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Headmistress attacks parents in national press

(334 Posts)
UpsetofWestLondon Sun 30-Nov-14 09:15:19

Done first ever name change for this as don't want to be identifiable!

I am really, really pissed off. The High Mistress of St Paul's Girls' School, where I am a parent, has been widely quoted in the national press this weekend criticising parents at SPGS. I fully realise she may have been quoted out of context, but the quotes seem to apply to all parents at her school and the one that cuts to the quick is where she accuses parents of "affluent neglect" by not paying enough attention to their daughters in the evening.

I should say my DD is very happy at the school, does lots of things well and lots of things not very well but enjoys them so that's great. I adore spending time with her and the only reason I don't spend as much as I would like in the evenings is because of the extraordinary volume of homework she gets set by the school (and obviously the time she needs to spend on Facebook etc!).

I am glad Ms Farr is pro-children, and this is not the first time she has criticised the parent body, but at some point, if you continuously publicly criticise your paying customers surely you have to understand you will upset them? I feel personally attacked and concerned I will be judged by others negatively for being part if this vile parent body she describes. I am cross.

I almost want to post this in AIBU...but am I?

meditrina Sun 30-Nov-14 09:34:39

Maybe she's trying to attract a different parent body to the one she has?

Though I expect that she has been quoted selectively. As you are a parent at the school, there will probably be a letter explaining the situation. these things happen.

lljkk Sun 30-Nov-14 09:47:03

Meh, I think she's advertising for more of that type of parent: "We're so great, because it's really tough to be here we churn out the toughest kids, only the most involved parents need apply."

Notinaminutenow Sun 30-Nov-14 10:20:47

Really can't see why you're so upset.

If the cap fits...

If not, you could always express your upset to the Head and/or vote with your feet.

FannyFifer Sun 30-Nov-14 10:22:16

High mistress, what utter pretentious bollocks.

Asterisk Sun 30-Nov-14 10:35:28

Regardless of context, it is clear that the head has enthusiastically endorsed the 'snowplough' metaphor and said that some parents try to arrange things so that their children never come second and can't deal with failure as a result. However, it's not in a parent's gift to ensure their child always comes first. Children are assessed all the time in these schools and there can only be one top spot for every task. Parents can't 'fix' sports fixtures. It seems absurd to blame parents for a lack of resilience in an academic environment.

Personally I do worry that my children lack resilience, not to academic failure but to life's hard knocks. But what I am supposed to do? Reverse engineer an unhappy childhood for them? Lots of children, regardless of the type of school they go to, have difficulties to overcome in their home lives (not least of which might be that they have parents with unrealistic expectations, and pressure from school to constantly perform at their best!). It seems to me there is enough awfulness in the world to not have to deliberately make things harder at home.


hollyisalovelyname Sun 30-Nov-14 10:43:23

OP you may be the like the conscientious child in a class who takes everything to heart when a teacher is giving out to the class in general but is actually aiming it at those children whose behaviour is not up to scratch in certain situations.

rabbitstew Sun 30-Nov-14 10:46:04

It's probably a bit of a case of National Press Attacks Parents and Undermines Headteacher by Selective Misquoting. I seriously doubt she intended to attack every single parent at her school.

Mind you, the school is in London, hugely expensive and has a reputation for being academic - how can it not but attract a higher than average proportion of perfectionist, high-achieving, competitive, stressed and time-poor parents who don't have the time to squeeze unscheduled, relaxed chats on subjects other than self-improvement, with their children into the day? grin Also, if the parents have never allowed themselves to fail, academically, I'm sure some will have built up a mythology around that, so that they really cannot conceive of it being possible to lead a full life if you've slipped up at school.

Notinaminutenow Sun 30-Nov-14 10:52:06

*Mrs Farr said that many parents showed a “frenetic anxiety” and refused to accept their child coming second. She warned that children were growing up unable to cope with failure as a result, the Times reported.
“Their children will succeed above all and they’re not at all on board with the idea of school as a community, learning to come second or that learning to give ground is an important part of education,” she told a workshop at the Girls’ Schools Association conference this week.*

I do think you've misrepresented the tenor of the piece. The "affluent neglect" comment was a tiny part of the article.

Sadly, her main comments are an accurate commentary on many parents' approach to their children's education, in the independent and state sectors.

