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  • Charlotte Sones

A New HPS Parent's Take on HPS Right Now

I'm a new mum at HPS - my child joined Year 7 in September. My daughter loves the school. The teaching has been great with several of her teachers I'd class as outstanding.

She is in the top band, and I know this has been a frequent comment that if you are in a lower band, treatment is different - I have heard totally mixed things about that. Some have had poor experiences, others have been totally fine.

We really like the school, so it's very important to me to support the teacher and staff already there. Thus, I've been very active in the campaign against joining a MAT (multi-academy trust) and I'd like to share the context behind my decision, including what is happening at the school right now - the facts, contrary to some of the sensationalised press you may have seen.

In September there were allegations made by ex teachers and students largely against Colin Hall's 'regime'. I had not had any real experience of that but knew the reputation of the school and looked for a place nonetheless because of its exceptional academic outcomes and the firm discipline boundaries which I liked.

As a result of the allegations, an investigation was launched and, simultaneously, the DfE (Department of Education) issued a Notice to Improve (NtI) which was largely about finance and governance. Only one point of ten related to the allegations but from the outside, the press created a picture that that was what the NtI was really focused on. The NtI was looking at things like the structure of the governing board, spending and so on.

About 6 governors, including the then Chair, left and were replaced by DfE appointmented governors. Until the start of December there were two elected parent governors - Sally and John Bercow. Sally's term ended at the start of December and John Bercow, I think in March on the back of the political investigation into his behaviour, stood down. We have had no parent governors since then - so only one (not the two required) at the time the decision was made to join a MAT and since then, none, when further critical decisions are being made. We have repeatedly pushed for these elections but have only last week (May) had two parent governors appointed. They have still not been inducted or included in any meetings. This has been a big bone of contention because the governing body have been carrying out critical decision without any parent representation on the board. The one governor who was also a teacher - Mr Chappell - was excluded from all meetings regarding the proposed conversion because of what they classified as a conflict of interest. So not only was there no parent voice, there was no teacher's voice either.

The new board members are all from MAT backgrounds, appointed by the DfE who requested they consider (not a requirement) looking at joining a MAT, so the bias is embedded in the current governing body set up.

Teachers and staff had a vote of no confidence in the current governing body because the governing board have not consulted with them during this process.

Like most schools, behaviour has been affected post covid but in addition, they are now dealing with the fact they are several members of staff down for a variety of reasons, which is both destabilising and a practically difficult. Additionally, staff and teachers were told expressly not to talk to children about the allegations or what was happening - eg why Colin Hall left school overnight - which has damaged relationships badly. Additionally, one teacher was recorded shouting at a student, shared on social media - it went viral meaning then the culture at school was one where teachers feared anything they did could be filmed and shared out of context.

The press has always been very anti HPS anyway and has blown the recent discipline issues out of proportion in my mind. For example, there was no acid attack. A row that had started in school continued after school as the kids left school and were on the high street. One girl threw some water with a little bit of bleach in it, taken from the Ole & Steen disabled toilet, at a boy, who grabbed a butter knife off a Pizza Express table nearby. The police were called and about 9 teachers attended. The 'riot' was actually a planned student sit-in in protest against the MAT which was then voluntarily cancelled but some didn't get the message, and a number of students treated it as a chance to muck about - running, spraying water and throwing footballs. While there were probably around 150-200 kids outside in the playground, most of them were just bystanders or trying to get back indoors. Anyone outside was given a detention regardless of whether they were involved in the bad behaviour or not. Most parents were very surprised to be notified of their child's involvement as they were technically not actually involved.

In no way are police being called every day. They were called to the above event and to the one on the street. I think they may have been present the day the parents peacefully demonstrated against the governing body and the MAT, outside the gates but not because there were any issues.

A parent collective was set up in response to the notification of the planned conversion to the MAT and largely became about speaking for the teachers and staff who were excluded from all decisions. They repeatedly contacted us to thank us and say how unhappy there were with the decision. (Please note: the school does not currently have any official parent body and to date there has been no way for parents to contact one another or meet up.)

Another local school KAA (Kensington Aldridge Academy) had put forward a proposal to become a MAT partner with HPS. There are strong ties already between the schools. This was disregarded. The parent collective have been campaigning to allow stakeholders. - principally the teachers and staff - to be allowed to see the proposal and revisit it as an alternative to a United Learning (UL) which is the partner the GB (governing board) have chosen. UL have nearly 90 schools under their umbrella so it would be a huge change in ethos for HPS.

There are changes that are needed at HPS but our argument is purely that that doesn't require a MAT as large as UL to fix them. That a local partner could be an alternative and that we want a proper consultation to revisit this option. RBKC support the local partner too.

So that's it really.

During the campaign the one great thing has been to get to know other parents which has been brilliant. There are loads of fantastic, dynamic, creative, fun, interesting passionate people at the school who have pulled together in really difficult circumstances, putting their own lives on hold for the sake of teachers and children and the school. We are not looking at the school with rose coloured glasses. There are clearly things that need fixing and I don't doubt there have been many who have had a bad experience at HPS. We'd just like decsions about its future to be done with staff and teachers and other stakeholders on board.

I'm sharing my perspective of HPS to try and give balance to the conversation around what is happening at HPS.

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