Schools

‘Why were we ignored?’ ask Holland Park whistleblowers

Investigation found 'overt' sexism, Islamophobia, students sent home during inspections and safeguarding failures

Investigation found 'overt' sexism, Islamophobia, students sent home during inspections and safeguarding failures

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Holland Park whistleblowers who were vindicated by a shocking report detailing public humiliation, racism and Ofsted being misled at the ‘outstanding’ school have demanded to know why misconduct spanning 18 years was ignored.

An independent investigation found “overt” sexism, Islamophobia, students sent home during inspections and safeguarding failures at the west London school.

Sex abuse victims were left unsupported, with “inappropriate” handling of a teacher’s relationship with a pupil, the report published on Wednesday stated.

The probe 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, as first reported in The Guardian last year.

But whistleblowers are now asking why it took so long for the problems, which one called an “open secret”, to be exposed.

Despite the damning findings, Ofsted stood by an ‘outstanding’ rating issue in February 2020. “We are confident the inspection team came to accurate judgments because they examined a wide range of evidence,” a watchdog spokesperson added.

The inspection was unannounced, and Ofsted “took into account correspondence from teachers who had left the school”.

Statement ‘infuriating’, says whistleblower

A former teacher, one of a group who blew the whistle to Ofsted in 2019, said the statement was “infuriating. It means they are ignoring everything we’ve said to them and everything that has come out now.”

The school investigation found Ofsted inspectors were “misled”, with staff questionnaires relating to the 2020 inspection “destroyed”. Certain students were taken off site or told not to attend during the inspection, it adds.

The teacher also alerted the government about issues with staff surveys, but said: “Nothing was done.”

Former pupil Zahra Enver, who left Holland Park in 2017 and led a student campaign for an investigation, said the findings had been an “open secret for decades”.

“For misconduct to go unchecked for such a long time is a sign of either incompetence, impotence or complicity on the part of those who are supposed to exercise oversight.”

Referral to misconduct agency

Behaviour policy was “unclear, with shouting being the preferred option, combined with public humiliation”, the investigator found.

A “culture of fear, favouritism and inequality” existed within the school, with a “grace and favour system in place for staff”.

Bullying included the “misuse of support plans, performance capability and disciplinary intervention”.

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.

Holland Park 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. It became an academy in 2013.

A Department for Education spokesperson said the findings were “serious and concerning. The wellbeing and education of the school’s pupils must remain the first priority of the whole school community and its stakeholders.”

Holland Park governors urge unity

A statement sent on behalf of the governing body praised whistleblowers for their testimony “that has made sure these issues have come to light and will lead to the change that is so needed”.

They hoped the “school community will now come together and act as one for the good of the children and young people who attend the school”.

Holland Park
Hall

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”.

Safeguarding failures were reported to Ofsted during a recent inspection, which is due to report shortly.

The council’s local authority designated officer is also now investigating.

The trust has been told by government to rein in salaries of highly paid school leaders and to join a multi-academy trust. Former headteacher Colin Hall, paid £280,000, has since retired.

The trust plans to join United Learning, the country’s largest academy trust. But parents intend to challenge the plans in court.



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