Parents at the former ‘outstanding’ Holland Park School in west London have threatened fresh legal action in their battle to stop it joining United Learning, accusing Ofsted of an “abuse of power”.
Schools Week revealed earlier this month that the high-profile standalone school, once dubbed the “socialist Eton” but recently embroiled in a bullying and discrimination scandal, had been rated ‘inadequate’.
The Ofsted verdict raised questions about why some recently exposed failures had not been picked up in previous visits, including a 2020 no-notice inspection that was sparked by concerns about leadership and pupil development.
But the latest inspection has infuriated parent and staff campaigners opposed to governing body plans for the school to join England’s biggest academy trust.
The HPS Parents Collective says Ofsted’s visit this year “appears intended to drive through the school’s conversion to a multi-academy trust”.
The ‘inadequate’ rating moves the school’s future from governors “into the hands of the Department for Education”, it says in a letter to the inspectorate.
This makes it an “improper purpose” for an inspection and an “abuse of power”, parents allege, one of three grounds cited for a potential judicial review. Campaigners also demand a copy of correspondence with ministers.
But Ofsted’s report says it was a routine inspection. Many ‘outstanding’ schools had faced visits since their exemption was lifted in 2020.
Campaigners also claim that the inspection did not follow fair process by allegedly not putting some criticisms to the school leadership.
They say too that the report’s contents only merited downgrading to ‘requires improvement’, as the school had strong exam results and it was “highly unusual” for schools to be downgraded from ‘outstanding’ to ‘inadequate’..
The parents’ group, which says it has about 350 members, has already filed for a judicial review against the plans to join United Learning. It is backed by the National Education Union, with both groups claiming the school’s consultation was flawed.
The governors’ plan to join United has been awaiting government sign-off. But ministers and regional schools commissioners have greater powers to determine the future of ‘inadequate’ schools, including determining which trust they join.
Inspectors criticised Holland Park for deteriorating pupil behaviour and for “cramming” five years’ of content into three years to boost GCSE pass numbers.
Amanda Spielman, the chief inspector of schools, told MPs in 2019 that Ofsted has seen an increase in the number of legal challenges against its judgments.
But schools are often put off by the costs of taking Ofsted to court – which one trust estimated would be £100,000.
Ofsted declined to comment.