Sex abuse victims were left unsupported, students publicly humiliated and Ofsted misled by staff at Holland Park School, a shocking independent investigation has found.
The report also found “overt” sexism, Islamophobia, racism, students sent home during inspections and safeguarding failures at the west London school – including “inappropriate” handling of a teacher’s relationship with a pupil.
The investigation was launched by new trustees last year, parachuted in after allegations of a “toxic” environment at the standalone academy, once dubbed a “socialist Eton”.
More than 100 individuals – including staff and students – submitted evidence, first reported in The Guardian last year.
A summary of the investigation published today claims Ofsted inspectors were “misled” – with staff questionnaires relating to a 2020 inspection “destroyed”. Certain students were taken off site or told not to attend during the inspection, it adds.
A “culture of fear, favouritism and inequality” existed within the school, the investigator said.
Behaviour policy was “unclear, with shouting being the preferred option combined with public humiliation”.
Referral to misconduct agency
Some students were “subject to favouritism” and “singled out for special attention”, with a “grace and favour system in place for staff”.
“At the same time there was bullying including the misuse of support plans, performance capability and disciplinary intervention, lack of union representation and the inability to voice opinions.”
The report found “personal appearance and work ethic were openly discussed at staff meetings and staff were treated like children”.
The school intends to make a referral to the Teaching Regulation Agency, and will start disciplinary investigations into three staff members, governors said today.
The school has published a three-page summary of the 554-page full report, which will not be published “to protect the identities of staff and students who gave evidence”.
Those who came forward were “still traumatised”, with some “extremely distressed” and “visibly shaken” while giving evidence. Two withdrew their complaint amid fears of reprisals.
The report concluded that based “upon extensive and corroborative evidence provided during interviews…on the balance of probabilities every complaint is found to have happened”.
It covers events dating back as far as 2004, when the school was under local authority control, as well as since 2013 when it became an academy.
Governors urge unity
A statement sent on behalf of the governing body read: “We would like to thank and commend all those who gave evidence to the investigation.
“Many of them are still traumatised by their experiences at Holland Park School. It is their testimony that has made sure these issues have come to light and will lead to the change that is so needed.
“We hope that the school community will now come together and act as one for the good of the children and young people who attend the school, not least those students who are approaching their exams in this very important term.”
A Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea council spokesperson claimed any complaints sent its way had been “acted on straight away, especially if safeguarding issues were involved”.
“The local authority continues to share concerns about the school’s safeguarding practices, which were reported to Ofsted in the recent inspection.”
Their local authority designated officer is following up with the school’s trustees so the concerns are investigated.
Another investigation by the local authority into complaints by former staff and students of a “toxic” culture continues.
The government not only parachuted in new trustees, but also told the trust to rein in salaries of highly-paid school leaders and to join a multi-academy trust.
The school announced last year former headteacher Colin Hall would retire earlier than planned. Hall was approached for comment. The trust plans to join United Learning, the country’s largest academy trust.
But lawyers representing protesting parents have sent a pre-action judicial review letter to governors. They allege a flawed consultation. A council officer also reported there had been a riot against the plans, with police called in.