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.