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Thursday, 04 March 2021 23:36

Halling Primary School – What is going on?

Written by

Update 17th March See new article here

Update: 14th March 2021: Please read the recent comments. Whilst I have no official confirmation the data contained is true, there is no reason to believe it is not genuine. As such it paints an even more dreadful picture of what is going on in the school. The EYPS comment is especially revealing, and if true describes dishonesty on the part of the leadership.   

Now up to an astonishing number of hits for this website, over 7,000 visitors in less than a fortnight, and not even on front page!

13 out of 23 teachers have left Halling Primary School in Medway. or handed in their resignations since January 2020, including three members of the Senior Leadership Team, with seven having gone at Christmas, and another three handing in their resignations in February, along with four Teaching Assistants. The previous Chair of Governors suddenly resigned, ending a 25 year association with the school,  citing an irreconcilable difference of opinion between the headteacher and himself. Other members of staff and supporters of the school have also severed their connections. 

Halling                   Cliffe Woods Academy Trust

There are reports of a toxic atmosphere within the school staff, and the considerable concerns expressed by parents being addressed by a Social Media Policy, whose main thrust appears to be to threaten parents who speak out, including taking legal action and calling in the police. A letter from the new Chair of Governors to parents indicates that she is happy with the current situation.

The big puzzle to me is that Halling, the second school in the Cliffe Woods Academies Trust, having joined in April 2019, appears to have had no benefits from the halo surrounding Cliffe Woods Primary. The latter has an Outstanding Ofsted and reputation, with Principal Tim Muggeridge, also CEO of the Trust, being well aware of the issues at Halling, although without signs that action is being taken.

I have the names of all the staff who have left or resigned and considerable detail about other issues which have contributed to this dreadful state of affairs, but which must be known to governors. A well-being questionnaire was sent to staff, many of whom are reported to have responded robustly, and which has been seen by the new Chair of Governors, although there is no report back, no awareness it has been shared more widely, or any indication that the concerns have been followed up. 

The Headteacher, Soumaya Selmi, was appointed for January 2020, having previously been Acting Headteacher at the small Downsview Community Primary School in Swanley, and before that a class teacher at the school, which had been through major difficulties. In the month after her departure, Ofsted reported that: ‘The quality of education pupils receive is very variable. The many changes to leadership and staffing in recent years resulted in the school losing its way. Staff want pupils to do their best but people have had different ideas about how things should be done and initiatives have not always been seen through. Consequently, pupils have not achieved as well as they could and standards have slipped’.  Not perhaps the best recommendation for a young headteacher starting out, and there are too many examples quoted of her inexperience, which have led to problems within the school. Dr Nicki Kessel, a parent Governor as well as being Chair, has expressed her confidence in Ms Selmi, in a letter to parents justifying the large teacher turnover and the concerns it has created.

Local ex-parent, Mark Tickner the previous Chair of Governors, began a very personal letter to staff informing them of his resignation: ‘You probably would have heard by now that I made a very sudden and unexpected decision to resign as chair of governors. I never in my wildest dreams thought I would leave under these circumstances or in a way where I would have been unable to say a proper farewell. I want to reassure you that my resignation was in direct response to an irreconcilable difference of opinion between Soumaya and myself, in response to references she made to me about my lack of support for her. I have always considered myself to be a very supportive person and during my role as chair of governors I genuinely believed that I have supported the school, staff and, in particular, the headteacher, sometimes to the detriment of my work and personal life. So you can imagine my surprise and shock at being told otherwise in an email’. 

I have included the new Social Media Policy in the enclosure, intended to combat the spreading concerns from parents. Most schools will have a policy with a similar name, but most will be couched in positive terms to try and keep parents on board. In contrast, this policy is adversarial and threatening in tone as it attempts to address problems created within the school, with parents expressing their concerns in the only way they found possible. For reference, Home School Agreements cannot be used in the way set out in the document. 

