Harris Westminster Complaints(29 Posts)
My son studies German, Physics, Maths and Further Maths at Harris Westminster. His German class is at the Westminster School.
In early October, I was asked to sign a form agreeing for him to go to Munich in July 2017. After I signed the form, we discovered a summer programme in Physics at Cambridge. He really hopes to go.
The Westminster School said he was "not allowed" to miss the first few days of the three week German trip to Munich, eventhough he lived in Munich for six months 2 years ago. Harris Westminster called me today to say that unless he goes on the trip, he will be required to withdraw from German and will have to go to the library. Moreover, at the end of year 12 he will have to leave Harris Westminster as he will not have 4 A levels.
Is it just me, or is their position not equivalent to blackmail?
That is a little inflexible. I'd suggest you also post this to the Y12 thread - you might get sensible feedback there.
Are you ok with your son's school seeing this post? You might be, which is fine, but just in case you prefer them not to you could delete and repost the same question without the name of the school.
Your contract is really with Harris Westminster. They are presumably "outsourcing" their German teaching to Westminster.
However, you signed permission for the trip. There must be conditions written into that trip regarding dropping out?
I don't think their stance of saying that unless he goes on the trip he will be dropped out is acceptable, and it does seem to amount to blackmail.
What if you were unable to afford the trip? They cannot insist on you paying, surely? It must be something they recommend but cannot insist on?
However, he is lucky to be attending one of the best schools in the country (I assume for free) and sometimes when you sign up for things you have to commit; organising for a student to arrive on Day 4 is a lot of hassle and they would be responsible for his journey which he couldn't do unescorted.
So I can see both sides.
This does not seem to be a decision made in the interests of your DS. I would suggest making an appointment for you and your DS with his German teacher to understand the German Department's rationale. Sometimes good reasons get clouded by the people conveying the official messages. It may be that his German really needs the boost from the trip or he will end up with poor grades. That seems unlikely if he lived six months in Germany but perhaps he has made insufficient progress in his A level class?
The Harris Westminster/Westminster relationship is fairly new and they will be feeling their way. This might account for the HW sensitivity.
From what I remember from a talk at Westminster on A level choices is that the German Department aim to teach some way beyond A level/PreU, indeed that they hope pupils are near fluent by the time they leave school, and that the three week exchange is seen as an integral part of the course. I suspect they would not allow Westminster pupils to duck the exchange without a very very good reason. Having something they would prefer to do instead during that time, would not be enough.
If money were a problem I am sure, from knowing a pupil who received some of her lessons at Westminster, this would be finessed. And it sounds as if you are being let off having to have a German exchange stay with you for three weeks.
An alternative would be to look at other schools within Westminster's 6f consortium (Greycoats, Pimlico etc) and see which offer German at A level. (The website suggests Greycoats do.) I can see why Westminster might be reluctant to have any pupil miss three weeks intensive language acquisition, as this is so much part of their teaching. If he has spent a year being taught at Westminster he ought to be ahead of peers at other sixth forms, especially on top of his experience of living in Germany. Girls arriving at Westminster for sixth form often find they need to do a fair amount of catch up in their first year of a language because the boys have been taught some way beyond GCSE. As a result, and with linear A levels, he should not have too many problems switching.
Thank you kindly for all of the feedback!
There must be conditions written into that trip regarding dropping out?
Per the signed form, "Please note that if your son/daughter is forced to withdraw from the exchange due to unforeseen circumstances, you are still liable for the full amount."
What if you were unable to afford the trip? They cannot insist on you paying, surely? It must be something they recommend but cannot insist on? The trip was paid for by Harris Westminster.
My issue revolves around proportionality. Is it proportional to stop educating a child because they will not go on a trip? Moreover, they won't let him replace the class with another. Finally, it means he can not continue on to year 13. Students who fail their courses and switch to another are treated better than my child.
"Organising for a student to arrive on Day 4 is a lot of hassle and they would be responsible for his journey which he couldn't do unescorted." I would be willing to escort him, if necessary. And how does the hassle compare against their response/punishment?
"It may be that his German really needs the boost from the trip or he will end up with poor grades." He is doing really quite well in the class. No complaints whatsoever. He had to catch up on his grammar, but he reads novels in German, watches movies, speaks, etc. His German was also ranked highly in Germany. His GCSE German was also an A* although apparently it isn't so difficult.
"I suspect they would not allow Westminster pupils to duck the exchange without a very very good reason. Having something they would prefer to do instead during that time, would not be enough." He wants to attend a Physics course at his first choice University. He does not intend to study German in Uni but plans to graduate in Physics. I would prefer he visit the University, see the teachers, environment, etc before committing to three years.
"And it sounds as if you are being let off having to have a German exchange stay with you for three weeks." The German student was going to stay at the Westminster School, not at our place.
I know that he can switch, the issue for me is, why would a school treat a 16 year old that way? He is on track for A*s in all four of his classes, has no behavioural problems and excellent attendance.
I see two issues
1.) Can Westminster and Harris Westminster (either lawfully or morally) deny my son the opportunity to continue in his German A level?
