Critics of the girls and self-esteem literature argue that it often tends to 'blame the victim', treating girls as if their low self-esteem is their fault and offering them compensatory 'remedial' programs (see Kenway and Willis, 1986). This chapter offers a short case history of an approach to school reform in the Australian state of Victoria which, in part, is informed by the self-esteem literature but which includes no hint of this 'victim' or 'compensatory' mentality. In this case girls' self-esteem is recognized and confronted as a social problem, as a school administrative and structural problem and as a curriculum problem. The value of conceiving of the self-esteem issue in this way will be demonstrated, as will some of the many difficulties and dilemmas which such an approach involves.
Malvern Girls' High School is a small school with an enrolment of 200 students in a suburb of the city of Melbourne. It is unzoned and students come from many other suburbs to attend. The school does not, therefore, have a strong 'local' community core, in fact, many students and parents have little contact with the school outside school hours. The students represent a variety of ethnic groups, the predominant one being Greek, but the Cambodian and Vietnamese population is growing. A significant proportion of the students receive some form of welfare maintenance, and single parent families are not uncommon. Most students are of the working class and a number of the parents are unemployed. Malvern is classed as a 'disadvantaged school' and as such is in receipt of quite significant Commonwealth funding from the programs which, over the years, have been designed to offer extra support to such schools. The school has also