, physical violence and property damage.

It found that 80 per cent of respondents experienced some form of student or parent-led bullying in the last 12 months, with 10 per cent of respondents being hit or punched in that timeframe.

A total of 85.2 per cent of respondents thought teacher-targeted bullying was a problem in Australian schools, and 83 percent considered leaving the profession because of it.

The voluntary survey was open nationally to all primary and secondary school teachers who either held current Australian teaching registration, or had held registration within the last two years.

Sociology researcher at La Trobe University, Dr Paulina Billett, said these preliminary findings indicate that teacher-targeted bullying and harassment is as prevalent in Australian schools as it is in many other countries around the world.

“This research highlights that it is a serious issue facing Australian schools, and needs to be addressed if we are to attract and retain good teachers,” she said.

Dr Billett said the next stage of the project is to delve more deeply into the nature and impact of teacher-targeted bullying and harassment.

“We already have funding to conduct further research, which will hopefully tell us why teacher targeted bullying and harassment is more of an issue in some schools than others,” she said.

“With this knowledge we can then develop solutions that have a good chance of working.”

Recommendations from the preliminary study include developing a mandatory code of conduct for parents and students, an examination of current federal and state policy and responses, and more research into the breadth and depth of teacher-targeted bullying and harassment.

“While strict codes of conduct are in place around teacher behaviour, only some schools have a code of conduct that applies to students and their parents,” Dr Billett said.

“A compulsory code of conduct for all parents and students could be one step in the right direction to helping prevent and tackle teacher targeted bullying and harassment.”

Ms Beth Blackwood, CEO of the Association for Heads of Independent Schools of Australia, said she welcomes research into what is anecdotally a common reason for teachers leaving the profession.

“At a time when, more than ever, we need young people pursuing a teaching career, it is critical that we understand factors impacting on choices made, and work towards ensuring that teaching is a rewarding career,” she said.

The study also found that 57.8 per cent of respondents experienced at least one incident of parent-led bullying, and that 71.4 per cent had been bullied or harassed by a student.

Swearing and yelling were the most common forms of bullying instigated by a student, while verbal abuse (e.g. offensive and disparaging comments) was the most common form of parent-led bullying.

Eighty-six per cent of survey respondents were female. The survey link was distributed via social media and email newsletters aimed at teachers.

Media contact: Kate O'Connor - k.o'connor@latrobe.edu.au - 0436 189 629

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