Monday, January 30, 2023

Staff report ‘toxic atmosphere’ and ‘clash of cultures’ at Spiritan-run secondary school in south Dublin

 Templeogue College (@TempleogueCSSp) / Twitter

Nearly all staff at a Spiritan-run secondary school in south Dublin have described the workplace atmosphere as “toxic” in a mediator’s report.

Templeogue College, an all-boys secondary school, has been at the centre of grievances aired at the Workplace Relations Commission, while last month two dozen teachers raised concerns about a “non-inclusive culture” regarding LGBT issues and the taking down of a Pride flag in the school canteen.

A mediator’s report, circulated to staff and management last week, states that for many the turnover of staff is indicative of a “toxic” culture, and for others was a sign of “clash of cultures” between leadership and core staff.

It states: “Many feel fearful of who to be associated with – who to talk to and who not ... it is hard for many to stay apart from ‘taking sides’.”

The report notes that for a “good number it cannot be underestimated how traumatic they experience their working environment and how it impacts their personal lives,” while “a number are actively considering leaving as the only way to protect themselves from the impact”.

The report also highlights the extent to which these issues have affected school life.

“So many feel that the focus on the students is being lost – that is where we could be at out best,” it notes.

The report says that for a number of staff, there is “great gratitude to the principal for her leadership, support, educational direction and energy”, while the “mutual support within groups of staff for each other is highly prized”.

However, there is a “strong sense” among some that issues are “intractable”.

On foot of interviews with 58 staff, the report said respondents found the atmosphere is “toxic to some degree” and “for many, very toxic”.

While it says many “appreciate the concerns as they understand them of individual staff members and those of the management and really want these concerns to be worked through”, it notes that for many issues have been personally and professionally “damaging” and “destructive”.

A recent controversy over the handling of a Pride flag raised “deep value conflict concerns” and words like “bullying, victimisation, gaslighting” have been used on all sides.

“Staff meetings are fraught – many afraid to raise issues for fear of backlash from one side or another,” it notes, and references “the personal and professional impact of grievance processes and their impact of the College’s reputation.”

“Many earnestly wish this facilitation process occurred much earlier given how embedded issues and positions have become,” it states. “So many talked of the ‘knot in the stomach’ each day arriving – avoiding staffroom, avoiding specific people.”

The report says that many on all sides believe that there is a “great future for the College, for the students, for the staff,” but have “very different narratives about where the College is now, and how it can achieve its potential.”

The mediator’s report includes a number of recommendations, including the creation of a “charter for shared future” and facilitated sessions to deal with challenging issues.

In light of the Pride flag controversy, it says there is an “urgent” need to clearly articulate the values and approach of the school with the Spiritans, board and school community.

The school did not respond to a request for comment, while a representative for the Spiritan Education Trust said it was happy to support the school board of management with the facilitation process.

The appointment of a mediator to the school was recommended by the Spiritan Education Trust. It followed a letter from some staff who voiced concern about a proliferation of grievances, legal proceedings and media attention over issues at the school.