This article concludes where my introduction also ended, looking at the relationship with Cliffe Woods Primary School and Trust. Cliffe Woods, on the Hoo Peninsula in Medway, has had an excellent reputation for many years and achieved an Outstanding Ofsted Report in 2015, having been an academy since 2011, just before the previous headteacher resigned because of a personal scandal. The new headteacher, Mr Muggeridge, rapidly settled the school as confirmed by a Monitoring Ofsted in September 2016, and Cliffe Woods has gone from strength to strength, with Halling staff looking enviously at the morale and professionalism of all at the school. The question remains. Why with ample evidence of a crisis at Halling Primary School has the Academy Trust leadership, the accountable body, not stepped in to resolve the glaring issues? Under the flawed academy structure, this is the only accountability to a third party that realistically exists, if Halling Primary is to be returned to good health.

Read 13056 times Last modified on Wednesday, 17 March 2021 00:07

28 comments

  • Comment Link Saturday, 20 March 2021 11:48 posted by C.P. (name and email supplied)

    What an appalling comment below. Peter assures us that the posters of comments have genuine addresses, and they are clearly addressing genuine problems. 'The school is run by the villagers'. What absolute rubbish. It is the headteacher who is trying to break its heart. Mrs Woolmer has given the last 20 years of service to the school, has introduced generations of young children into Halling and is loved by all. She is leaving mid year for personal reasons with no job to go to, although she will no doubt be snapped up if she wishes to return to the fray. Many of the 12 other teachers (over three quarters of the total) together with support staff who have left mid year have given excellent service and have gone with a heavy heart. Also don't forget Mark Tickner, Chairman of Governors who loved the school and served it for many years in different ways and whose letter Peter has published was also forced out. It certainly wasn't the villagers that drove them all out! Indeed the headteacher who according to you hasn't made her views public, has made clear that most of them weren't up to scratch and didn't meet her standards. Read Peter's articles Anon, there is plenty of evidence as to where the problem lies. If, as appears obvious, you don't know the school you should not be making such crass guesses about it.

  • Comment Link Friday, 19 March 2021 05:03 posted by Anon

    All the anonymous posts this is a form of trolling and exactly what is happening all over social media the ‘bullying’ headteacher hasn’t spoke out once she can’t defend herself on social media or to Kent online she keeps a dignified silence while the gang and bully mentality of this close knit village continues. They group together against people they dislike who don’t bow under their pressure. The admin of the Facebook group openly encourages the posts and bullying often adding her own comment. The school has basically been run by these villagers. It’s a disgrace and the only bullies are the ex teachers of Halling using the family members to post on their behalf to gain more hatred toward a head teacher that is trying to improve an outdated village school into an outstanding school which is part of the academy. PETER: Sadly this is the only message posted here that contains false details as far as I know, so certainly not trolling, which rather dilutes the message. I don't follow social media so can't comment on your allegations which are not relevant here. However, I have decided to publish it anyway to remind readers there is an alternative view, even if it ignores the fact of three quarters of teachers departing in just over a year including the recent resignations of Deputy Head and Head of EYFS for personal reasons, and other evidence of problems which I have flagged up. .

  • Comment Link Thursday, 18 March 2021 19:34 posted by Anon

    Peter, can you reach out to the staff at Downsview for their input into the experience they have had? The last post has intrigued me, it would be interesting to know what the general consensus is on the management style. PETER I have had a few off the record comments that serve to underline the issues in the school identifed by Ofsted. Unfortunately, several are unpublishable. I am not sure what purpose more would do, except to suggest that perhaps the Trust did not carry out due diligence when appointing.

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 17 March 2021 10:15 posted by Anonymous

    I worked with this head when she was at Downsview in Swanley all I can say is sorry for your parents and staff. A lot of staff left there because of the attitude and bullying and the toxic place it became when she was given the deputy job. To think I was actually pleased she got the position.....PETER: I have checked this is a genuine opinion from an ex-teacher at Downsview Primary

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 17 March 2021 00:12 posted by Name and email supplied

    Thank you for this long overdue article about the bullying culture that has, and continues, to take place at Halling Prinary school since the arrival of the “new” Head Teacher. As an ex-employee I was not offered the opportunity of an exit interview or given the opportunity to express my reasons for leaving. In fact when I explain I was leaving for a much reduced post else where I was asked If could afford the wage decrease! Never if it was for the benefit of my mental health which it was! But that information makes me easily identifiable and I wish to remain anonymous

