Single-school trust with £280k head given finance warning

A magnifying glass over money

Holland Park School has been told to rein in the salaries of its highly-paid school leaders in a government finance warning that says it should now join a multi-academy trust.

The school, in west London, has come under scrutiny in recent months facing allegations of a “toxic” working culture and “public shaming” of students. It has prompted a council investigation.

Its head, Colin Hall, is the fourth best-paid academy boss in England, earning at least £280,000 last year, despite running just one school. His pay has risen from at least £180,000 in 2013-14.

The ‘outstanding’ school also pays an “academy head”, David Chappell, at least £190,000, with another leader on at least £160,000.

In a financial notice to improve, published today, the Education and Skills Funding Agency said there are “concerns relating to the governance and oversight of financial management at the board” prior to new trustees taking post.

The notice says the school must “produce a plan to bring the setting of executive pay in line” with the academy trust handbook requirements.

The trust should also “consider starting the process for moving the school into a multi-academy trust”. It should also respond to the allegations from former pupils and staff.

Another condition is that the trust must “implement new financial management and monitoring structures” and “undertake further actions to strengthen challenge in managing the budget and finances”.

In a letter to parents today, chair of governors Jane Farrell said the notice relates to “breaches of governance and procurement policies in the latter part of the last financial year”. 

She said the “apparent” breaches took place before most of the current trustees were appointed and “without the full knowledge and understanding of those who remain”. 

The Department for Education sent in culture change specialist Farrell to replace former chair of governors Anne-Marie Carrie who resigned from her role in September.

Four other governors resigned and were replaced by improvement experts. 

In August the Guardian had reported allegations from staff of a “toxic” working environment. 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.

The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea launched a three-month “learning review” in September into allegations of safeguarding failures at the school.

Farrell told parents an independent investigation into the complaints – separate to the council safeguarding review – has now been commissioned. The investigator will report to the board by early January 2022. 

The government financial notice to improve thanked Farrell for her “positive action” since taking up the role and “cooperation” to “strengthen the board”.

“You have made a significant impact in a very short time,” Warwick Sharp, director of academies and maintained schools said.

The DfE said that a cost-cutter – a school resource management advisor – is looking “in detail” at the trust’s financial processes and internal controls. Following the SRMA’s report, the trust will produce an action plan to address its recommendations, the DfE added.

Farrell told parents the board has already started to address the issues, adding: “Our priority will always be the education and wellbeing of young people in our care, the support of our wider school community in this endeavour, and ensuring that public funds are used accordingly.”

It was announced in September that Hall would retire at the end of this academic year after 21 years at the school.

A Schools Week investigation in 2019 revealed the school – dubbed “socialist Eton” – had spent £15,000 on luxury Farrow & Ball paint and £6,000 on Jo Malone scented candles.

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