Principal on parental and school responsibility and accountability

In a senior prize giving speech a Dunedin principal has spoken of increasing pressures, especially from media, on schools on social issues and responsibilities.

He said that while most parents “did a fantastic job” some needed to take more responsibility for their child’s behaviour.

ODT: Principal bemoans threats to schools

A Dunedin school principal is  increasingly  concerned  by the  social expectations imposed on schools,  and says some parents need to take more responsibility for their children’s actions.

During the recent King’s High School senior prizegiving, rector Dan Reddiex praised his present cohort of pupils for their outstanding achievements  during the year, but went on to express deep concern about the future of education in New Zealand.

He said the school’s ability to educate boys “in mind and in heart” was under threat.

“Alarmingly, in my view, we are increasingly becoming as much a social institution as we are an educational one.

“The expectations imposed upon us now as a school, to attend to and reverse the ills of our society, are completely unrealistic and they are beyond our resource capability.

“It seems now, the first questions about the inappropriate text message sent by a school-age person in the weekend, or the under-age young person attending a party that goes wrong, are not ‘what were the parents thinking and what will the parents do about it’?

“The first questions now are ‘what school does the young person go to and what is the school going to do about it’? And we’ve seen that in the national media this year…

“I believe it’s not our parent body who thrust these expectations upon us. It’s the media and it’s increasingly a broader societal expectation.”

Mr Reddiex said the lines of demarcation between parental and school responsibility and accountability had been “completely obliterated”.

I don’t think this is necessarily new. I remember my school being involved in student behaviour outside school time, like smoking, and there was a kerfluffle at school when I was in Form 1 when a girl self tattooed her hand.

Following the prizegiving, he told the Otago Daily Times there was an expectation that schools would, in part, fulfil the function that historically had been the role of a parent.

“The vast majority of parents are doing a fantastic job, but there are some who need to take more responsibility for their child’s behaviour.”

It usually is a small minority who are at fault.

Otago Secondary Principals’ Association secretary Gordon Wilson said it was a widespread issue.

“Schools are under increasing pressure to help the community solve some of its issues, and often schools are seen as the last place where some of these issues can be addressed.

“That’s not where schools should be. A lot of these issues that schools are being asked to deal with are not internal issues. They are issues that have arisen from outside the school.”

Schools and teachers have long been held as exemplary social examples, with an aim to make it’s pupils similar.

NZ History:  Schools in 1914

George Hogben, who headed the Department of Education from 1899 until 1915, believed that ‘moral purpose should dominate the spirit of the whole school life.’ Schools and teachers were to shape children into productive, moral and healthy citizens prepared to serve their country in both peace and war. J.P. Firth (or ‘the Boss’, as he was known to most) was principal of Wellington College from 1892 to 1920. Firth believed in the virtues of manliness, toil and duty in preference to ease and pleasure, and transmitted to his pupils an abhorrence of ‘slovenliness, sneaking, and all things mean and unworthy’.

Social behaviour outside schools can impact in schools, for example with bullying.

From Tackling Bullying – A guide for Boards and Trustees

“Schools are increasingly involved in incidents where the activities of students at home or in their own time have an impact on the life of the school; for example, creating and posting harmful content on social media using their own Smartphone or computer, whether at school or not. It can affect a student’s wellbeing no matter where it happens.

Schools have the responsibility and power to act when it is reasonable to expect that what’s occurred could have a negative impact on the school’s learning environment. Trying to pinpoint where and when the bullying took place may be less helpful than asking ‘what effect is this having on the student/s involved and how will we respond?’

If signs of bullying such as absenteeism or other worrying behaviour are noticed by school staff, or if anyone reports bullying to school staff, it’s important to investigate and take action, regardless of where and when it happened.”

Often parents are unaware of social exchanges including bullying. Children often stay silent at home about problems they face in school and outside school.

As far as I’m aware schools have always assumed some responsibility for the behaviour of pupils outside school – but in the past at least they took action in school but didn’t want bad publicity for the school.

Schools are a major part of the social interactions of students, so they can’t avoid social responsibilities. They will of course want parents to also take responsibility for their children, but it is a complex issue, and is fraught when there is a clash between school and parent expecations and values.

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8 Comments

  1. Gezza

     /  November 19, 2017

    The rules were simple in the Naki when I were a lad.

