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Head at school facing ‘toxic culture’ investigation to retire

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A school under investigation over an alleged “toxic” working environment has announced its headteacher will retire after more than two decades in charge.

Holland Park School, dubbed “socialist Eton”, has told parents today that current head Colin Hall will leave his £280,000-a-year post.

63-year-old Hall, one of the best-paid academy leaders in the country, appears to be retiring early after 21 years at the school. He will reach state pension age in 2024.

News of his departure comes after Schools Week revealed last week that the school’s chair of trustees, Anne-Marie Carrie, had resigned.

The school, rated as ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted, is being investigated over allegations of safeguarding failures. More than 100 ex-students had written an open letter alleging serious failings. Pastoral care was “inadequate” with “public shaming” of students, the letter reportedly said.

A month earlier the Guardian also reported allegations from staff of a “toxic” working environment.

There is no suggestion of wrongdoing by Hall or Carrie.

Meanwhile, Schools Week can also reveal that Jane Farrell, a specialist in overseeing culture change at organisations, has been appointed chair of governors at the school.

A letter to parents and staff from Farrell, seen by Schools Week, reads: “It is with sadness that I write to you to let you know that your headteacher, Colin Hall, is retiring at the end this academic year.

“Mr Hall has served the community of Holland Park School for twenty-one years, with many accolades to the school’s name in that time.”

It said Hall’s contribution would be celebrated at the end of the year, but added: “For now, characteristically for Holland Park School, it is ‘business as usual’ with a continuing and acute focus on quality of education, pastoral care and extra-curricular activity, keeping the interests of students at the heart of all that we do.”

Trustees are now planning for the transition in leadership and an open recruitment process will begin in the spring, the letter adds.

Farrell co-founded the Equality Works group, which has worked with companies including the Met Police and the BBC, to improve their diversity culture and train staff on unconscious bias.

Farrell is also the chair of trustees at the Mulberry Schools Trust, which includes the Mulberry Academy. The school was attended by Shamima Begum, who travelled to Syria in 2015, when it was known as Bethnal Green Academy and before Mulberry took over.

The appointment comes after the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) launched a “learning review” into allegations of safeguarding failures at Holland Park.

A RBKC spokesperson told Schools Week the review would “seek to understand the organisational culture within the school and make recommendations to strengthen the areas of safeguarding practice”.

The governing body of the school, once attended by Nadhim Zahawi, the new education secretary, has also promised an independent probe. However complainants say they have yet to be contacted about the investigation.

Schools Week investigation in 2019 revealed the school had spent £15,000 on luxury Farrow & Ball paint and £6,000 on Jo Malone scented candles.

Hall is among the highest paid academy bosses in England, earning at least £280,000 last year – despite being in charge of one school.

Additional reporting by Tom Belger



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