The new spokesman for Western Australia’s public high school principals has a simple message for parents behaving badly at schools.
“Stop treating schools like they’re the enemy and start working with them.”
Armando Giglia is the new president of the WA Secondary School Executives Association (WASSEA), which represents principals and deputies at the state’s 166 public high schools.
In his first comments in the role, the teacher of almost 40 years has taken aim at pushy and disrespectful parents, claiming some see schools as an easy target and often spoil for a fight.
Mr Giglia said while 95 per cent of parents did the right thing, the remaining 5 per cent had become a significant problem for school leaders, putting them under unnecessary strain.
“They’re sometimes quite fired up and they’ll abuse front office staff, they’ll abuse anyone who comes within reach of them basically,” he said.
“They’ll post things online, rather than coming in and talking.
“They’ll try and send things through to a regional office or to the minister’s office without actually bothering to come to the school first, which creates its own angst for the school, when really a civil approach to the school in the first place would have worked it all out.
“But some people don’t want that concern to really be sorted out, what they’re after is a bit of a stoush and I don’t know why.”
Mr Giglia took up his new role in May, relinquishing his position as foundation principal of Butler College, one of the biggest high schools in WA.
Before then he was principal at Mirrabooka Senior High School from 2002-2011 and deputy at Geraldton Senior High School, in a teaching career that began in 1979.
Results, homework and punishment top complaints
Mr Giglia said while this group of troublesome parents was happy to “argue the toss on anything”, they mostly complained about their children’s results, homework and the meting out of punishment.
“Some of the parents don’t understand the things their kids could get up to,” he said.
“‘My little Johnny is never wrong, my little Johnny would never do that,’ and yet we know that they do.
“I’ve been in situations where we’ve actually shown parents video evidence of something happening … and they still deny that it could have been them or [they believe] somebody must have pushed their child into doing it.”
“They don’t want to accept responsibility.”
Armando Giglia says some parents do not accept responsibility for their child’s behaviour. (ABC News: Rebecca Carmody)
The WA Education Department said public schools should be welcoming places for all, and if parents were especially disruptive, prohibition orders could be issued against them, banning them from schools.
“If parents have an issue with their children’s schooling, we encourage them to raise their issue with the principal or other school staff so it can be addressed, but we ask they do this in a respectful manner,” a spokesperson said.
“We understand that when you are talking about people’s children emotions can run high, but we urge parents and other school community members to treat teachers, principals and other school staff appropriately.”
The spokesperson said that as a last resort, in cases where parents were behaving in a very disruptive or violent way, they could be banned from schools for a period of time.
Staff also had the option of calling police, if necessary.
WA Education Minister Sue Ellery said the sort of aggression by parents highlighted by Mr Giglia had no place at schools.
“There’s a small cohort of parents who can be quite aggressive and sometimes that kind of verbal aggression actually turns into physical aggression,” she said.
“Schools should be safe places, they should be safe places for everybody. Everybody who works there and everybody who visits.”
Ms Ellery also said people needed to take responsibility for the way they conducted themselves on social media.
“We all know that people say and do things on social media that they would never say or do to someone’s face,” she said.
“They have the protection of not having to look someone in the eye when they say something that is really hurtful or abusive, or just not true.”
No longer a polite society
Mr Giglia said what was happening in schools was also happening in other workplaces, due to general shift away from “polite society,” which he blamed on people’s preoccupation with social media and desire for instant gratification.
He has urged parents to work more co-operatively with schools and to stop seeing them as the enemy.
“Everyone in a school wants the kids to be successful students,” he said.
“You want them to learn, you want them to come out as people with integrity and you want them to show respect to themselves and the people around them.
“Work with schools, not against them, and your child will come out of it very, very well.
“If you go into a lawyer’s office, you don’t try and tell them the law, you don’t walk in the doctor’s office and tell them how to treat a patient.
“But anyone is happy to come into a school, because they’ve been to school, and consider themselves experts.
“It’s not that easy.”