Use of ‘gagging clauses’ in education ‘reveal performance culture’

New figures reveal stress and performance culture affecting school staff in Suffolk, union says

New figures reveal stress and performance culture affecting school staff in Suffolk, union says - Credit: PA

Stress and a results-driven culture in schools is said to be behind the stark use of “gagging clauses” in the education profession in Suffolk.

Graham White, Suffolk secretary of the NUT

Graham White, Suffolk secretary of the NUT - Credit: Archant

New figures have revealed five headteachers and 11 teachers at Suffolk County Council-controlled schools have signed the settlement agreements, which contain confidentiality clauses, so far this year.

In total, 288 of these agreements have been used by the county council between 2010/11 and 2015/16 - all relating to terminations of employment - with 199 in the schools department.

The gagging clauses bar employees from talking publically about the terms of the settlement agreement and the circumstances leading to them leaving their employment.

The figures, which were revealed following a Freedom of Information request by this newspaper, show 118 teachers, 22 headteachers, 14 teaching assistants and nine deputy heads signed the agreements over the period.


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Graham White, Suffolk Secretary for the National Union of Teachers (NUT), said: “They [the figures] don’t surprise me and it’s down to stress and the whole performance culture.

“This is not going to attract people into teaching. What we should be doing is tackling the reasons why people are going off with stress.”

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He said 40% of teachers leave within the first three years of joining the profession, adding the exam and performance culture was being driven by the Government.

He said in his experience headteachers had been offered the agreements rather than effectively being sacked because the governors, or the academy chain in the case of academies, had decided “the results are not good enough or the headteacher hasn’t turned the school around quick enough”.

He continued: “They (teachers) are stressed or are going off on long-term sick or go down a settlement route whereby they can also get out with their reputation intact and they go somewhere else.”

Geoff Barton, headteacher of King Edward VI School in Bury St Edmunds, said: “I think we need to be cautious about creating too many conspiracy theories from the figures.

“Settlement agreements are obviously an important way of ensuring individuals have confidentiality when they leave a school.

“My concern was at a national level. I hear whisperings of headteachers who ‘disappear’ because of poor results, Ofsted inspections, or for other unexplained reasons.

“We need to beware of ‘football manager’ syndrome, with heads treated as dispensable when one year’s results go wrong.

“Education is more complex than that and it may be that confidentiality clauses disguise an issue for schools across the country which is becoming more widespread.”

Suffolk County Councillor Mark Ereira said the figures were of a concern and he would raise the issue with the county council.

“We need transparency in the public sector,” he said.

A spokesman for Suffolk County Council said: “These agreements contain a confidentiality clause covering both the terms of the agreement and the circumstances leading to termination only.

“The use of these agreements fluctuate year to year. The authority has no expectations in relation to numbers of settlement agreements anticipated each year. This process resolves particular issues arising relating to an individual and their employer.”

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