University fails to address PGDE bullying placement complaint

Credit: Caitlan Mutch - The Education building at the University of Glasgow

Credit: Caitlan Mutch – The Education building at the University of Glasgow

Rhys Harper
News Editor

A Glasgow University PGDE (Professional Graduate Diploma in Education) teaching student has accused the University of failing to take action when he reported experiencing bullying and harassment while on placement as a student teacher at a high school in West Dunbartonshire.

Troy Parfitt, a Canadian postgraduate student, was on placement at Dumbarton Academy when he came into conflict with two teachers in the humanities department.

Emails obtained by The Glasgow Guardian show that Parfitt contacted University staff about the situation as early as November 2015. Despite this, an internal investigation conducted by Dumbarton Academy indicates that the University told the school that Parfitt had not complained until January 2016. Parfitt has since written a letter of complaint to the head of the PGDE program, along with several other facilitators, claiming that his initial complaint was mishandled by the member of staff responsible for overseeing his placement, where the alleged bullying and harassment took place.

Parfitt told The Glasgow Guardian, “I was routinely bullied and verbally abused by two teachers. I reported this to the University, but support from the top was lacking.” He added that “lower level staffers listened and gave advice”, but the member of staff responsible for overseeing the placement appeared unconcerned by his complaint.
“Her message was that I shouldn’t think about the abuse and just get on with teaching. Also, I shouldn’t talk about my mistreatment to other teachers. That was “unhelpful.” She was reluctant to talk to me face to face and after she finally did get around to scheduling a meeting, she cancelled that meeting. Consequently, I scheduled a meeting with the Head of the School of Education to complain about the programme leader’s lack of concern. He said he would have a chat with his staff.
“After a better experience at another school, I finished the programme and lodged a detailed complaint about the abuse at the school where it occurred. The head teacher invited me in for an interview and then conducted an investigation to see if what I was saying had any validity. The school’s investigation concluded that I was indeed mistreated and they issued me a report that included an apology. They also indicated that one of the abusers had been punished (the other one changed [schools]).“

The internal investigation conducted by Dumbarton Academy found that Parfitt’s claims of ill-treatment were valid, having been verified by other members of staff at the school.

In an email following the investigation, head teacher Claire McInally told Parfitt: “I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to you for the treatment you received in your time in Dumbarton Academy. The way that you were treated was unacceptable and clearly led to a sustained period of low confidence and self-belief. In both your written account and in our meeting, it was clear that this episode had a long term effect and for that, again, I apologise. As a result of the investigation, a member of staff has been dealt with using processes and policies available to me.”

The Glasgow Guardian understands that just one of the two teachers concerned is still teaching at Dumbarton Academy at the time of the internal investigation.

Parfitt claims that the experience has deterred him from pursuing a career in Scotland, saying: “This affair really darkened my year. Because of it, I didn’t register to teach and am not doing my probationary year. I’m Canadian and had hoped to move to and teach in Scotland on a British ancestry visa, but that won’t be happening. More importantly, I don’t think there’s any real structure in place at the University in the event where student-teachers get mistreated. There should be. ”

The University of Glasgow, as part of its dignity at work and study policy and procedure, has a complaints procedure. However, this policy explicitly references lodging complaints against staff and students and is not designed for students whose primary mode of study takes place off-campus.

A spokesperson for the University of Glasgow told The Glasgow Guardian, “The University has an established complaints procedure which is followed in all cases in which complaints are raised by current and former students. Details of this procedure can be found on the University website. Any case that is being or has been considered under University procedures is confidential and therefore cannot be commented on.”

The University is investigating the complaint made by Parfitt relating to the alleged mishandling of the initial complaint of bullying and harassment made while he was on his teaching placement. The procedure is ongoing and the outcome of the complaint is yet to be determined.