The school where almost all the teachers quit
Erik Strand, October 3rd, 2015
In an article at the website Radikal Portal, Ingrid Kvamme Fredriksen presents the story of Uranienborg school, a school in the Frogner neighbourhood in Oslo. At this school, more than 80 % of the teachers quit their job during a period of less than five years. The reason for this exceptional high frequence of teachers leaving their job is identified as control and harassment by the school’s administration – headed by principal Randi Tallaksen.
Radikal Portal has talked with ten former teachers at Uranienborg. Independently of each other, they tell about a “regime based on control and terror”. Six of them report that they became sick as a result of harassment by the school administration. Most of the teachers do not wish to be identified by name. They say that they are scared, or that they lack the energy for dealing with the issue. The teacher who was formerly responsible for IT education at the school and the teacher of a reception class (a class for newly arrived immigrant children) is one of those who became sick and was early retired. She received a written warning after talking with a parent about professional challenges in the corridor.
– What frightened me in this case was that I was reported by one of my colleagues. We talked about IT and mathematics. It seems that this was a parent whom the headmaster disliked. No teachers were allowed to talk with him.
Signe Magnus also states that before Tallaksen became headmaster at Uranienborg, there was a stable staff situation at Uranienborg. Teachers had been there for 20-30 years. Today there are almost none left.
Signe Magnus had been rasponsible for Information Technology at Uranienborg since 1995 and had contributed to making Uranienborg a leading school within IT. As Magnus was 50 % disabled with the diagnosis post polio, it was good for her health to work with IT, that being a flexible post. With a new principal, she was told to change work from one day to another.
As a reception class teacher she got schedules that were problematic with her health.
– The schedules for the lessons were quite unpedagogic. As an example, the children one day had five consecutive lessons with me. These were mathematics and science lessons, not Norwegian language. However, the pupils in the reception class are supposed to focus on Norwegian language, as they have lived in Norway for a short time. We soon found out that we could not propose changes. If we did so, we were guaranteed that there would be no change as proposed. We therefore tried to switch lessons, in order to offer the pupils a more pedagogic program, more fit for them.
Signe Magnus was harshly criticised for her attempts. She found that the school administration worked against her, and that she was not given her spare time in connection with days where she had to be present at school outside the ordinary working hours due to school activities – despite the fact that she was partially disabled. After receiving a written warning she could not stand working at Uranienborg any longer.
– I thought that I could not stand it any longer. I got an unpleasant feeling that I was under surveillance all the time, that colleagues reported me. The school tried to find mistakes and weaknesses. I had the feeling that I was not trusted and respected. I chose early retirement.
Magnus finds it hurtful to speak about these things now, two years later.
Not all the teachers were bullied by the school leadership. One teacher tells about the difference betwwen being “inside” and “outside”. “Victoria” witnessed all her colleagues disappear and found that after working at the school for four years, she suddenly became one of the most experienced teachers in her team. She tells that as long as she was friends with the principal, she got special treatment and got paid leave when she needed that for personal reasons.
– At that time, I was inside. When one works there one almost gets somewhat brainwashed and believes that this is the way it is supposed to be. In retrospect I am thinking. for what purpose did she use me?
She went well on with the principal, but reacted on how colleagues were treated. Seeing test results from national tests made her feel uneasy. She told that teachers were forced to practice with the pupils before these tests. She says that practicing before national tests is normal. However, using last years tests for practice is less normal, as these tests vary little from one year to another. She felt that she had to say something.
– After that, the principal did not talk with me at all.
When she quit, she was denied what she was legally entitled to. She still says that what she has experienced was not that bad – there were other teachers whom the principal harassed like Hell.
– If you watch Uranienborg from the outside, being a teacher there seems like a dream job: parents and kids with resources and no bullying. But all the teachers quit. There is a reason for that. I would never let my children attend that school.
Got a warning for doing her job as union representative
When “Anne” quit her job she was one of the most experienced reception class teachers in Oslo, having taught Norwegian at an elementary level for 31 years. Today she works in an neighbouring municipality. She tells that she was harassed, both as a teacher and as a union representative. As a union representative, she was denied being present in a meeting with a member and the principal. She also received a written warning for doing her job as a union representative, which is contrary to a central agrreement considering the relation between employers and employees in Norway (“the Main Agreement”). “Anne” still feels uneasy when she speaks about her former principal.
