Rose Ashton-Weir, now 18, and her mother Elizabeth Weir are suing the prestigious Geelong private school after she began failing badly in maths in years 9 and 10 and later missed out on enrolment in law at the University of Sydney.
But the grammar school is defending the civil lawsuit before VCAT, arguing it was Ms Ashton-Weir’s effort and attention that let her down.
“Intellectually, she was highly capable, and very eloquent,” Geelong’s head of Clyde house Heather Morgan told the tribunal. ”(But) there was a little bit of social naivety … emotionally I think there was an element of possible immaturity,” Ms Morgan said. ”She didn’t manage disappointment well.”
Prior to year 9 in 2008 when she began attending the grammar’s Timbertop campus, and boarding for two terms in 2009 at the Corio campus, Ms Ashton-Weir had achieved a number of 99 per cent scores on tests and her mother yesterday questioned Ms Morgan about the academic definition of “gifted”.
“Giftedness is a very debatable point in education,” Ms Morgan said.
The tribunal heard Ms Ashton-Weir had suffered glandular fever, was absent for seven weeks and scored an E in maths as well as an eight out of 68 result but had asked to be transferred from advanced to foundation maths.
There were also concerns, not supported at the time, about swine flu on the campus. Ms Morgan said despite individual tutoring and goals set, Ms Ashton-Weir, whom she said had friends in Sydney but may have felt isolated at boarding school, did not respond. ”She was determined almost to prove she couldn’t do it,” Ms Morgan said. “There were times when Rose was distressed by her illness, distressed by her expectations, distressed by not being at home.”
Ms Ashton-Weir is now completing a double degree in arts and science. Outside VCAT, Elizabeth Weir said the Geelong fees were $45,000 a year but her daughter’s performance improved significantly when she attended Sydney’s $500-a-year Bradfield TAFE. Their civil claim, based on a breach of contract argument, seeks compensation for school fees and relocation costs.
Don’t blame school if you fail should be the message from Geelong Grammar case
N the olden days when I went to school, if you failed to apply yourself, skipped classes and your grades weren’t that great, you would expect there to be consequences.
Now, it is the other way around: if you don’t do well at school — even a super-elite one where help is at the ready — not only do you blame the school, apparently you sue it.
So indulged are some children in this era of entitlement with a capital E, no longer might you hear an over-privileged child just whine “Daddy, I want a pony” — he or she may well add “and it had better meet its contractual obligation to entertain me, or I’ll see you in court”.
Let’s put aside for a second the question of whether top fee-paying schools should be expected to deliver your child certain grades just by virtue of the cost (and at little cost, in terms of effort, to the kid).
This seems to be the message one parent and her daughter are giving Geelong Grammar this week. They are suing the school for failing to teach the girl to the standards she needed to get into her chosen law degree, three years after she left that school.
It is up to VCAT to decide if the teaching offered to Rose Ashton-Weir at one of Australia’s most exclusive educational outposts, Geelong Grammar’s year 9 Timbertop campus near Mansfield (once attended by Prince Charles), was good enough.
But as a parent, I have to say the increasingly prevalent attitude that children are owed success simply for turning up — or not always turning up, as the tribunal heard was allegedly the case with Ashton-Weir — is really disturbing.
Actually, it’s a little bit disgusting.
It is disturbing because it implies that instead of teaching children the vital life lesson that they must take on and live up to reasonable responsibilities, such as studying in senior school, and following through, we’re telling them to just lie back and blame-shift if things don’t go their way.
Instead of expectations, boundaries and indispensable self-discipline, it seems to me that for fear of upsetting little diddums we are now opting for excuses, outsourcing and self-indulgence.
You cannot entirely blame parents, I guess, as many are victims of the extreme end of the latest child-centred parenting vogue, which involves providing nothing but harmonious times and meeting needs on demand from birth.
But you would think that common sense and memories of their own hardworking upbringings would kick in at some point.
Alas, in these days when every layer of the pass-the-parcel has to have a prize in it so everyone feels special, and every contestant at the local junior sports club gets a trophy or a medal just for attendance, the “you’re perfect just as you are (so don’t stress yourself by trying too hard)” mentality is winning out.
Yes, our kids are “perfect” as they are, but they still need to work. They need to be told when their work is not good enough, and they need to face the consequences.
And far from being something that will damage their delicate self-esteem, I think taking such a realistic approach helps ensure their emotional survival.
I have a friend with 22-year-old son who attended a very top Melbourne boys’ school for the last three years of his education. Recently he noted, worriedly, that he knew of several cases of suicide among young men who had graduated from the same school, as they reached the age of 25.
My friend and her son wondered what had gone wrong with these fortunate young men, and they concluded that perhaps, after the luxury of their top-shelf education, and the subsequent blue-chip tertiary course, real life had proved just too hard.
It was a very sobering story.
But it is not the only one. Several times in the past year I’ve read of studies that are finding pampered middle-class kids are more vulnerable to depression.
I guess if you have been sheltered from the demands of real life and insulated from too many challenges, and never been allowed to experience disappointment, it stands to reason that your resilience may not get a chance to grow.
Parents are providing their kids with these silver-lined childhoods out of the best of motivations; I don’t know a parent doing anything but their best.
But absolving kids from the need to try, and sometimes try harder, and to learn from their mistakes — instead of turning to a solicitor — undermines their chance at becoming functioning adults.
Wendy Tuohy is a Herald Sun journalist. She is on Twitter @wtuoh