Headteacher to leave top London school facing safeguarding allegations

Colin Hall will be leaving Holland Park school which has also been embroiled in claims about a ‘toxic’ working environment

One of the UK’s most highly paid headteachers is to leave his role at a leading academy after 21 years. Colin Hall’s departure comes at a turbulent time for Holland Park school which has faced a string of incendiary claims about a “toxic” working environment and failings in student safeguarding.

Parents at the London secondary, where pupils include the children of housing secretary, Michael Gove, and former Commons Speaker John Bercow, were told that Hall would be leaving after more than two decades at the helm of a school once known as the “Socialist Eton”.

A letter from the newly appointed chair of governors, Jane Farrell, paid tribute to Hall’s achievements – the school has been rated outstanding by Ofsted in successive inspections – and said that trustees would be planning the transition to a new head at the end of this year.

Government officials are believed to have intervened to make changes on the governing body following a series of allegations published in the Guardian claiming that Hall presided over a bullying, intimidatory working environment in which young people were publicly humiliated and made to feel unsafe.

The longstanding chair of governors, Anne Marie Carrie, a former chief executive of the children’s charity Barnado’s, resigned this month and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC), where the schools is located, announced a three-month safeguarding review two weeks ago to look at concerns about the school.

More than 100 former students had written to the Department for Education, Ofsted and to the local authority alleging that the school was a “toxic and abusive” environment in which certain pupils’ emotional and psychiatric needs were neglected, some were cold shouldered while others received preferential treatment and difficult pupils were taken out of school during Ofsted inspections.

A letter from the newly appointed chair of governors paid tribute to Colin Hall, who is leaving as headteacher after 21 years.
A letter from the newly appointed chair of governors paid tribute to Colin Hall, who is leaving as headteacher after 21 years. Photograph: Martin Argles/The Guardian

They also claimed that the school’s leadership encouraged excessive use of shouting as a form of discipline which left young people feeling “anxious and unsafe” and that pupils were publicly shamed and humiliated. In one instance they say students’ photos were displayed on plasma screens around school to highlight their behavioural or academic failings.

Their letter followed allegations from dozens of former teachers claiming that bullying and intimidation at the school was endemic and that staff were fearful of speaking out because of reprisals.

They claimed that senior leaders used intimidating behaviour to prevent teachers attending job interviews, used misleading references if teachers tried to leave the school and that senior leadership had withheld hostile staff questionnaires from Ofsted inspectors during a monitoring visit.

Holland Park school has attracted attention and controversy for over half a century. Dubbed the “Socialist Eton” in the 1970s because of its prominent leftwing parents, its reputation dwindled in the 90s before being taken over by Hall, who earns £280,000 a year. He has been credited with transforming the school into an outstanding and oversubscribed comprehensive.

Former Holland Park English teacher, Lara Agnew, who coordinated the teacher letter, said that in the last month a further 90 teachers had come forward offering their testimony. “We welcome the opportunity to contribute productively to the safeguarding review led by RBKC – overseen by the new chair of trustees. It is our hope that these issues will be swiftly resolved in order to protect and serve the best interests of the current students and staff.”

Contributor

Fiona Millar

The GuardianTramp

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