– According to the Main Agreement, the principal and the union representative are equal parties. That the principal gives a union representative a written warning for doing her job is unacceptable. Off course I went to my organisation with the case. The organisation contacted tha Education department in Oslo – with the headline “Harassment of union representative at Uranienborg school”. The Education department upheld the warning. In practice, this means that the Education department does not respect the Main Agreement, and that union representatives are not safe in doing their job as representatives.
“Anne” describes an escalating spiral of threats, being summoned to the principal and oral warnings. “Anne” turned to her teacher union due to the principal’s style of leadership. The union discussed the case with the Education department several times, but to no avail.
At least six serious complaints
Like several other former teachers at Uranienborg, “Anne” confirms that the principal has employed several former colleagues in central positions. This has partly been done outside normal employment procedures. “Anne” says that she, besides her own case, know about six instances in which teachers at the school has sent serious complaints to the teachers’s unions and verneombud (ombudsman). Radikal Portal has seen some of these cases. Anne herself became ill due to harassment by the school leadership.
– During the last ten years before Tallaksen became principal, I was absent about one week due to illness. After Tallaksen became principal, I experienced for the first time that my work was detrimental to my health. My union contactet the main verneombud in the Oslo schools, and I was summoned to a meeting. I was told to face how serious the situation was and go to a doctor. The doctor wanted to give me a sickness leave at once, but I went on for several weeks before I faced that this could not go on. I felt that it was bad leaving the pupils before the school year was over.
All the former teachers who have worked at the reception classes have quit. It is said that they have been forced to sign an agreement which they could not believe were legal. Teachers with special competence were forsed to reduce their salary and lecture in topics in which they had no competence – for pupils who most of all needed to learn Norwegian. “Anne” tells that the pupils got the lowest priority when it came to room and equipment.
Paedophilia innuendos archived
Former custodian at Uranienborg school, Anders Kanten, is not afraid of telling his story. He quit in 2011 and tried to blow the whistle about the school administration to all conceivable organs. He also encouraged teachers to stand up against the school leadership. He wrote one long e-mail to all employees, the Education department, city council chairperson Stian Berger Røsland and Oslo’s mayor Fabian Stang. In this e.mail, he describes how he was persecuted. He shares one episode where some children helped him carrying milk for the milkman. The pupils came late to class, and the school responded by an innuendo about paedophilia.
– The milkman had pain in his back and the ground was icy. Therefore I carried milk for him and the children helped me. Some pupils were late for class and I was summoned to the principal.
A reference to children and “men at his age” was stored in the school’s archives, in a special archive to which the employees have no access, he tells.
In his mail from 2011, Kanten wrote: “The reason why I send this to “everyone” is solely because eight emplyees at the school, who find themselves badly treated, have urged me to do this. They do not dear telling how they feel things are, in fear of retribution related to everything including inspections and plans for lessons, as well as getting a bad reference – or plainly the stress factor associated with beeing alone against the administration and having no choice but conforming with the administration.
Kanten reacted towards how the new principal introduced a hierarchy between pedagogic employees and other employees. He had a good relashonship with colleagues and children and felt being punished for that.
– It was terrible how she behaved. Like a local king. It was not uncommon that teachers cried at the staff room, Kanten tells.
– As teachers they are helpless. They risk not getting a job again. I was relatively lucky, but many teachers had worked there their entire lives and got bad references after 50 years at work. Many teachers did not dear telling about what they experienced. Those who did, were bullied. One was not allowed to think for oneself or say one’s opinion.
Kanten asks how the school administration can teach the children not to bully other children when the administration practced bullying every day.
Had to find furniture by herself
“Nina” had problems believing what she experienced when she came back from her summer holyday and realised that the administration had no plans for getting neither a room nor other equipment for her class. They found a group room, but the reception class needed furniture, pedagogic material and other equipment. Nothing was there for them.
– There was never any information. Nothing was prepared. There has to be a classroom, tables and equipment. There has to be a budget, I thought.
– It was a nightmare. I started working, I had a responsibility. But there was nothing there. It should not be the teachers’s responsibility to find furniture. We only had a room filled with crap. We had to organise everything by ourselves, find furniture and collect things we could use. Otherwise, our pupils had been standing there without any equipment.
To a certain degree that was what happened. During one week, the teachers had planning days. This week, they could not do their things, but had to attend mandatory lessons, which they found of little relevance. They did not get the chance to talk together, find furniture and plan education. They even had to create their own pedagogical material. That year, school books came first in March. She worked long days – in the hidden – in order to collect things they could use in class, from her own house and from contacts at other schools. If administration found out about this secret organisation, they were punished. They regularly received derogatory e-mails, she says.
