Further failures identified in education sector with publication of Holland Park School Investigation Report

An independent investigation commissioned by the Board of Governors at Holland Park School in Kensington recently completed its investigations and issued its 554 paged report.

While the full report is not being published to protect the identities of the staff and students who gave evidence to the investigation the Board of Governors published a summary of the report’s finding and core evidence on the 5 May 2022.

The summary will not make easy reading for those who have children attending the school.

Investigations into Holland Park School, which is a top London state school, considered allegations of bullying, discrimination, favouritism, breaches of safeguarding, dubious spending and vulnerable children and key worker children not being accommodated at the school during Covid-19 lockdowns against government guidance dating back to 2004 up until December, 2021. The investigation was also tasked with examining allegations that senior school leaders may have misled Ofsted.

The investigation, which was carried out by independent investigator, Jessica Joels of B3sixty, who specialises in workplace investigations found that “… based upon extensive and corroborative evidence provided during interviews, is that on the balance of probabilities every complaint is found to have happened.”

The school was under the control of Kensington and Chelsea local authority until September, 2013 when it became a single academy trust.

Kensington and Chelsea council said: “Up to 2013, the school was maintained by the local authority and was rated as outstanding in 2011 and 2014. If any concerns were raised directly with the authority, they were acted on straight away, especially if safeguarding issues were involved.

Over 100 former students and staff at the school were interviewed in the course of the investigation however, a number of members of the senior leadership team at the school declined to be interviewed, as did the former Chair of Governors.

The investigation was a two-stage process:-

  • Stage 1 – where staff and students were invited to send details of complaints to the investigation for review. A schedule of all complaints was compiled, together with supporting evidence. This was contained in an interim report to be delivered to the Board of Governors on 11th January 2022. More than 100 individuals submitted evidence.
  • Stage 2 – where participants identified from Stage 1 were invited to be interviewed.

The investigation found that:-

  1. There were breaches of safeguarding in respect of both students and staff and which included failure to support students who had been victims of peer-on-peer sexual abuse.
  2. There was bullying, discrimination and inequality towards both students and staff which in turn gave rise to a culture of fear, favouritism and inequality.
  3. There was discrimination against protected characteristics including overt sexism, Islamaphobia, and racism, while there was also a lack of knowledge around mental health and medical and physical issues for both staff and students.
  4. There was ineffective leadership and management including promoting newly qualified teachers to positions of senior leadership without appropriate training or experience.
  5. Ofsted inspectors were misled by senior leaders at the school who destroyed staff questionnaires relating to an Ofsted inspection in January, 2020 and who also took certain students off site and told other students not to attend school during the Ofsted inspection.

It appears that there are still significant lessons to be learned in the education sector about how to balance the rights and needs of the children/students against the competing pressure on schools to deliver excellent results, outstanding Ofsted ratings and be highly ranked on school league tables.

Written by Sharon Moohan, BLM (Sharon.Moohan@blmlaw.com)