Poisonwoodlife Sun 30-Nov-14 13:30:08

OP I wouldn't take it personally. All the indie Heads I have encountered, and a few Prep Heads too, have complained about the frenetic anxiety amongst west London parents, though it hasn't always made the press. I am sure she was speaking to the converted at the GSA. The more selective the school the more frustrating it is for them, and St Paul's is the most selective and possibly the entrance exam that gives rise to the most ridiculous levels of parental expectation /years of tutoring /preparation at Preps, though actually I do know girls who were selected from abroad who had not had such ridiculous levels of preparation. Having gone through the indie entrance process twice, the first time from abroad, I couldn't believe the collective hysteria that took hold during 11+ and once in the schools the competitiveness continues. The primaries / preps need to put Valium in the tea at parents evenings.....

I thoroughly support any Head who tries to tackle the ridiculous levels of parental expectation that gets put on many girls in this area. I have witnessed the fall out in terms of damaged self esteem, self harm and mental illness when a girl is given one measure of success, a place at SPGS, and a great chasm of failure if she only gets LEH, NLC, Latymer etc. hmm

Earlybird Sun 30-Nov-14 13:54:15

OP - can you cut/paste the article so we may read her comments directly, or provide a link?

Clearly, not ALL parents at SPGS are the same, but perhaps it is worth examining whether you, honestly, think the 'shoe fits'. If so, a change in approach is worth thinking about. If not, move on and simply be the best parent you can be to your dd.

Is your dd happy at the school?

UpsetofWestLondon Sun 30-Nov-14 14:02:33

I am sure some of her comments may be justified, and completely understand she may have been selectively quoted, but as I have mulled it over this morning, I think what annoys me is the rudeness of it. Regardless of what she felt, parents and teachers at any school are meant to work in respectful partnership aren't we? Now we know what she thinks of us it will be harder to maintain that.

Regardless of the validity of her comments, she should have known that making them would be newsworthy and would be felt as biting the hand that feeds her by her parent body.

rabbitstew Sun 30-Nov-14 14:10:23

Tbh, UpsetofWestLondon, it seems wrong to me to suggest that someone should not to be able to talk about something that needs talking about... You shouldn't be paying for your child's education so as to ensure that her teachers and mentors are all a bunch of sycophants.

Miggsie Sun 30-Nov-14 14:13:03

This is interesting as my friend has just been to the St Paul's girls open day and her comment was "it's a school that clearly attracts those sort of parents. We tired to look past that and assess the quality of the teaching."

She talked to the head mistress as well who pretty much said she was trying to attract a different type of parent and that she hoped my friend would not judge them by a reputation she was trying to shake off. My friend did feel she wouldn't make any friends herself from the parents - so there must be a "vibe" there.

The head of the school DD is in now recently make an off the cuff remark to me about the hardest thing about interviewing the kids for the new school year intake was the parents.

I certainly have the impression from the people I have met that the higher the school's reputation the more parents think they have done their job by getting their child in it, and after that they kind of out-source the job of child rearing (particularly the child's emotional development) to the school.

apotatoprintinapeartree Sun 30-Nov-14 14:19:08

Isn't this the reason why parents send their dc to this school.
I know several state schools who couldn't give a shiny shit if you spend time with your dc or not.
I don't send my dd to these schools as I do give a shiny shit and spend lots of time with her.
If her criticism doesn't apply to you that's fine, if it does apply to you then yes she is talking about you.
She should be allowed to talk about the state of parenting at her own school.

Poisonwoodlife Sun 30-Nov-14 14:38:50

No I don't think a Head should kowtow to parents, a respectful partnership surely means respecting her role as the leader of a community centred on educating the pupils according to the ethos of the school. You sign up for that ethos when you accept a place for your child. If she feels the behaviour of parents is interfering with her ability to deliver that ethos then it is her role to speak out. A Headteacher should have greater authority in the partnership, and the school community, than the parents. Secondary schools are there to provide an environment in which the pupils can develop as independent adults, not an environment where parents can indulge their need for status, control or whatever, as they so often do in Prep Schools.

One parents actually wrote into the Head of my DDs prep after his DD was not made Head Girl. "My Daughter is a failure, where do we go from here" something is really wrong with a culture where a parent thinks that is appropriate......

