St Michael’s College Merrimac principal Anthony Elmore settles with six teachers while denying bullying claims
St Michael’s College Merrimac principal Anthony Elmore settles with six teachers while denying bullying claims

Principal at top Qld school caught up in bullying claims

A Gold Coast principal has settled with six teachers who alleged he bullied them over a two-year period at a Catholic school.

The teachers took their allegations against Anthony Elmore, principal of St Michael's College at Merrimac, to the Fair Work Commission seeking an order to stop bullying. Mr Elmore firmly denied their claims.

"The applicants alleged that bullying behaviour occurred," the FWC determined. "The respondent rejected these allegations."

In the last month, both parties signed an agreement in which they maintained their respective stances, but Mr Elmore: "acknowledged that some interactions that have been had and some decisions that have been made, in the course of his role as principal, have created anxiety and concerns for some of the applicants, which may have impacted on their wellbeing.

St Michael's college in Carrara. Picture: Tertius Pickard
St Michael's college in Carrara. Picture: Tertius Pickard

"While this was not the intent of the respondent, he apologises for the impact these interactions have had."

As part of the agreement, Mr Elmore, with the support of Brisbane Catholic Education - which oversees St Michael's and other Catholic schools on the Gold Coast - has agreed to commit to any training or support offered to create a positive, collaborative and consultative working relationship, including 'training relating to maintaining interpersonal relationships'.

A spokesman for BCE said since Mr Elmore's appointment in mid-2018, there have been ongoing discussions with staff regarding the changes at St Michael's College.

"BCE has offered to meet with staff who have not agreed with Principal Anthony Elmore on some matters," he said.

"BCE has always sought to resolve any matters raised. Some staff members sought the assistance of the Fair Work Commission. Through an informal process, the parties agreed to a resolution, and no finding of bullying was made, rather the assistance was to improve communication in professional relationships."

However, multiple staff members have contacted the Bulletin saying a 'cold war culture' continues at the school with an alarmingly high number of staff resignations and students leaving.

Six teachers made the allegations. Picture: Tertius Pickard
Six teachers made the allegations. Picture: Tertius Pickard

The BCE spokesman said the college had recorded a consistent increase in student enrolments in the last two years with the student retention rate at its highest level in almost a decade. He said there has been a strong increase in student attendance and an above-average increase in staff retention rates.

But staff say they are unhappy that BCE has not taken any action against Mr Elmore in relation to his management style, and that despite also being BCE employees they have been offered little support.

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The Bulletin has viewed a petition signed by almost 30 staff members last year which states they have "concerns that Anthony Elmore has failed to meet the standards set out in the Code of Conduct, eg Section 20.2 - employees must ensure their behaviour towards other employees is not derogatory, rude, aggressive, abusive, belittling, threatening or intimidating".

A current staff member, who did not wish to be named due to fears of retribution, said students were suffering, with Year 11 students cycling through five different English teachers just this year because of the extreme staff turnover.

Welcome messages outside the school. Picture: Tertius Pickard
Welcome messages outside the school. Picture: Tertius Pickard

Another staff member said they had taken their complaints as far as they could thanks to representation from the independent Education Union (IEUA), which confirmed their support for a number of members from St Michael's College, but were still hoping that BCE would take action to improve the management of the school.

"What none of us understand is why BCE haven't done. We're employees of BCE as well … why aren't they looking after us?

"Our union gave BCE all of the complaints, then they spent a week here interviewing everyone, people were in tears in those sessions because it's been such a traumatic time, then they just sent us all a letter basically saying they spoke to Mr Elmore and it's all good now. "That's when the Fair Work Commission was approached by the union. Now the staff and Mr Elmore have reached an agreement to resolve the situation without legal action, Indeed, the FWC's Heads of Agreement states that: "This Agreement will be reviewed between BCE and the IEUA during a date to be agreed upon in Term 4, but by no later than the beginning of Week 8 of Term 4 2020. Nothing in this Heads of Agreement precludes future amendments being made by agreement and confirmed in writing."

”A friendly learning Catholic community”. Picture: Tertius Pickard
”A friendly learning Catholic community”. Picture: Tertius Pickard

Parent and former president of St Michael's P & F Christina Gomersall said teachers had described their treatment by management as 'death by a thousand cuts'.

A letter from the IEUA to BCE stated that members had advised that Mr Elmore's conduct included: "inappropriate comments, questions and communication; belittling and intimidating staff, including in front of other employees; unnecessary escalation of matters; unjustified criticism of staff; lack of consultation and transparency; delays with responding/dealing with issues, withholding information from staff; and lack of procedural fairness afforded to staff".

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Mrs Gomersall said: "It's gone too far. I've been blocked from communicating with him, my kids are all gone after the year so I have nothing left to lose. But everyone else at that school does."

Mrs Gommersal also said video cameras had been installed in classrooms to watch over teachers and students.

The BCE spokesman said it regularly surveyed staff, parents and students, and the feedback from St Michael's parents in its 2019 and 2020 surveys was overwhelmingly positive.

"BCE seeks to support the wellbeing of all of our students and staff who are highly valued members of our school community," he said.

Originally published as Principal at top Coast school caught up in bullying claims


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