    1. You misbehaved, nicked something (like robbed a fruit tree without asking), wilfully damaged something (like your neighbours’ vege garden running through it), were disrespectful of persons or property, or otherwise socially screwed up like getting seen pissed & brawling, the neighbours or other adults who saw it went feckin apeshit at you, and if they knew them – they told your parents.
    2. Your parents gave you a lecture & made you feel like crap, when younger you got grounded, lost pocket money, got extra chores, or might get a clip round the ear or any combination of those depending on severity of the offence.
    3. If it was an adult you upset you were sent round to apologise in person & to make good any damage or offer to pay for it. Once you apologised the neighbours almost always respected you and were friendly afterwards – unless it was old Grumpo down the end of the street who was always just a moaning old asshole anyway & everybody knew that.
    4. The school had ownership of what you did in school uniform. If you misbehaved on or off school grounds in school uniform it reflected on the school & the Principal would have you for breakfast. And they’d tell your parents before they punished you. And your parents would say good on you. Don’t hurt him! He was dropped on his head as a baby.

    • Gezza

       /  November 19, 2017

      PS: If the school had contacted my parents about something I’d done out of school my father would have said “was he in school uniform?”

      If they answer was “No”, he would have said, “It’s none of your business then, leave it to us. We’ll handle it!”

      And I think that’s how it still should be.

  2. Kitty Catkin

     /  November 19, 2017

    Not everyone was brought up in the same way at any time.

    The Wanganui family, the S’s, have been criminals for generations and still are. When I was looking at houses online and was told that the S clan lived in the next street to one, that was enough. Not interested.

    If there had always been rules and boundaries and people had enforced these, there still would be. Changes tend not to happen with no warning.

    Schools have rules about theft and bullying and other antisocial behaviour-but someone to whom theft is what you do if you want something and violence is what’s used to control others isn’t going to leave that way of thinking at the school gate.

    My mother thought and hoped that she had broken the cycle with one little S who was a clever boy and learned to love reading. He seemed to be doing all right after he left school and not doing what the family did. Then one day, there was his name in the court convictions section of the paper.

  3. Alan Wilkinson

     /  November 19, 2017

    It’s the vicious circle of the State taking choice and responsibility away from the individual – compulsory state schooling leads to abdication of responsibility to the State and to schools as agents of it. Moreover parents have been stripped of power to discipline so that also has been appropriated by the State.

    • patupaiarehe

       /  November 19, 2017

      Unfortunately Alan, schools have to cater to ‘the lowest common denominator’, which means that all parents get treated like idiots, because of a useless few. Not so long ago, our youngest arrived home with a note in his lunchbox, questioning whether we were making “healthy choices” for him, by sending him to pre-school with a piece of home-made cake every day (as well as a banana, a sandwich, and a yoghurt). This note really upset my ‘ataahua wahine’, as she makes a lot of effort in the kitchen, to make cakes/muffins/scones etc, for school & work lunches. I got a bit angry too, but took a deep breath, & wrote a note of my own, which went in his lunchbox the following day. My lady laughed when she read it, her favourite bit was, “May I politely suggest that your centre make it’s own healthy choice, which is never to criticise my wifes’ baking again”. We haven’t had any more ‘notes’ since 😀

      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  November 19, 2017

        I had a few happy parent moments too. One earnest teacher who was notorious for setting too much year 6-7 homework told the assembled parents that the homework was improving to which I replied “Yes, we are getting better at it” to general amusement. Another who worried our son was cruising I told that the world would not be better place if he got top of the class rather than just in the middle. From my own school days I remember our very dedicated chemistry teacher worrying that our class wasn’t taking it seriously enough and then discovering we won five of the top dozen places in NZ in our final exams. Teachers are as vulnerable to self doubt as anyone else.

        • patupaiarehe

           /  November 19, 2017

          One of the funniest ‘parent moments’ I’ve had Alan, involved going to a parent teacher interview with a former teacher of mine, who was teaching science to my eldest boy. 20 years later, he didn’t look much different (but obviously I did). He gave me a funny look when I sat down, like he recognised me from somewhere, but couldn’t quite pick it. He went on to tell me what a pleasure my son was to teach, & how he was always polite & quiet in class. Told me that he didn’t ask many questions, but when he did, they were concise, & that he ‘took on board’ the answers. About then, the ‘light went on’. He broke into a big grin, & said, “I’m picking that he takes after his mother!”. Cheeky sod 😀

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