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 16 March 2021 00:06 posted by Ex staff member

    I am also an ex staff member at Halling and I have kept quiet until now as I’m am concerned about the members of staff that have handed in their notice but are still currently at school.
    I have witnessed first hand how toxic and cruel the situation can be once you stand up for yourself. I really am worried about their mental health as they have been treated so badly by the trust.
    The exit interviews were ridiculous! We were given little to no warning and every interview was conducted by the very person many staff had issues with. The atmosphere was so awful that everyone was to terrified to speak out.
    For the village I really hope things get sorted. I also hope all ex staff find a school that truly appreciates them. PETER: Edited slightly

  • Comment Link Monday, 15 March 2021 22:20 posted by Ex Staff

    I want to express my sadness about what’s happened in the school recently. I myself an ex member of staff witness first hand the issues. The pressures teachers were put under, the lies they were told to cover up mistakes etc. The school was a good school with great teachers, yes things could have been improved no one is perfect.
    When I left we did have an exit interview but that was with the person who I had the issues with, so of course you can’t express the real reasons why you leaving without feeling uncomfortable.
    Although I’m sad with what’s happened, I feel we need to give the new teachers a chance.
    And for those wondering why it’s done in private, we aren’t allowed to express our views in public.

  • Comment Link Monday, 15 March 2021 21:41 posted by Teacher at a wonderful compassionate school- not Halling

    I am in complete shock that this has happened to what used to be a wonderful village school.
    I am not willing to believe extremely good teachers are deciding to leave due to workload or expectations. These teachers have proven year after year they are capable of working any challenges yet this seems to be the line the trust are taking??!
    I can not believe what I read in the most recent email sent to parents, do they think we are silly?
    I for one feel very sad that the wonderful, hardworking and dedicated staff at Halling feel they have no other option then to leave as they are clearly having no support from the governors or the trust.
    No one deserve to be treated the way these poor staff members have. I am very glad I do not work for this trust.

  • Comment Link Monday, 15 March 2021 20:39 posted by Anonymous

    The letter from the Trustees today is so disrespectful to the teachers that have worked years at the school by just saying they don’t like the change and cannot ‘step up’ to their duties. Mrs Woolmer is one of the best teachers in the county and yet parents are being fobbed off.
    I have spoken to staff who are too scared to speak up. Staff feel they have no support from Governors or the Trust as they are only listening to the new head. How can they just let this go??! A community school being completely destroyed by an inexperienced head.

  • Comment Link Monday, 15 March 2021 19:50 posted by Unknown

    I am absolutely appalled by the letter I saw today that came from the board of trustees. What a kick in the teeth for all those members of staff who have left. And also, what a load of lies. As an ex-member of staff, I can say that everybody I knew was on board with the headteachers vision. We all knew change would happen, it was inevitable; and needed! Nobody was scared to ‘up the anti’ and assist the school to progressing to its full potential. Take away financial/admin difficulties, the school was in a good place. To read lies such as staff turning down training opportunities.. when on earth did this happen!? I for one can honestly say I’d have taken any training given to me. In fact, some training courses were cancelled by the head teacher! It breaks my heart that this went out to parents. I’d hate for them to think this was true and that the ex members left because of those reasons. And to see that exit interviews were properly conducted... only a handful of the 23 actually got one. They were with the headteacher. They were never recorded by a third party (nobody other than the head was taking notes) and more importantly, the record of those meetings were not signed or seen by the member of staff! So who knows what was actually written down. Not to mention a previous email that hinted that the resigned staff weren’t up to scratch - the head didn’t even have the decency to turn up to some observations so she’d never even seen them actually teach! What a shame, the school could’ve been thriving by now if the head had shown appropriate leadership skills and treated staff with the respect that they deserve.

  • Comment Link Monday, 15 March 2021 17:11 posted by Ex employee

    The Trust have sent a letter out to parents today. It's all LIES. Staff are leaving without jobs to go to and not speaking out because they are scared of repercussions and being accused of witch hunting and not liking change. I find the Trusts response insulting to the ex employees who did not leave due to not wanting to commit to turning around the school, which by the way was a good school with elements of outstanding prior to becoming part of the Academy trust, a tribute to all the staff who have felt ethically and morally they had no choice to leave. This is devasting for the community. Let's hope for the sake of the children and staff left there positive outcomes can happen.

