NSW school teachers are being forced into retirement over parental complaints about ‘guns’

Tim Hawkes is the former Headmaster of King’s School, a private boys’ school in North Parramatta. He said an increased sense of entitlement and victimization is at the root of increasing conflict between parents and teachers.

“When a parent feels offended, that’s reason enough to push the shirt down on a teacher, even though facts don’t justify the confrontation,” he said.

Former Principal of King's School Tim Hawkes.

Former Principal of King’s School Tim Hawkes. Credit: Isabella Lettini

“Even more frightening is the tendency of some students, and even parents, to use a complaint to discipline and even fire a teacher.

“Fewer and fewer teachers are willing to work in an environment where their continued employment depends on whether or not a parent or child has deemed them culpable.”

Hawkes said the situation is made worse by the fact that almost every single student has access to a mobile phone at all times.

“An angry child texts their parents, who immediately complain to the school on their child’s behalf,” he said.

“The focus is on the rights of parents and students. That’s appropriate. But people forget the responsibility of the students.”

Craig Petersen, President of the NSW Secondary Principals’ Council

Julie Greenhalgh, who retired last year from her job as principal at Meriden, a private school in Strathfield, had a more optimistic view of families’ relationships with schools as the pandemic had changed parents’ views of teachers.

“For the first time, parents had direct access to the classrooms and were able to see the teachers’ wonderful work, their ability to get students on their side and the positive relationship between teachers and students,” she said.

While more parents are now appreciating the work schools do, she said many changes in parenting attitudes over the past few decades are due to growing parental anxiety.

“I think things have changed in the last decade or so because parents have become more anxious,” she said.

“Any incident, from a low assessment grade to a consistent violation, can be unsettling for parents. However, schools view such incidents as an opportunity for the student’s personal or academic development,” Greenhalgh said.

“Much depends on academic performance, particularly ATAR, and parents can become unduly concerned about incidents that threaten those performances. Unfortunately, sometimes the parents blame the school.

“I often comforted parents and encouraged them in their parenting role. Parents often need a sympathetic ear and sometimes a shoulder to cry on.”

Craig Petersen, President of the NSW Secondary Principals’ Council, said the undermining of teachers was one of the reasons Australian classrooms were ranked among the most disruptive in the world.

“What we’ve seen is an absolute escalation in cases where parents don’t support the teacher or the school in maintaining discipline in the classroom,” Petersen said.

“We got the balance wrong. One focus is on the rights of parents and students. That’s appropriate. But people forget the responsibility of the students.


“There is a growing fear that if you give a prison sentence or disciplinary action, parents will complain. We need the support of our parents through our teachers.

In 2022, the Ministry of Education set up a special directorate to communicate with parents about what is happening in schools and to help deal with parental complaints.

“The Department encourages parents, students and school communities to raise issues directly with their schools whenever possible,” said an Education Department spokeswoman.

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Justin Scaccy

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