The senior management at Columba College have been under
investigation by the Post Primary Teachers' Association
following allegations of bullying of staff at the school, a
leaked union survey has revealed.
Two reports on the survey showed staff presented a consistent
picture of ''severe and persistent bullying over an extended
period of time'', when surveyed between December 2012 and
However, the board of trustees has said principal Elizabeth
Wilson and the school's senior management had the board
members' ''unqualified support'', and the board was trying to
work through areas of concern with the PPTA.
The reports described an environment of fear, intimidation
and poor and autocratic management, and a stifling of
innovation at the school.
Those responding to the survey reinforced the lack of support
staff received when accusations were levelled against them by
pupils or parents, and the sense the principal's actions were
enabled, if not supported, by the board chairwoman.
''A number of examples were given of teachers who had become
ill or were mentally stressed because of the pressures they
experienced from the principal, and several reports gave a
consistent picture of the nature of the bullying that had
been experienced or witnessed,'' one of the reports said.
''The notions of micro-management, inadequate change
management, lack of consultation and inappropriate use of
students and parents to gather information to use against
teachers were also regular themes.''
The school has 56 staff, and of the 40 teachers surveyed, 32
(80%) responded. Of the respondents, 84% said they were
afraid to complain in case they were ''picked on''.
A staff member at the college, who declined to be named, said
the staff were feeling ''battered and afraid - fearful of
''They are looking to the PPTA to step in and try to make the
situation better,'' the staff member said.
''Because of the treatment of some specific staff members,
staff are still very afraid to speak out. I love this school.
I love teaching here. It's a special place to send your
children for an education.''
In the wake of the survey, the PPTA made seven
recommendations to the school, including that the PPTA and
the board of trustees should agree and implement a timed and
sequenced plan to eliminate or minimise the identified
''stressors'', and that the stress survey be undertaken again
in three months, as part of the review of progress.
PPTA general secretary Kevin Bunker said none of the
recommendations had been put into action, and as a
consequence of the board's response to the survey reports,
the Columba branch of the PPTA had given a vote of
no-confidence in the board.
However, he revealed ''about five or six'' PPTA members at
the school had also tendered their resignation from the union
in a bid to ''disassociate themselves from the issue'', he
''Our principal concern is that they [the board] take the
story they are getting from staff, seriously.
''If they don't think the survey is sufficiently independent,
they could do their own survey.
''I see it as a serious matter. I believe there are real
''The last thing we want to see is the good education of the
In a written response to the Otago Daily Times, board
chairwoman Dr Margot Skinner said the board did not want to
debate the issue in public.
However, she did say the results of the survey did not match
the reality of life at the school.
''Columba College is an outstanding school. We have wonderful
staff and a committed parent community.
''Our students are happy and achieve very well in academic,
cultural and sporting fields.''
Dr Skinner said the principal and senior management had the
board's unqualified support, and the new board of trustees
was looking forward to working through areas of concern with
the PPTA which represented ''a number of staff'' at the
''We believe it would be a breach of good faith to discuss
any concerns we have about the current PPTA approach in
''Instead, we are continuing to work constructively with all
staff and to improve relationships with those who have voiced