Management of St. Andrew’s International Primary School has been accused of bullying junior staff members, with some teachers quitting the institution for rival schools due to the alleged toxic working environment at St Andrew’s.
For months, this publication has been receiving tips from sources, who opted for anonymity, about workplace bullying which has resulted into the creation of a hostile working environment for some of the workers.
According to information at hand, several teachers have resigned from the institution to join rival schools for lower salaries due to the environment.
Investigations done by Malawi24 have also revealed that some staff members have lost opportunities elsewhere due to the management’s failure to provide them with references.
“Teachers and Teaching Assistants have either been denied references costing them their new jobs or job offers, including some teachers who applied to work in other International schools in Malawi as well as internationally,” one source said.
Further investigations have revealed that the toxic environment within the institution was created by three British teachers at the school.
However, the main source of staff bullying is allegedly Deputy Head teacher Hannah Bradley. Teachers say that when they lodge their complaints to the school’s Board, which is headed by Lancey Mbewe, nothing is done to tame the malpractice.
“She is the one who is making our lives hell within the institution. When we try to complain, nothing is done because the Board will always come to the defence of her,” said the source.
The institution, which doesn’t provide transport to staff members especially the Teaching Assistants, demanded that all workers should start working at 6.15am in the morning, a development which saw two of the Teaching Assistants being involved in serious motorcycle accidents as they had no other alternatives to arrive on campus before the said time.
“We don’t reside on campus and the school doesn’t provide a bus to ferry us from our homes to the campus but our management changed the working hours from 6:45am to 6:15am and warned us of consequences if we defied the order.”
“This made things very difficult for us because the majority of us stay very far away from school campus and motorcycles were the only means of transport to arrive on time.”
“After the accidents, the management changed the starting hours to 6:30am. When we tried to complain to the Board, we felt blacklisted. We have nowhere to run to and we can’t just change schools as this is what is bringing food to our tables.”
Teachers have also complained that they are only given 30 minutes as a lunch break despite starting working at 6.30am.
“We start work at 6.30am and we are only given 30 minutes to rest, are we animals? Is this environment healthy for us as workers? They always make decisions without staff consultations but when we go to the Board, nothing is done. We are alone in all this and we don’t have anywhere else to go,” said another concerned source.
Blame has also been laid on the Head Teacher Naomi JN Charles, who started working for the school in September last year.
“There is very little staff wellbeing and everyone is stressed and unhappy. She has her favorites but only likes them as long as they play into her games. She tries to play staff against each other to break the bond between them but she doesn’t realize how strong the teaching staff are.”
“The Board of Governors has been informed of her behavior and abuse of power but they obviously condone it though their lack of action.”
Further reasons were given as to why local teachers, who are also the victims of the system, are still stuck with the institution.
“Expatriate teachers have the privilege of leaving this toxic environment, unlike the local teachers who feel they must endure the abuse because they do not want to lose their jobs,” the source concluded.
When interviewed by this publication, a concerned parent who also opted for anonymity described what is happening at the school as “sad”.
“For example, parents have received a new academic calendar for 2022/23, which has three weeks more than other international schools. This is okay but why not consult us? The management has succeeded in gagging parents and teachers by lying to the Board, saying that everything is okay when in actual fact, things are going astray. We have such a stubborn management which is being led by three people whose interest is not to serve the community, but only to fulfill their monetary ambitions.”
Another source also exposed how the school management has been firing teachers without valid reasons and silencing them so as not to reveal misconduct happening at the institution.
“Teachers have been fired without following proper process and then silenced by these people while others have resigned soon after joining the school due to abuses. Others have struggled with mental health problems,” he said.
The school is on the verge of losing ten teachers at the end of this academic year, with most of them citing abuse of power, unmanageable workload and a toxic work environment as reasons for their exit.
And asked as to whether the concerned teachers and Teaching Assistants have complained to the Ministry of Labour before, one of the teachers said: “Yes but no action yet from the authorities.”
Efforts to reach out to the Ministry of Labour through its spokesperson Christina Mkutumula proved futile as she did not respond to our questionnaire which was sent to her through her WhatsApp line on 5th May, 2022.
After receiving the accusations, the publication sent emails to the Head Teacher Naomi JN Charles, Board Chair Lancy Mbewe and Human Resource Manager Moses Chikopa on 3rd May, 2022 to find out if the allegations leveled against the school are true. Only the Board Chair responded on Monday, 9th May, 2022, saying he needed more time to do his own investigations.
“Regarding the allegations which you have made about our head and our school, I would like to have a bit more to time to run our own investigations,” said Mbewe.
However, he refuted reports that many teachers are quitting the school due to the toxic environment within the institution, claiming that several of the teachers’ contracts have run out.
“Of course, with regard to the teachers, I can respond now, most of the teachers who are leaving are leaving because their contracts have run their course and they have opted not to renew.”
“We are moving towards the Three TEP (Temporary Employment Permit) rule as provided by Immigration, so some members have also run this course and they can’t be renewed as Expats,” he added.
When asked if this was the case, one source commented that none of the exiting staff this year fall under that category.
On the management’s refusal to provide references for the staff to possible employers, Mbewe said:
“With regards to references, as far as I am concerned that was dealt with and all references were provided. However, you may wish to know that as a school which follows strict International guidelines, our management follows more stringent procedure with to regard to references, so where it may seem as there are undue delays, it’s actually following those procedures for the protection of all parties involved.”
Once again, when asked if this was the case, our source commented that this was also not the case.
This is the second time for Staff and Junior members to complain about unfair treatment from the Top Management.
Despite many allegations being made against the headteachers professional conduct in a very conservative society, the board continue to turn a blind eye while the school’s reputation is questioned.
Workplace bullying constitutes repeated and persistent negative actions aimed at one or more individuals, which results in the creation of a hostile working environment. Bullying involves a desire to hurt, hurtful action, power imbalance, repetitive aggressor and a sense of being oppressed by the victim. Workplace bullying can be defined as repeated hurtful negative act or acts (physical, verbal, or psychological intimidation) that involve criticism and humiliation to cause fear, distress, or harm to the individual