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Parents at an academy school which has hit the headlines over its culture of “fear and favouritism” are seeking legal action over plans for it to join a multi-academy trust.
Holland Park School in Kensington was given a termination warning notice in June, following an “inadequate” Ofsted inspection, alongside reports that the school had a history of safeguarding breaches and exploitation within teacher-student relationships.
The Government named United Learning Trust as the preferred academy chain to run the school, with this plan set to be scrutinised by an advisory board of education experts on July 21.
But parents at the school have sent a letter to academies minister Baroness Barran, prepared with the advice of David Wolfe QC and Sarah Sackman of Matrix Chambers.
Serious criticisms of the school’s leadership were unfairly never put to staff
Letter to academies minister
In the letter, parents state that the decision to “force” the school, currently a single-academy trust, into a MAT controlled by United Learning, has been “undertaken without the proper involvement of the wider school community”.
They are seeking a judicial review and if needed, say they will apply for an injunction to prevent the “winding up” of the school’s current single-academy trust.
They add that the school’s future success can only be secured if arrangements are decided “locally” and that there are two potential claimants if legal action were taken – HPSPC Ltd, a limited liability company formed by a group of members of the HPS (Holland Park School) Parents Collective – who oppose the school joining a MAT, with many parents preferring it to partner with nearby Kensington Aldridge Academy – and the NEU teaching union, representing 78 staff members at the school.
The letter proposes that it would bring the legal challenge to the Education Secretary James Cleverly, the Education and Skills Funding Agency, the Regional Schools Commissioner (RSC) and its advisory board, and Baroness Barran.
The letter claims that Ofsted’s inspection of HPS, which found the school to be “inadequate”, occurred “in parallel, and perhaps not altogether coincidentally”, alongside the school’s governing body’s discussions about joining ULT as a MAT.
The parents said that “serious criticisms of the school’s leadership were unfairly never put to staff” prior to the termination warning notice, and that in consultation with the RSC over the school joining a MAT, parents and staff were given “just a couple of weeks to provide their views” without knowing which options were being considered for the school.
The letter adds that “ULT would be charging HPS several hundreds of thousands of pounds in fees annually whereas no such equivalent fees would be charged by KAA”, and that stakeholders were not given the opportunity to respond to this.
The parents state that grounds for legal action include a “flawed” consultation process over joining the MAT, the fact that the RSC “irrationally” failed to consider how the school could remain in a single-academy trust, and the RSC’s decision to take control over the decision-making process constituting an “abuse of power” by the Department for Education, which they say makes the process “unlawful”.
An investigation, undertaken by the board of governors at Holland Park School in May found there was a culture of “fear, favouritism and inequality” at the school and “exploitation within some teacher/student relationships”.
It added said that “very little support” was provided to students following traumatic events such as the Grenfell tragedy – Grenfell Tower is situated close to the school – and that “public humiliation” or shouting was used as a behaviour policy.
The investigation also found there was discrimination in the school against protected characteristics, including overt sexism, Islamophobia and racism.
The school was downgraded from “outstanding” to “inadequate” in June.
Leaders entering pupils for exams early left them with a “curtailed” education in some subjects, Ofsted said, and it found leadership was “poor and unfit for purpose”, with many of the leadership team “overstretched”.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Holland Park Academy’s recent Ofsted inspection underlines the need to address the issues at the school as quickly as possible.
“United Learning is a strong trust with a proven track record of school improvement, and following careful consideration of a shortlist of options has been identified as the preferred trust for the school to join.
“This recommendation will be subject to scrutiny and challenge at an Advisory Board, after which a final decision will be taken. The wellbeing and education of the school’s pupils must remain the first priority of the whole school community and its stakeholders.”