Comhairle education chief is accused of using bullying tactics

Parents have raised concerns about bullying at the Nicolson Institute in Stornoway.
Parents have raised concerns about bullying at the Nicolson Institute in Stornoway.

The Comhairle’s Director of Education has been accused of using ‘bullying tactics’ by the organiser of an online petition which called for greater action on alleged bullying at The Nicolson Institute.

In an email revealed by the petition’s organiser, Donna Jaffray, the Comhairle’s education chief, Bernard Chisholm, stated: ‘I feel, whatever your intention, that the petition has attacked the school, individual staff and the Authority. Unfortunately, this type of communication can be perceived as a method of bullying and a poor example to our young people’.

The Director’s email went on to deny allegations from the campaign about the school’s alleged poor handling of reports of bullying, and called on Donna Jaffray to provide him with the evidence she may have to support the campaign’s claims.

His communication continued: ‘It is difficult for staff and the majority of pupils in The Nicolson Institute not to consider this as a personal attack when staff and pupils are identified and the school is described in a way not consistent with the experience of most people.’

Donna Jaffrey has strongly denied the Director’s claims, and in response to Mr Chisholm issued a strongly worded rebuttal saying: ‘I have never once named any teacher nor any pupil in anything regarding this petition. So wherever you got that information from it is wrong.’

Ms Jaffray’s no-nonsense reply continued: ‘I take great offence in you implying that I am a bully. All I have done is raise awareness. I am just one person with a lot of signatures. From parents and students/former students that mostly say there is a severe problem in that school.

‘So if that makes me a bully for asking people their opinion then hell mend me. We are all entitled to our own opinion.’

In a later statement to the Gazette Donna Jaffray added: “The points Mr Chisholm has made, in my opinion, are just a standard reply to whomever may have sent an email to him. It seems defensive, and [The Director] is pointing blame in my direction. That is a bullying tactic – the way he is asking me to give him proof from parents and saying that I have named teachers and pupils, when not once have I done that.

“I will not send him any of the correspondence that parents have shared with me unless the parents ask me to do so. I know a few people are going to email him themselves, and they also think his email was just a standard procedure email.”

A response from the Comhairle issued when questioned whether the Director of Education’s views reflected those of the authority, stated: “The Director believes the letter is accurate and does not seek to misrepresent the discussion and purposes of the campaign.

“The Director looks forward to meeting Ms Jaffrey and receiving the final petition.

“In the meantime, he would like to convey to all parents and students of the Nicolson Institute that the school and the Authority are continuing to address bullying where it occurs and provide the school and staff the necessary resources to do this.”