How far should private schools be expected to improve the results of struggling students? A Werribee man is reportedly suing Mentone Grammar, saying that it did not live up to its promise that it would try to help his son improve his academic results. He alleges that the school did not tell the parents about his son’s increasing academic difficulties and his failure to complete homework. He also claims that the school failed to respond adequately to the fact his son was bullied.
On the one hand, I feel sympathetic towards the father. If he has shelled out a bucket-load of money for his son to get a good education, he has a right to demand the best possible education. Any parent would want to be told if his child is having problems and to follow up with the child.
On the other hand, to an extent, if the son does not do his homework, that is his own choice, and the school can’t be expected to chase up every student who doesn’t hand in work on time. The boy has to take some responsibility for his own academic problems.
There are a few things which concern me about this kind of case:
- It suggests that it is the school’s fault alone if the child has not done well. To recycle a well-known proverb, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink”. The child also has to put in effort of his own.
- Teachers are caught between wanting to give an accurate view of a child’s potential, and the potential for crushing a child’s ego. As a friend was explaining, school reports in this State increasingly tend towards brevity and giving scant information about a child’s progress.
- Some parents have unrealistic expectations about the extent to which their child can improve academically. It may be that the best outcome which could have been reached is for a D student to become a C student.
- If a class does badly, it does not mean that the teacher is bad. It may mean that the class is a particularly difficult one, or there are a high proportion of students with learning difficulties, or students who are socially disadvantaged. This is the problem I have with “grading teachers”. If you judge the quality of teachers on the achievements of students, it will depend in part on the aptitude of the students, and so it is not a fair judgment.
- Should teachers have given this student attention over and above the attention which they gave other students who were not struggling? If so, doesn’t this mean that the more accomplished members of the class are being neglected and in a sense, being “punished” for being smart?
Bullying is a different issue again. My own experience at high school (which is admittedly quite a while ago now) was that when these issues were raised in the classroom, all the bullies earnestly said that bullying was a terrible thing, and should be dealt with harshly. I wonder to this day whether they had any idea that they were bullies themselves, or whether they were in denial. Sometimes the school actually takes the side of the bullies – I saw one poor girl complain to the school about being bullied, and she was told it was all in her head, when I knew it was not. But who was going to listen to me?
I note that there is an increased push toward anti-bullying policies in schools these days. Despite this creditable trend, it’s a very hard thing to deal with. As my mother says, you can’t take away the sting of what has been said, and you can’t undo the hurt.
In the end, I am not sure that suing the school is going to end well for anyone. Mentone Grammar have now received a great deal of adverse publicity. They probably would have been better off waiving the outstanding fees. This poor boy may also be the subject of adverse publicity, which can hardly have a good effect on his self-esteem and academic confidence.