Damning report finds 'culture of bullying, fear and favouritism' at Holland Park School

An investigation into a London school has found safeguarding breaches and exploitation within teacher-student relationships.

The investigation, commissioned by the Board of Governors at Holland Park School in Kensington, found there was a culture of "fear, favouritism and inequality" at the school and "exploitation within some teacher-student relationships".

It said that "very little support" was provided to students following traumatic events such as the Grenfell tragedy, and that "public humiliation" or shouting was used as a behaviour policy.

The investigation also found there was discrimination in the school against protected characteristics, including overt sexism, Islamophobia, and racism.

'Bullying and inability to voice opinions'

"Some students were subject to favouritism including nominations for the school’s awards evening and being singled out for special attention," the report added, while there was a "grace and favour" system in place for staff.

"At the same time there was bullying, including the misuse of support plans, performance capability and disciplinary intervention, lack of union representation and the inability to voice opinions."

Complaints from students and staff included misleading Ofsted inspectors, safeguarding flaws risking students’ welfare, and bullying of both teachers and students, it said.

The independent investigation looked into claims of safeguarding breaches, bullying, discrimination and inequality in respect of both teachers and students.

'Still traumatised'

The complaints and evidence span from 2004, when the school was under the control of the local authority (Kensington and Chelsea) to September 2013 when it became a Single Academy Trust, and then from September 2013 to December 2021.

The investigators collected evidence from former staff and students, some of whom were "still traumatised by their experiences at Holland Park School".

"At times interviewees were extremely distressed in having to revisit their time at Holland Park School and were visibly shaken," the report said.

It also found that the school had withheld completed Ofsted questionnaires from staff during an inspection in January 2020.

The Department for Education previously issued the school with a Notice to Improve in November 2021, "highlighting financial mismanagement" as well as "leaders’ excessive salaries and failure to seek prior approval from the Government for ‘novel and contentious’ expenditure".

Other findings from the investigation included:

  • Personal appearance and work ethic were openly discussed at staff meetings andstaff were treated like children

  • Rapid promotion of newly qualified teachers (NQTs) to positions of senior leadershipwithout appropriate training or experience

  • Sharing of confidential information inappropriately

  • Some staff questionnaires relating to the Ofsted inspection of January 2020 weredestroyed at the instigation of some senior leaders

  • Certain students were taken off site or told not to attend school during the Ofstedinspection

A section of the independent investigation undertaken for the Board of Governors of Holland Park School

The school announced last year that former headteacher Colin Hall would retire early, while a new chair of governors was appointed.

"Up to 2013, the school was maintained by the local authority and was rated as outstanding in 2011 and 2014," a spokesperson for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea said.

"If any concerns were raised directly with the authority, they were acted on straight away, especially if safeguarding issues were involved.

"The dossiers of concerns that surfaced in the media last summer have raised questions about the schools compliance with safeguarding procedures and practices over a number of years.

"The local authority continues to share concerns about the school’s safeguarding practices, which were reported to Ofsted in the recent inspection.

"The local authority’s designated officer, charged with dealing with allegations against staff working with children, is following up with the school’s trustees so that the latest reported concerns can be investigated in accordance with the pan-London safeguarding procedures," the spokesperson added.

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