Mt Albert Grammar School, Auckland, and its principal Patrick Drumm

How to ruin one of the biggest days in a young person’s life

A last minute cancellation of the final day of school at Mount Albert Grammar has deprived its students of one of the most emotional moments of their lives, writes Duncan Greive, parent to a MAGS school leaver.

Do you remember your last day of school? I do, piercingly clearly. A cool, bright day much like this one. All these people I’d arbitrarily travelled alongside, some for five years, some for eight, looking slightly incredulous. Classes normally ruled with intense Grammar school discipline fraying at the seams as we chatted and got a little boisterous. Teachers relaxing into their eccentricities, treating us more like equals than subjects. Dozens of goodbyes and intentions expressed to see one another, knowing even then most would never be kept.

More than the events I remember the feeling. Thirteen years, beginning with us entering as snotty-nosed kids fearful and clinging to our parents’ legs, leaving as pretend adults, grown but still green. A giddy sense of possibility, slightly fearful, very bracing.

The only life we’d ever known was over.

What I’m trying to say is that leaving school is a big deal. Easily the biggest moment in most kids’ lives to that point. And, because of the limited range of experience of the world most of us have by that point, bigger in relative scale than much else you’re likely to go through after.

So when I got a call from my daughter yesterday, saying that she’d heard a rumour the final day was cancelled, I basically didn’t believe it. Kids get things wrong. Schools know better than any of us the power of that moment – how it captures for eternity the end of the eternity of school. It defied belief that they would cancel it.

Only, then the email came, at 3.51pm. “Please see the attached letter from Associate Principal Jo Williams regarding the end of year schedule for Year 13 students, who have been granted study leave tomorrow – Friday, October 26”.

Which is manifestly nonsense, as subsequent reporting on it has revealed. For weeks I’ve been hearing about principal Patrick Drumm’s near-obsession with senior pranks. He’s said to be constantly warning kids against them, when the vast majority hadn’t even considered them.

It fits with a pattern of throwback disciplinarian headmastery – the same school brought drug dogs to the school ball and Drumm wrote an editorial railing against the idea of any reform of laws against cannabis.

Those actions struck me as deeply unpleasant. A very narrow way of looking at school, and of starting the process of demonising drug use as early as possible, making any kids who are naturally inquisitive into pariahs amongst their parents and peers.

The idea that taxpayer money would be spent on drug dogs is a kind of scholastic version of the meth test hysteria – it seems a gross over-devolution of power that it should even be a plausible use of public funds. And his editorialising seemed woefully misplaced – it’s inevitable that some of the parents of his 3,000 pupils will be cannabis users, some will even have convictions. Raising kids is hard enough without schools blunderingly inserting themselves into political debates of such complexity.

It’s not reflective of the school as a whole. The teachers I had dealings with were, for the most part, extraordinary. Thoughtful, caring, whipsmart. So the kids were insulated from this bizarre Roald Dahl caricature. And you shrug it off, move on.

Then he cancelled the last day of school. So my daughter, who turns eighteen in five days time, who we had less than three years after my own final day of school – she doesn’t get to go through all the emotion of that final day.

And there’s no getting that back. The reporting on ZB this morning said they’d be able to say their goodbyes at prizegiving, which is just contemptibly stupid as an answer. It’s the intimacy of classes which allows for the time to properly say goodbye, to feel the moment.

Even teachers were blindsided, messaging kids sorrowfully, talking about what they’d had planned, the chocolates they’d bought for their students. Kids had their own gifts and words planned too.

It has the air of an operation planned at senior management level, without consultation, and with the only goals being to end run around a menace – pranks – that aren’t a big part of the school, and that the vast majority of students were oblivious to. (I emailed a reply to the school asking for clarification of the decision, as of writing I have yet to receive a reply.)

It’s the worst kind of collective punishment for a crime that was essentially imagined. And now my daughter and hundreds of her year group miss out on the single most collectively resonant moment of their lives to this point.


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