Poisonwoodlife Sun 30-Nov-14 14:52:24

This is from the LEH Heads blog "It is both a privilege and a responsibility for all Head Teachers that they, to some extent at least, have the ear of parents. Whether or not we deserve your attention and your support is quite another matter, but you will have noticed that I am rather inclined to take advantage of this situation to speak out on matters which I feel strongly about when it comes to the education, health and well-being of your daughters. My excuse for this is that, although every one of you has hands-on experience of the joys of parenting a small number of children, I (in common with all teachers and head teachers) experience the joys of guiding and supporting many hundreds of young people. You may not agree that this gives me licence to ‘lecture’, but I take it anyway!"

horsemadmom Sun 30-Nov-14 15:36:11

If the High Mistress wants to change the culture at SPGS she should follow the lead of NLCS. No rankings, no prizes and grades given in confidence with a clear emphasis on self-improvement. Over half of DD's year got all A*s at GCSE and every single girl got an A* in maths. Superb teaching and support did the trick with and parents who apply pressure on their girls are told to back off. I understand what the SPGS Head was getting at, though. I have known a number of girls who rarely see their parents and the school picks up the pieces for their inadequate home lives. I have also seen girls whose parents can't understand why the school won't heap praise and prizes on their girls. Those parents are told quite firmly to back off.

TalkinPeace Sun 30-Nov-14 17:42:54

the fact that you have posted this thread actually proves her point.

Over half of DD's year got all A*s at GCSE and every single girl got an A* in maths
out of interest, how much pre-editing (ie having girls not sit exams they will not get A* in) happened?
Also how many in the cohort?

newgirl Sun 30-Nov-14 19:04:58

I am surprised it made the front page of the Times - I think the head might need some PR advice. She runs a business - parents are customers. She's the head of an expensive school where parents pay for results WTF did she expect? If she wants community she could go and work in a state community school.

TalkinPeace Sun 30-Nov-14 19:13:03

No, she runs a Charity - number 1119613 to be precise - so she should be into "community"

Poisonwoodlife Sun 30-Nov-14 19:29:34

newgirl No she is the Head of a long established educational community as she herself emphasises if you read the excerpt "“Their children will succeed above all and they’re not at all on board with the idea of school as a community, learning to come second or that learning to give ground is an important part of education,” she said, according to The Times."

Parents may pay for the privilege but this is a highly selective school and the queue of parents who want their daughters to benefit from what it offers is very long indeed, as it is for the other highly selective west London schools like North London Collegiate and Lady Eleanor Holles. If your daughter is able enough to be offered a place and you accept it you also accept that she becomes part of the community and you are buying into it's ethos.

Talkin NLCS is so selective it doesn't need to edit out girls from taking exams in which they will not get A*, they are all pretty much capable of A*s. The only editing is done by the pupils themselves in choosing their ten subjects, and of course how much they apply themselves, in any case they all sit Maths, English Language and Literature and the Sciences. My DD at a similar school was in the bottom set for Maths but got A*.

Havetonamechangeforthisone Sun 30-Nov-14 19:37:53

My experience of snowploughing fellow parents is that they will go to any extent to push their own child forward, to the extent that they will attempt to dictate to Heads of Department how frequently they would like their children to feature at the 'top' or in the public eye.
They are the sort whose children are mentioned in every single school newsletter for their achievements (no matter how small), the sort who perform a solo in every school concert and always receive some sort of awards for music/sport/whatever (and if they are/may not, parents don't bother to attend), the sort who give themselves a bad name because of their contact contact and pushiness with school staff because they don't accept that 'no' means 'no'.
They are the sort who target other people's children (with any reasonably similar talent or skill to their own PBs), refuse to acknowledge them by applauding their performances at concerts or competitions, and bad mouth them to other parents and staff, or complain when they achieve (regardless of whatever awards their own PB may have received) to the Heads of Department, or even the Head teacher at an awards/Prizegiving, regardless of how many other parents are witness to the 'conversation'.
They are thankfully the minority at my DCs school, but they exist wherever you are.
As a parent of two DC who achieved places at selective schools with no tutoring or pressure from us and who are generally very happy at school, the competitive, pushy and anxiety-ridden environment of London private schooling is beyond me!! It is horrific!
The type of adult who would be so obsessed with their own children being 'top' of everything so that they would stoop to stonewalling fellow parents of other high-achievers disgust and baffle me in equal measure.

MrsCakesPrecognition Sun 30-Nov-14 19:45:36

Presumably she will be arranging a series of workshops for parents advising them how to help their children develop resilience and how support at home will fit in with the school's own efforts to foster resilience. It is certainly what local comprehensive schools have been doing in our area so I'm sure SPGS are similarly proactive (aren't they?)

newgirl Sun 30-Nov-14 19:50:33

There is an article on 'charity status'/Tristram Hunt in same paper - that is a whole other topic for discussion!

I think the head may be right but I do wonder 'what did she expect'.

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