Head teacher at elite state school accused of bullying staff

·3 min read
Holland Park School, Kensington - Jeffrey Blackler/Alamy Stock Photo
Holland Park School, Kensington - Jeffrey Blackler/Alamy Stock Photo

The head teacher of an elite state school has been accused of bullying, amid claims staff were named and shamed for poor exam results.

Holland Park School, a top London academy, is being independently reviewed following allegations that it is a “toxic” environment for staff.

Letters sent to governors and the Government's regulator of academies accuse Colin Hall, one of England’s most highly paid headteachers, and his senior team of abusing their power.

Staff were said to be insulted and humiliated, and publicly named and shamed for poor work or exam results. Seating plans for staff meetings were also drawn up to reflect which teachers were in or out of favour, it is claimed.

Holland Park is rated “outstanding” by Ofsted. Recent parents include Michael Gove, the Cabinet minister, and John Bercow, the former Commons speaker, who was recently elected a parent governor at the school.

The letters, sent by 26 of the school’s former teachers, claim that bullying and intimidation was endemic, and this affected staff turnover and morale.

Employees who expressed a desire to resign were intimidated, such as by having classes taken from them, the letters claim. Some teachers said they were threatened with poor references or given inaccurate and damaging references that led to job offers being revoked.

One former teacher said a senior manager emailed her new employer to say she was “unprofessional”.

Nine of the teachers who wrote letters were signed off work for stress, depression or anxiety, which they claim was related to the atmosphere at the school.

Many decided to remain anonymous as they fear reprisals.

Covid concerns ‘ignored’

One teacher, an Oxbridge graduate, was signed off by her GP suffering from work-related stress in 2020 after her complaints about the school’s Covid-19 measures were ignored.

“We were asked to sit shoulder to shoulder without masks in staff meetings and it was suggested that committed staff would come to work even if they had possible Covid symptoms,” she said. “Every other school I knew seemed to be taking it more seriously.”

She said a senior manager at the school contacted her while she was on sick leave and suggested she should provide cover work for some of her classes as she was taking “paid time away from school”.

“That school is held up as outstanding and one of the best in the country, yet it was a toxic work atmosphere ruled by structures that made people fearful of speaking out," she said.

In its last full inspection of the school in 2014, Ofsted described Holland Park as “exemplary” and said Mr Hall led it with “a drive and skill admired by all in the community”. His salary of £280,000 makes him one of the most highly paid academy leaders in England.

In a statement via the chairman of governors, Mr Hall said he was “saddened and concerned” about the allegations and that he would be supporting the independent review.

“We don’t recognise the characterisation of the school or our leadership in the allegations raised,” he said.

Anne Marie Carrie, Holland Park’s chairman of governors, said: “The wellbeing of all members of our school is our highest priority. We were concerned to receive anonymised claims, raised on behalf of former members of the school’s staff.

“Whilst we believe many of the issues raised have already been considered by our regulatory bodies, it is important that any such claims are thoroughly examined.

“To provide assurance, we have taken immediate steps to commission an independent external review. This is the appropriate forum for these issues to be explored and for everyone involved to be able to provide detailed, evidence-based responses.”

Mr Bercow said he supported the external review, adding: “This is the correct forum for these issues to be investigated and it is only right that everyone who cares about the school community awaits the findings of that review. I will not therefore comment further on the matter at present.”

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