Protecting staff from parents who bully

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  Published on Tuesday, 07 August 2018

Protecting staff from parents who bully

Library Home  >  Health, Wellbeing & Nutrition
  Published on Tuesday, 07 August 2018

Recent media reports about the principal of prestigious Sydney private school St Andrews, telling parents to "chill out" after noticing growing levels of agitation from parents toward teachers highlight the possibility of parents as bullies

Dr John Collier, who has been a school principal for 30 years, said in a letter to parents at the school that he had noticed the culture of "gracious engagement" between parents and teachers had been steadily declining and he warned he would tell staff to stop answering emails and phone calls from parents if necessary.

Dr Collier also warned parents he could ban them from entering school grounds if they continued to "verbally abuse, physically threaten or shout" at staff members.

This issue prompts the question does bullying also happen in the early childhood sector? While it's fair to assume most parents are reasonable and fair, and appreciative of the stellar job performed by early childhood educators, recent research in NZ, suggests bullying by parents in early childhood does occur.

In June this year the Child Forum Early Childhood Education Nationwide Network published results from a survey of 900 early childhood educators and supervisors that showed that 33 per cent of early childhood educators and been bullied in the last 12 months either by a boss or colleague or parent/caregiver.

Moreover, 18 per cent of teachers reported that while they may not have been personally bullied they had observed someone else being bullied at work. In addition, 16 per cent of service owners reported they had been personally bullied. The bully was most often a staff member or parent.

Private and community based ECE services were similar in rates of reported bullying (31 per cent and 34 per cent respectively). However, of the teachers who reported being bullied, those working at private services were significantly more likely be bullied by their boss or leader (64 per cent) compared with those at community-based services (52 per cent).

In addition, school based research conducted in Australia has also shown that an adult in a school is four times more likely to be bullied by another adult than the rest of the population. While statistics may not be quite as high in early childhood they are still worth bearing in mind when considering strategies for managing bullying behaviours for early childhood.

Workplace health and safety obligations applicable to staff mean that directors of early childhood services are required to have mechanisms in place to control and manage the safety hazard presented by angry and upset parents towards early childhood staff.

These may include:

  • Development and implementation of a code of conduct for parents, which they are required to sign on enrolment.
  • A complaint management system so parents have a forum to express their frustrations and a mechanism in place for working through their concerns.
  • An internal mechanism for staff to express and report their own concerns and have them managed.
  • A record management system to keep track of incidents where parents bully staff to enable an assessment of the issue in the longer term and help to identify repeat offenders.

We're interested to learn whether you've experienced bullying by parents in your service and what steps you took to manage the issue. Please email with your story and describe the strategies you employed to protect your staff member. We will publish the examples anonymously to ensure your privacy.


School Governance

This child care article was last reviewed or updated on Wednesday, 29 January 2020