It’s that time of the year again when many people have a great deal to say about teenage drinking, driving, hooliganism and the like. This is fair enough, if the reports are accurate.
At some point, schools always get mentioned in this discussion so I thought it was fair, entirely from my own perspective, to make some observations.
Our school sets the highest standards and expectations of behaviour, as evidenced by our current Code of Conduct that runs to 65 pages. Misdemeanors are defined into four categories that each attract different sanctions, the ultimate being expulsion.
Throughout each year these standards are strictly enforced and acted upon. Through our Student Council, Prefect body and every other structure available, expectations are clearly articulated. These expectations cover academic work, sporting and cultural activities and all that goes with these endeavours.
We go so far as to include a clause that states that any action that brings the school into disrepute (even off campus) will attract sanctions, depending on the severity of the offence.
What we depend upon is reliable and accurate feedback, with evidence, if we are to be able to act in accordance with our own expectations.
All too often, reports end up being inaccurate or half true, making it difficult to take action that cannot be challenged.
It is important to note that we are seeing more and more cases of disciplinary measures being legally challenged. We accept this but it makes it very difficult to take disciplinary measures without corroboration. We believe in fairness and justice and do not act unless we have are certain that a student should be held accountable.
We sincerely hope that outside of the school, people will behave in accordance with the values that have been inculcated at school. This does not always happen, disappointingly. It is important to note that no school, however hard it tries, can influence what happens outside of its gates. There are simply too many variables involved.
Unless an event is officially sanctioned by the school or it sends students to an event off campus in a representative role, the school has no real responsibility for what happens, though people are quick to judge a school by the behaviour of a very small minority of its students. These people usually tend to be those who have just left school or have left in the last year or two.
Our school unreservedly condemns any action that causes offence or pain to anyone if perpetrated by students who purport to represent the school.
On average, the school receives very few specific complaints each year. The vast majority of our students are decently brought up young men who go on to succeed in life at the highest levels. The vast majority of parents are caring, supportive people who give a great deal to the school. It is a pity that one or two individuals could spoil this for everyone else but this is how these things happen in life.
As far as bullying of any form is concerned, our school has a policy of zero tolerance. Out of lessons, all common areas are monitored by staff and prefects to ensure that bullying is prevented as far as possible. There are notices around the campus that condemn bullying; a secure helpline is published on these notices so that reports can be made in confidence. Just this year, a number of students have been asked to leave the school for these sorts of activities. The drive is now bolstered by the recent installation of campus wide surveillance cameras that record every activity 24 hours a day. This innovation (by local standards) should demonstrate our total commitment to dealing with bullying, theft, damage to property and the like.
Sadly, there have been cases of bullying that have not been reported to the school authorities for fear of recrimination. Our goal is to make all students feel safe making reports, now backed up by video evidence.
A school is a complex operation as it touches the lives of so many people in many different ways. Life will be made easier by general support from everyone, knowing that what is required is accurate and timeous information that can be acted upon. We never hesitate to act upon reports and to get parents involved. This is not always pleasant but we believe in a just and fair society where people behave with good manners, morality and due consideration of others.
I have recently sent out a detailed newsletter to all parents and friends of the school reminding them of our mission statement and values, such is the level of concern that we have that people understand what we stand for.
This document is freely available to the public via our website or through a link on my Facebook Page.
I hope this letter serves to re-assure everyone out there that we do care, that we do act and that we do our very best to produce proud and upright young citizens. I believe that we succeed, by and large.
Thank you and regards
St. John’s College, Harare - a member of the International Boys’ Schools Coalition, worldwide.
“BUILDING BOYS INTO GOOD MEN”
Access my Facebook Page “Headmaster, St. John’s College, Harare”.