How can you have your pudding if you don’t eat your meat?

Top school plans to fail boys with bad attitude

One of New Zealand’s top high schools has introduced a tough new scheme in which junior students will be held back a year if they don’t do their homework, have the right attitude, turn up to school on time or bring the right equipment to class. It means even the brightest children could fail a year despite getting high marks in every subject.

If this scheme had been in place when I was in High School … I would still be in High School.

The right “attitude”? The right “work ethic”? These are, of course, not _bad things_ but I don’t think they’re something you can impress upon a child be threatening to hold them back a year. It reminds me of P.J O’Rourke postulating on what whould happen if you made armed forces drill instructors into therapists… “I WANT THAT OEDIPAL COMPLEX RESOLVED BY 1300 HOURS MISTER OR YOU WILL RUN LAPS FOR THE REST OF THE DAY!”

Hell, I haven’t been at High School for nigh on 18 years or so, and I am STILL developing a work ethic that doesn’t involve the phrase “Where possible, do it tomorrow.”

The worst part of it is that the whole thing stinks of subjectivity. It seems to suggest that teachers could hold back students to punish them for things which are simply unmeasurable, and therefore uncontestable.

You need to be able to write to the school and say “95% of the people who worked with myself and Bob Smith would say that we had similar attitudes to work, and yet you gave him a rating of “awesome” and me a rating of “devil child”. Explain!” or even “In addition, 95% of the people who worked with us both said that you frequently mentioned that Bob has “full round lips” and the “taut musculature of a swimmer” whereas I resemble a cornish pastry in appearance, texture, and affinity for sports. Explain. In Detail.”

If the teacher can just come back and say “There’s no actual metrics, it’s just my opinion.” then that’s fucked. Fucked. I’ve had teachers who have actively disliked me and gone out of their way to make my life a misery, and I’ve had teachers who’ve covered for me when I’ve bunked off for a week or so. You CAN’T have a subjective thing like this which _overrides_ the objective scholastic tests. I would pull my kids out of any school that used this system.


  1. Yup – I’d never have gotten past the 4th form under a scheme like this. I can just see some alternate me still sitting there in a shorter-than-regulation skirt with half my books left at home and a teacher spitting at having to hand me the top mark for my social studies test.

    • I agree. I wore a non regulation jersey for a year. They’d tell me off, make me remove it and I just wore it the next day. And I was always forgetting everything and mucking around. In sixth form my english teacher told me straight out, she didn’t mind me mucking around in class as long as I didn’t disturb the other students. Let alone bunking…

      I might have made it through third form, but seriously, no further. Heck I used to just wander off and hang out at Shirley Boys.

      What are they going to teach the bright kids with the “bad attitude”, is it just going to be the exact same academic curriculum? In that case, why would they turn up for a year to do the same study as the year before?

      I’d probably pull my kids out of a school that did this, unless they were one of those popular-with-the-teachers kids.

      • This has just reminded me just how much I _hated_ school 🙁

        • ****shudders**** There is a reason I’ve been tying myself in knots sorting out somewhat less mainstream education for my bright-but-quirky kids.

          • Schools seem to be more nurturing than they ever used to be, at least I’ve seen that with our boys. I mean Peter is grade A quirky and even disruptive, yet he seems to being doing well at school and responding and improving. Admittedly with a lot of help from Resource Teachers of Learning and Behavior and Child and Adolescent Mental Health and his pediatrician. But if one of my kids was going to hate school, it would be Peter.

            Luckily his high school is bang next door to his primary school and he’ll move through with his class mates. Both schools only have 130 kids each. But he really loved Redwood too, although apparently that’s a very good school. So maybe we’ve just been lucky.

      • Amusing. Shirley Boys has been running this system since 2003.

  2. I rather suspect it’s a way to get pupils the staff don’t like taken out of the school without needing to expel them.

  3. Ha, I read this this morning and thought, when I’ve got a minute, I need to blog this.

    We’d never have made it out of school, either of us. But that’s not the point, of course. Phil is right: it’s for getting rid of problem kids without needing an actual basis to expel them.

    About nine Shirley boys had “faced the dilemma” of being held back many were removed from the school by parents rather than repeating the year and Monaghan said that was likely to happen at Westlake.

    ‘Bad attitude’ being, of course, anyone who dares to stick their head up over the parapet and say, hey you know what? That new rule you made about boys not being allowed within a metre of girls? Is fuck-stupid.

    Being able to work out when a rule is dumb and needs to be changed is a fucking life skill, not an attitude problem.