2.) Can Harris Westminster force my son to leave the school either immediately; or, in a few months by taking him out of German and not allowing him to replace the German A level with another A level?
Is he taking 4 subjects to A2? I thought many schools had already changed to only taking 3 subjects in Yr12 and certainly the norm is to drop to 3 in Yr 13. If he wants to study Physics at Cambridge is he possibly giving up German anyway?
The answer to whether they can force him to give up German if he doesn't attend the trip is, I suspect, yes. His level of German is irrelevant, it's a three week trip and they can't have people drifting in and out at the beginning and end. It is unfortunate that it clashes with the summer programme but will there not be other opportunities to attend masterclasses or taster days at Cambridge or other universities?
In view of your DS's level I think the Westminster German department are being intransigent and thinking of their preU results, ( i.e.more of the very top D1 s not just A* equivalent ) rather than what is best for your DS's future interest. It is a shame and I wonder what the head of Westminster thinks of this policy in cases like your DS. Perhaps the head of HW could raise it with him.
I agree with PPs that HW are probably having to tread carefully so cannot let their pupils not follow the same rules as Westminster pupils in cases like this.
Although I understand this being a matter of principle, is a possible place (which your DS could well not get) on the Cambridge summer school worth risking him having to change schools? Pragmatically why does he not try for other summer physics courses instead such as Imperial outreach summer schemes, RAL placements, Headstart or trying for the senior physics challenge summer school.
My apologies for the delayed response.
"Is he taking 4 subjects to A2? I thought many schools had already changed to only taking 3 subjects in Yr12 and certainly the norm is to drop to 3 in Yr 13." Harris Westminster requires that you take four subjects in Year 13. You can not progress to Yr13 unless you have four subjects.
"If he wants to study Physics at Cambridge is he possibly giving up German anyway?" Yes, he will likely give up German in University anyway.
"It is unfortunate that it clashes with the summer programme but will there not be other opportunities to attend masterclasses or taster days at Cambridge or other universities?" There is no comprable programme at Cambridge, his first choice.
Update: The principal at Harris Westminster began to email me to request a meeting. I agreed to meet last Thursday afternoon. During lunch, the Vice Principal called my son out of class to discuss the Munich trip. The Vice Principal repeatedly told my son that his behaviour was immoral, that he was making the 'wrong' decision, and the Harris Westminster would not give him a good reference. The Vice Principal said they would do their best to ensure he could not attend the Physics summer school.
He ended the discussion by telling my son that the Principal was due to meet with me later that afternoon. The Vice Principal said that unless I agreed with the Principal, that "my son knew what the repercussions would entail." We felt that was a veiled threat of expulsion.
I decided to cancel the meeting on Thursday afternoon as I did not want to go into a meeting in which my child was about to be expelled on my own. I emailed the Principal ahead of time to cancel. The school nonetheless called me six times to say that I "had" to attend. The Principal said that he would have a conversation with my son, but that the consequences would be "far worse". After numerous emails and phone calls, they finally agreed to give me time to find someone to attend with me. I managed to find someone and we had a meeting with the Principal today.
The Principal began by saying my child was self-centered, with more insults. He also said that my behaviour was unacceptable because I failed to attend a meeting on the Tuesday. He said that the threat to expel my son was a "misunderstanding" despite the fact that I spent twenty minutes on the phone with the Vice Principal. Finally, he agreed that it made sense for my son to miss two days of the Munich trip as long as I agreed to pay the airfare. The Principal seemed oblivious to the fact that this solution represents my initial offer to the Westminster School and to Harris Westminster.
The specific issue around my son attending Cambridge and the Munich trip seemed to be resolved. The bigger issue is that Harris Westminster have given every indication that they will work against my son in his desire to attend Cambridge.
I should also mention that trips from London to Munich in early July are currently priced between £28 - £50 one way.
Was the German trip outlined as a necessary part of the a level course in the course descriptions you were given when you applied / joined?
I can see the school putting their course curriculum demands / requirements first because it is towards an A level, which though it sounds highly interesting and beneficial, the summer school is not.
Schools like Harris Academies and Westminster rise and fall on their results. The partnership will flounder unless they can demonstrate very high results. They will do whatever they can to keep the stats up. You must have known this when you applied to Harris Westminster?
Though it does all sound a very unpleasant way to communicate.
Now it has been agreed (however unpleasantly) I would go ahead with the late arrival at Munich and assume that they will not actually discourage or impede your DS's application to Cambridge as again, it is all kudos for them.
I have no idea what your legal rights are.
Honestly, OP, I wouldn't leave such an identifying post up, complaining about the school. Use the proper school channels of complaint, or ask advice on MN without naming the school.
They will see this and it won't help your already fraught and combative relationship with the school.
Is the German trip in the school holidays? 3 weeks of July must surely cover some of the holidays?
Conversely is the Cambridge course in term time? I can see that they would object to taking time out of term time, and that they could determine what your DS does during school weeks. But I am surprised they could ban him for not attending in the school hols.