  • Comment Link Monday, 15 March 2021 16:01 posted by Angie

    Kent Online article about Halling. What a travesty. 'Several staff leaving'. 13 out of 18 teachers is more than two thirds, including the Deputy Head and two other members of the leadership team. 6 of them with no other job to go to. Several! What rubbish.

  • Comment Link Sunday, 14 March 2021 18:27 posted by Furious Halling Resident

    This absolutely sums up what is happening at Halling Primary ........the wool is being pulled over our eyes. The Head of EYFS is leaving and yet there is an advert on Kent Teach for maternity cover for this position! Unbelievable! Also totally unbelievable that experience of EYFS is desirable and not essential. How extremely sad but points to desperation in filling the post. This needs to stop now before this school is totally destroyed.

    https://www.kent-teach.com/Recruitment/Vacancy/VacancyDetails.aspx?VacancyId=85420

  • Comment Link Sunday, 14 March 2021 18:10 posted by ex Halling Staff Member

    Morale is so low at Halling School that many staff have resigned before having another job to go to.
    Out of the 12 teachers that have left or are leaving, 6 resigned without another job to go to.
    From the 8 support/office staff, 5 had no job to go to.

  • Comment Link Friday, 12 March 2021 19:34 posted by Parent

    It appears it’s not just teachers now leaving, it’s also children. Parents are so aware there’s things being covered up that they’re removing their children from the school. Why weren’t these questionnaires looked into!? Other local schools have taken a high number of calls regarding spaces for their school (Holborough, Cuxton, wouldham and Snodland schools.)
    It’s just absolutely heartbreaking. People chose this school because of the teachers. Now it’s just being ripped apart.

  • Comment Link Friday, 12 March 2021 13:16 posted by Ex Halling Staff Member

    As an ex member of staff at Halling I am devastated to read how many members of staff are suddenly leaving. I am also deeply saddened to read that Mark Tickner has resigned in such a way. He went above and beyond in his duties at the school and was always there for anyone in times of need. He was much loved by all the children and staff and dedicated so much of his time to the school since sending his own children there. I know that leaving wouldn't have been a decision he would have taken lightly and it would have been with deep regret that he left. I cannot comment on the new headteacher as I left a few years ago to devote my time to my family, however, I know that when I left, it was a nurturing, family orientated school. I have such happy memories of working there and learnt so much from inspiring and passionate long serving teachers. A high staff turnaround is not usual for this school.

  • Comment Link Friday, 12 March 2021 11:35 posted by Annie parker

    The heart and soul of that school has now also handed in her notice - I wasn’t too fussed before - but the latest news of departures has made me sit up and take note - I have some serious questions as to why this seems to be an issue all of a sudden. When it was a village school with a very close community input all the teachers and the children were very happy. The new changes have most definitely divided the close community and broken the heart.
    There should be a vote within the community on the best course of action for our children and our school. Leaving these discussions to a governor and a head teacher who have no connections to our community is appalling. Ask the people what they want - I’m sure the whole community would say the same thing. Save Halling School.

  • Comment Link Friday, 12 March 2021 10:46 posted by Ex Halling Staff Member

    As an ex staff member of the school, I am devastated to read this. I left 3 years ago to devote my time to my 3 children, so while I cannot comment on the new headteacher, I can express my shock for how things have turned out. All I can say is that when I worked at Halling it was one of the most nurturing schools I have ever set foot in. Mark Tickner was a huge asset to the school and was there for anyone to call on in times of need. He went above and beyond in his duties for the school and everyone loved him. For Mark to leave in the way that he did after many years of service to the school and having sent his children there himself, something must have been incredibly awry. Furthermore, Mrs Woolmer and Mrs Mauldon are extremely dedicated and passionate teachers, both of whom I can truthfully say taught me so much and helped me strengthen my career. The children have always been at the forefront of every decision they have made; so for them to leave midway through the year must have come as a huge shock to the parents. I truly hope the parents know that this would have been an agonising decision to make.

