A recently released report looking into conditions at Holland Park School (HPS) has shed further light on the endemic culture of bullying and toxic behaviour at this top London academy.
The revelations in the report are very disturbing, and should be taken seriously. Some troubling findings of the investigation include: students and staff being subjected to sexism, racism, and Islamophobia; and a lack of support for students who had been victims of peer-on-peer sexual abuse.
The blame for this hostile environment lies squarely with the school’s governing body – as demonstrated by the aggressive way in which HPS governors have conducted the process of joining United Learning, a multi-academy trust (MAT).
Throughout, decisions have been made with no transparency, and without any proper consultation of staff, parents, and students. This has led to tensions, frustrations, and antagonisms.
As we have reported previously, this is the background to the dispute currently taking place at HPS between the governors and the school community.
United Learning is one of the largest MATs in the UK, overseeing over 70 state-funded schools, as well as a number of fee-paying independent schools. Under MAT structures, decision-making is taken away from these schools and handed over to a centralised bureaucracy.
The governors at HPS claim that joining an MAT is the best option for the school. But serious concerns have been raised over the way United Learning runs its academies. The trust has an appalling record when it comes to managing its schools.
HPS is a highly successful school, regularly ranking amongst the top 5% in the UK, and the reasons cited for why the school should join a MAT are spurious. There is no obligation for HPS to join a MAT. This is just one of the options that the Education & Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) has asked the school’s governors to consider.
In an effort to justify the school’s takeover by United Learning, a barrage of negative coverage about HPS has broken out in the media. This includes sensationalised claims that a ‘riot’ recently broke out amongst the students.
According to reports from the Holland Park School Parent Collective (HPSPC), however, the ‘riot’ was in fact a silent sit-in protest, which in the end was cancelled. But a number of students did not get the cancellation message. As a result, others took the opportunity to engage in rowdy behaviour, which prompted the teachers to call the police.
The situation was quickly and peacefully resolved. But why let the facts get in the way of a good story! Teenagers misbehaving hardly fits the imaginary scenes of anarchy described by the gutter press.
Right-wing rags are deliberately sowing confusion around recent events at HPS, in order to create the impression that the school and its students have spiralled out of control, and that the only remaining option is for some greater authority to take the reins.
This was echoed in a statement released by the Tory-led Kensington and Chelsea council, which called for ‘immediate intervention’ by the Department for Education. Simply put, this will mean pushing through the process of academisation.
The safeguarding issues at HPS revealed by the recent report are extremely concerning. So is the undemocratic way in which the school has been run, with important decisions regarding its future being made without any due process.
But none of these problems will be solved by this aloof governing body handing the school over to an even worse gang of bureaucrats.
The forceful takeover of HPS by United Learning is part of a Tory strategy of academisation, which will hit all schools in the UK.
This is a way for the government to privatise and undermine public education, in order to protect and expand the profits of the capitalist class.
What happens at HPS will therefore play a role in determining the future of other schools up and down the country.
Unite and fight
Socialist Appeal and the Marxist Student Federation stand with parents, teachers, and students resisting academisation.
The most effective way of fighting back is through united, determined class struggle. In this respect, the decision by the local branch of the NEU (National Education Union) to call for strike action – on Wednesday 18 May – is warmly welcomed.
The main demand of striking NEU members at HPS is for the governing body to properly engage the union, alongside parents and students, in decisions regarding the proposed trust takeover.
The strikers should not stop at this, however. Instead, organised and mobilised, they should keep their foot on the pedal, and fight to reverse the academisation process entirely.
At the time of writing, in another egregious act of cowardly chicanery, the school’s governors have refused to inform parents that this strike is taking place. This is undoubtedly an attempt to demonise the teachers as reckless, and thus to sow divisions within the school community.
The teachers, in an effort to overcome these divisive tactics, and in the absence of any formal methods for reaching the parents, have been telling students informally about the strike. An email has also been circulated to parents.
Students and parents must reject the governors’ shenanigans, and stand firmly alongside striking teachers in the struggle against academisation and privatisation; for democratic control of schools; and for fully-funded public education.