Perhaps HWSF will come on and comment!
OP - report your post and start again without the school name, that is my strong advice.
Thank you for your considered response. I am not sure re-posting matters to the final outcome at this point.
"Assume that they will not actually discourage or impede your DS's application to Cambridge." The Principal and Vice Principal both said that they will not support his application to Cambridge. My honest gut feeling based on conversations with the Vice Principal and Principal is that they are vindictive.
Funny, I think the school should put my son's best interests first. I would prefer to experience the subject I potentially choose to major in at my first choice University over an A level I have no intention of pursuing at University. Moreover, 1.) we are talking about missing two days, not the entire three weeks; and 2.) his current reported performance is the equivalent of an A*.
My argument is that their response was disproportionate particularly when a reasonable compromise exists. Yes, the trip is during the holidays. I share your surprise about HWSF's previous position that he would have to leave in year 13.
It does seem to be vindictive - could they give no actual reason for such a stance? Do they not think him capable?
I used to think 6th Forms could do pretty much what they liked, as post-16 ed wasn't compulsory, but I'm not sure whether that has changed now that it is.
I wouldn't send a child of mine to 'certain academy schools' if I could possible avoid it
They've agreed with what you offered.
There is no way they're going to work against him going to Cambridge. No way at all.
It really sounds to me like your son is misinterpreting the conversations about 'expulsion' etc.
I agree - they have now agreed what you envisaged in the first place.
A 3 week paid-for exchange is a bloody good offer by any school.
I can't see them not supporting him to go to Cambridge, if he has the capability and the drive (which he seems to have).
However unpleasant this process has been, if your DS is happy at the school, achieving well, I would look forward and hope that calm reigns from now on.
Hi Blue and WorldsSmallestPatio,
"could they give no actual reason for such a stance?" They said that his refusal to agree to forego the Cambridge school meant that he was being "selfish" and "immoral".
"Do they not think him capable?" The Principal wrote my son a reference earlier in the year stating that he had what it took to go to Cambridge. The teachers told me at the most recent parents night that he is a top student.
"It really sounds to me like your son is misinterpreting the conversations about 'expulsion' etc." Yes, so, I received a phone call from the Vice Principal in which he explicitly stated that my son would be expelled from Harris Westminster by the end of the year if he did not agree to go for all three weeks. I am a native English speaker, by the way. I also wrote emails to the Westminster School and Harris Westminster stating my understanding that he would be expelled. It took several days for them to change their mind and the change only occurred after I rescinded authorisation for him to attend at all. Even if my son was mistaken, I can assure you that I am not. Moreover, their current position exactly matches my original offer.
Today, the Principal said that the delayed arrival is a rational compromise. Yet, they state that our refusal to do what they wanted was all sorts of wrong. Only at a Sixth Form can you make a suggestion, have said suggestion accepted as reasonable, and remain guilty. I should note that my son never raised his voice, spoke out of turn, etc. He just maintained his position.
I think you need to take into account the possibility that they will explicitly work against your DS going to Cambridge could be a 'misunderstanding' as well. I just can't see why any school would do that. It is not in their interests.
Really - I would get this thread deleted.
The actions of the Principal and VP appear frankly bizarre. I kind of hope you have misunderstood their tone or intention.
It just sounds very odd.
Maybe they thought him 'selfish and immoral' if the German dept at Westminster had paid and he would be wasting the space - but did they say that they would actively work to block a Cambridge application?
Hi Blu and neolara,
Thanks for your engagement. They were clear about the consequences of not going. I really don't know how else to put it. The Vice Principal said they "would not provide a reference for Cambridge" if my son did not agree to attend for the full three weeks.
"Maybe they thought him 'selfish and immoral' if the German dept at Westminster had paid and he would be wasting the space" Their financial concerns should have been dealt with via a request for cost reimbursement. Instead, they chose to attack his character. Even today, they continue to attack him. I certainly appreciate your comments but I don't understand why anyone would want to justify their behaviour.
So, I should say that I consider matter settled with regard to the trip. It remains to be seen how he is treated going forward.
Each person reading this thread will have to make up their own mind as to whether the school handled the situation appropriately. I am, however, glad that they agreed to compromise.
That was a dreadful threat for them to make.
I think we were just digging down to the bone for clarification as it sounds so outlandish and counter productive to the school.
Good luck to your DS.
Whilst the Principal and Vice Principal at Harris Westminster have come across as very heavy handed/intimidating, I couldn't help noticing that the op dodged one of Blu's questions; 'Was the German trip outlined as a necessary part of the a level course in the course descriptions you were given when you applied/joined?'
The prospectus for Harris Westminster seems to make it very clear that a high level of commitment is required for their sixth form. I assume that a 'free' place on the German Pre-U course at Westminster School (day fees approx. £27,000) is highly sought after and places very limited - presumably the op's son indicated a certain level of commitment for German at interview and will be missing some lessons on the trip. Hopefully he hasn't been 'paired up' with a German student awaiting his arrival.
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