– I came to school at eight and worked until six or seven at night every day. I got problems sleeping. There were meetings all the time. To my despair, the pupils came and we only had a small group room, filled with furniture ready for the scrapyard. At the same time, the school got a new first grade class that had wholly new equipment and furniture. The principal proudly presented that to the parents.
She cannot understand what happened with the means bound for the reception class.
– How could the Education department in Oslo create a new high school class without binding financial means. They must get something, I thought. When I asked, I was told that the class had not got more than 16-17 000. For that amount they could at least have gotten pedagogical material.
– There were pupils from Sierra Leone there, poor countries in South America and Africa. They could not understand that the standard was so low in Norway, one of the world’s richest countries. They looked into other classrooms and could see that there was nothing wrong with the material standard.
In the end, she got a long term sickness leave.
– One day I was not able to breath nor walk up the stairs. I crawled up the stairs to the classroom and started the lesson, blue in my face.
– The problem was not that we did not get any help – we were sabotaged and reprimanded. That was the worst thing. If only we had got any support.
Meeting a former principal in court
Tallaksen has also been involved in conflicts at schools where she has worked. Tallaksen has been employed as education inspector at Midstuen school in Oslo. When the principal was absent due to sickness, she functioned as principal for a period of three years. Radikal Portal has talked with the former principal.
When principal Sven Erik Neumayer returned, Oslo municipality fired him after one year because he did not succeed in making the administration function, and due to “economic irregularities”. The Education department had received a report about an account that he adminsistered. This account was meant to cover unexpected expences like ice cream on the National Day. According to Neumayer, that constituted regular practice in Oslo schools at that time.
Neumayer confirms, as the municipality said during the trial against him, that he could not make the administration function – as they did not want to cooperate with him. He tells that people worked against him during the year before he was fired. Tallaksen witnessed against her former principal in court. He still won the case and was given 1.3 million kroner in tort.
The former Midstuen principal is now retired. He tells that Tallaksen had a central role in the process of gettim him fired, and that she created intrigues within the staff.
– She tried to run a kind of state inside the state. She had a system where she harassed several teachers.
After the trial, Tallaksen and the rest of the administration were moved to other schools. Later, the former education inspector was employed as assisting principal at Uranienborg. According to former employees, several occupations at the schools were never made public, and normal hiring processes were not followed.
Radikal Portal has sent principal Randi Tallaksen several questions about the sinister accusations against her. She replies:
– The accusations in this case are numerous and serious. Many of them are unspecified, so that they are impossible to comment upon. You ask about our hiring processes. These are open and follow the routines that exist in the Oslo school. We announce employments in several fora, among these Norway’s largest job marketplace, finn.no, and the Education department’s website, and we get many appliciants. The entire administration is always involved in hirings. We always conduct interviews in an ordinary way. If possible, we arrange test education. The union representative is invited to participate and look through the applications.
– At our school there are meny different employees. Everyone who has visited the school will see that we have competent teachers and other employees. They belong to different age groups, have different background and come from different places in Norway.
– Most of give positive feedback, saying that they enjoy working here and want to stay if they can.
– Therefore, no one in the administration (we are 5) recognise the situation you describe.
The Education department: there has not been a flight of teachers
According to “Anne” a leader like Tallaksen could not have operated in the Oslo school fifteen years ago -before Astrid Søgnen became leader of the Education department.
– What counts now is “obedience and control”. Teachers who are badly treated cannot win in this system. The personel department within the Education department always side with the principal. Parents wonder why all the teachers quit, but the flight of teachers does not entail any consequences.
Radikal Portal has not succeded in getting a comment from Astrid Søgnen. Communications director Trine Lie Larsen, whom Tallaksen has sent a copy in the correspondance about Uranienborg, gives an answer on behalf of the department:
– For now, the Education department have no pending cases regarding the staff situation at Uranienborg. We do not recognice the picture you are painting, with teachers fleeing the school. Uranienborg is no outlier at the statistics on turnover among employees. There is a mobility between Oslo schools, and when one for example have a staff with many older teachers, there will be periods where many teachers retire, but Uranienborg has no outstanding turnover in its staff.
Upon the question about whether it is common that more that 80 % of the teachers quit during a period of less than five years, Radikal Portal had still got no answer when the article was published.
Last modified October 26, 2015