Press Release: Judicial Review
Updated: Sep 4, 2022
Parents and teachers apply for a judicial review of Holland Park School academy plans
A group of parents and teachers from Holland Park School in West London have applied for permission for a judicial review legal challenge against the Secretary of State for Education regarding the plans to move the school into a multi-academy trust.
The claim, issued in the High Court last week by a group of parents and the National Education Union (NEU), argues that the Secretary of State failed to consult lawfully on plans to move the school from a single-academy trust (SAT) to a multi-academy trust (MAT). They say that the consultation carried out by the Regional Director for North West London and South Central London, Dame Kate Detheridge, on plans for the future transfer of the school was not lawful because it did not give teachers and parents all the information on available options and it suggested that the decision to move to a multi academy trust had already been made. The Secretary of State for Education argues that they were neither obliged to consult, nor have they done so.
Holland Park School is currently a stand-alone state-funded academy (also known as an independent school) run by the Holland Park School Trust. All decisions relating to the running of the school, including appointments of head teachers, setting the budget and determining the curriculum, have been taken locally by the school’s governing body, which is made up of appointed representatives including two parents elected by the parents of students at the school.
In November 2021 the Department for Education issued the school with a “notice to improve” relating to improvements to financial control and governance at the Trust. One of the required actions was for the Trust “to consider” starting the process of moving Holland Park School from being a SAT to a MAT. On 14 March 2022 the governing body of the school announced that it had decided that the school should be subsumed into a MAT by September 2022 and that it would be recommending United Learning Trust (ULT) as the designated MAT. However, that process was then superseded by a decision in June 2022 by OFSTED to rate the school as ‘inadequate’. The impact of this was that the decision on the school’s future now passed to the Secretary of State for Education.
On 1 July 2022 the Regional Director wrote a letter addressed to the Holland Park School parents explaining that she had “decided” that the school should be transferred to another trust and that ULT had been “identified as the preferred trust to manage the school going forward”. She invited their comments on the plans. These comments would then be communicated to the Regional Director’s Advisory Board. Dame Detheridge set out five brief reasons why she considered ULT was her preferred MAT. There was no information about what the other options considered in the shortlist were and why those alternatives had been discarded in favour of ULT. A further letter was sent to school staff on 15 July also inviting their comments on her plans. Those bringing the legal claim argue that these letters constitute a consultation and that the consultation was unlawful by virtue of its inadequacy.
The claimants sent a pre-action protocol letter to the Secretary of State for Education in July, setting out their challenge. The government has stated that the Minister anticipated taking a decision of the MAT conversion before the start of the new academic year with a view to implementing any decision by 1 November 2022.
The parents and teachers are asking for permission for a judicial review of the legality of the consultation and for the substantive hearing to be listed as soon as possible and before 1 November 2022 when the school is due to be irreversibly transferred to a MAT.
Commenting on the judicial review application, a representative from the HPSPC Ltd said:
"We’ve come together as a group of over 350 concerned parents to challenge the decision to give our school to the massive MAT, United Learning. We are fighting for a proper consultation and to have a voice to influence the future of our school, our children and our community."
Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:
"The move towards pushing Holland Park School into a multi-academy trust has at no point been conducted in good faith. Holland Park parents, teachers and students alike, have had to endure a mockery of consultation, and a complete lack of consideration for due process. It has been an uncertain, disruptive and thoroughly despairing time for many. The government is quite prepared to turn a blind eye, but we are not. The NEU is proud to support this legal challenge."
Ricardo Gama, solicitor at law firm Leigh Day, said:
“Our clients strongly believe that it is for the wider school community – students, parents, staff and governors – to have a fair say in the future of the school and its improvement. They argue that the only prospect of stabilising the school is if its arrangements are decided with proper lawful involvement of those who will be most closely affected by the decisions on any restructure, including the students, parents and staff."
“Even though there is no statutory requirement to consult on the conversion of an academy school from a SAT to a MAT, it is well established a matter of general law that, if a consultation is initiated (even if it was not legally required), the decision-maker is nonetheless required to consult in a fair and lawful manner. That is the basis of our clients’ claim."