More Australian parents are suing over poor teaching

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 December, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 December, 2006, 12:00am

Australian parents are increasingly resorting to litigation if they believe their children have not been taught properly, an educator has warned.

President of the Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals, Andrew Blair, has warned that a recent literacy case could lead to an increase in litigation between parents and schools.

Elite private schools have been sued by parents who claim their children have been poorly taught and by former students who say they were improperly treated.

The increase in court cases involving angry parents and former students claiming they were abused at school follows a similar rise in cases in America.

In one case last year, a 30-year-old Sydney man was awarded A$2.5 million (HK$15.3 million) for pain, injuries and income lost as a result of being hit with a strap when he was at school 15 years ago.

Dr Paul Hogan sued the Catholic Church and a former teacher over the incident that occurred one day when the school's 'master of discipline' strapped him three times in the morning and five times in the afternoon. The jury concluded the punishment was not moderate or reasonable and that the church and teacher had breached their duty of care.

An even more spectacular instance involved Australia's former governor general, Peter Hollingworth, who was forced to resign in 2003.

This followed allegations by parents of school children that while he was Archbishop of Brisbane, Dr Hollingworth had ignored or covered up claims of sexual abuse by Anglican teachers.

One was a 39-year-old boarding school master of a preparatory Anglican school who over three years, raped or sexually abused up to 80 young girls.

An inquiry by the Anglican Church into one allegation found that Dr Hollingworth's actions while Archbishop were 'untenable' in allowing a known paedophile priest to remain in the ministry.

In Melbourne earlier this year, a leading private school reached a confidential settlement with a parent who said her child had not been taught to read properly.

Brighton Grammar School, whose fees exceed A$17,000 a year, settled a claim by Yvonne Meyer after she took the school to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. Ms Meyer, a member of a federal government inquiry into literacy teaching last year, said the school had not fulfilled its published claims to offer high standards of teaching.

She told the tribunal that her son Jake, now 13, almost reached the end of primary school without being able to read properly and that the school failed to tackle his literacy problems.

It was not until the boy was at the end of grade five that Ms Meyer discovered he was memorising words instead of reading them.

'If a school says, we're going to teach this child, then it's up to them to teach the child to do whatever is necessary in order to teach them,' she said.

Jake's literacy improved only after she hired a private tutor who used the phonics method of explicit, code-based instruction.

One private school principal said Australia had become a far more litigious society and schools had to be very careful in what they promised and conscientious about meeting those promises.



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