    I’ve had teachers who have actively diskliked me and gone out of there way to make my life a misery, and I’ve had teachers who’ve covered for me when I’ve bunked off for a week or so.

    Janet Street. John Brown/John Fitz.

    • “Being able to work out when a rule is dumb and needs to be changed is a fucking life skill, not an attitude problem.”

      Very true. I found that watching how a teacher handled a bright, articulate kid with strong opinions was a good way to pick which ones were riddled with insecurities.

      • You know, you’re right. And I’ve found it works with employers, too. I drove my first web-boss, Pam, crazy because when I thought she was wrong, I’d say so. In front of the rest of the staff. She hated me, and she especially hated me when I was right.

        Somewhere I still have my testimonial from high school, which from memory describes me as ‘a young woman of strong mind and character’, which I’m pretty sure is report-speak for ‘stroppy bitch you don’t want to hire’.

    • Janet Street. John Brown/John Fitz.


      • Fitz once accidentally blew my cover by saying he’d seen me in the street on a day I’d been bunking. He was most apologetic.

        And my mum ran into him in town the other day, with what she reckons was a Significant Other (male).

        • I can remember running into teachers in town when I should have been in class a couple of times and them making a very obvious effort not to see me.

  4. It has been my experience that schools are to a large degree insulated from the real world to such an extent that they can spend years coming up with dumber and dumber ideas and there really isn’t anybody much around to say wtf?

    Even other teachers who disagree with what a vice-principal or principal has to say aren’t likely to say anything because they have to keep working for these people and it would be horrible to work for someone who would very much like to have you fired.

    But it certainly would make school a very different place if you knew that if you complained about anything going on around you that you’d be kept back a year or have to leave the school rather than be forced to repeat a year.

    I had teachers that were so awful that if I had been forced to spend another year with them I might have seriously considered topping myself, some were not only bad teachers they had no interest in helping a student that had dificulty with the subject not helped by their lackluster teaching methods.

    Conversely I had some teachers for that very same subject that made me love the subject and do well at it, I would hate to think that the bad teacher would have the power to make me put up with his incompetance for two years.

    I really don’t know why they just don’t expell 9 students a year and stand by their decision to do so, hell it’s not like any other school would need to expell any less than that, some kids just are arseholes.

    By the end of my highscool years I had pretty much lost interest in the school system, I was probably absent from school, 3 days out of 5, sometimes I would just leave at lunchtime and go into town and windowshop, I doubt very much school has changed much, I went to three different highschools and they were all rather mediocre.

    I have to say though once I left highschool my life got immeasurably better, I can only see this fucked in the head idea making things pretty horrible for a large chunk of the school population, school is a funny place it would be like living in NZ but you don’t get to vote for the MP’s and if they do things you don’t like, well tough!

  5. Having been a teacher, I wanted to give this the benefit of the doubt. I’m not sure if there’s a name for this particular corollary to Godwin’s law, but I gave up when I got to

    Monaghan dismissed the criticism as “typically PC”.

    As near as I can determine, “PC” in nearly all circumstances means applying common decency in dealing with other people. I was also not encouraged by his estimate that as many as 15% of his students would not find the experience rewarding.

    This is a shame, because I do think schools have an important role in teaching social graces and respect for other people. I also think that teenagers are generally not well equipped to work these things out intuitively, and can benefit from codes of conduct that would be too inflexible for adults. But this approach doesn’t exactly model the sort of behaviour you’d want students to adopt.

    • …teenagers are generally not well equipped to work these things out intuitively, and can benefit from codes of conduct…

      This is very true. Teenagers aren’t adults. I do think society has given teens many rights, but without emphasizing their responsibilities.

  6. I too would still be in High School… I’d be totally screwed.

    Although, I did have one science teacher with a similar policy around homework – you got 3 shots at not handing in homework at the beginning of class, after that, every time you get a detention if it’s not there right at the beginning of class.

    I didn’t hand in homework the first three weeks, got a detention or two, then figured what the hell, it’s only one class that I really need to do homework for, and generally managed to get it done… Usually in the class BEFORE that class if I didn’t have it first thing.

    Another science teacher routinely handed out ‘For Effort and Achievement’ certificates to people who excelled at tests and things. She always made a point of removing the ‘Effort’ from mine, and making sure the class knew about it, despite routinely getting high/near perfect scores, because she knew I wasn’t trying. I actually quite liked her, because she was never ‘mean’ or ‘derogatory’ about it, it was just a fact – something we could both agree on at the time.