  • Comment Link Thursday, 11 March 2021 08:16 posted by A concerned parent

    That's 27 members of staff in total since the new headteacher joined? The last members of staff to resign, mid term, include the deputy head and head of foundation, both of which have been at Halling for 20 plus years and will be a huge loss to the school. I know for a fact that for the head of foundation stage, leaving her reception class mid year speaks volumes for something going on behind the scenes, as she is completely professional and dedicated and has been for over 20 years at Halling.
    There must be something going on and something that can be done to rectify? What would be the recommended course of action to get someone to listen??? PETER: I thnk that figure of 27 may nclude some double counting, or include non-classroom staff. See my final paragraph. Try a formal complaint about the headteacher if that is where you feel the problem is. Yes, it has to start with her, but then gets escalated through to governors. Lobby governors. Dr Kessel, Mrs McLaren and Mr Tadman are Parent Governors. Write to the Regional School Commissioner. Contact the Medway Messenger, referring them to this article although, from experience, they have limited interst in such matters. There ought to be a stronger way, but sadly the system appears designed on the basis there will not be problems with academies.

  • Comment Link Thursday, 11 March 2021 08:05 posted by Concerned Parent

    We have been told as of today another 7 staff are leaving. The parents have done everything they can but the head, chair of governors, head of academy - no one wants to listen. PETER: See previous

  • Comment Link Thursday, 11 March 2021 08:02 posted by Very Sad Parent

    3 more teacher resignations were announced yesterday to all parents including the head of EYFS (halling had previously achieved an Outstanding in EYFS from ofsted with this teacher). There are 4 TA resignations too but these have not been included in the correspondence for some reason. I do not know why teachers are not reporting the problems but having spoken to some teachers personally they do not/have not wanted to leave but feel they have had no option and are very upset about it. People have started to seek places in other schools for their children.

    It seems the head of the trust has started to take things more seriously (last year when contacted by parents re staff resignations he swept it under the carpet and said that management were not concerned) as he said in a meeting with a parent yesterday that he intends to spend more time at Halling. He also overruled two decision the head had made in recent months, one being to allow all children to watch TV whilst they eat their lunch in the classroom (the school has had no hot dinners at all during lockdown and parents have raised the question why multiple times with the “it’s not safe” as a response even though most other schools are managing it).

    The head of Trust explained that they have changed the curriculum at Halling to fall in line with Cliffe Woods and this change and the extra workload included meant that many teachers were unhappy and left. However, more than 20 staff have left now and surely the newly appointed head's job was to make her team feel inspired and included and she should have taken them forward with her and supported them to embrace the changes, rather than “bully” (a word used by lots of previous staff) them into submission or to leave. PETER: I think these resignations are the February ones I have already counted.

  • Comment Link Monday, 08 March 2021 18:43 posted by Ex staff

    I was a member of staff that worked there. The exit interviews were held by her and a governor so no one felt they could give their real reasons for leaving through the fear of a backlash. However, people would have stated how they felt in the well-being questionnaires, but sadly they were ignored. Many emails were sent over weekends or over a holiday, some of which you would be expected to act upon out of school hours. Many staff members spoke to the old Chair, but then she got rid of him. He was amazing. Some have approached the new Chair and some have approached the Executive Head whilst others have felt there was no point. To whoever has spoken to Peter, I applaud you.

  • Comment Link Sunday, 07 March 2021 23:25 posted by Teacher (NOT Halling)

    THANK YOU Peter for plain and honest talking, hitting the nail right on the Head - at last.
    Everyone is talking about this - you cannot gag parents, teachers, local community members with threats. The children are the ones who are suffering, as well as the staff, or at least those that still exist! The Governing Board should be ashamed of themselves - where is their backbone? Do they feel gagged too? Was the real reason for staff leaving made public?
    Do the right thing and take steps to replace the headteacher with one who can bring back positivity, motivation, a sense of purpose and direction within the school. Stop the decline of Halling Primary before it's too late.

  • Comment Link Sunday, 07 March 2021 22:04 posted by Bernadette Colliner

    As a teacher who has left Halling Primary recently, I can honestly say that the new head teacher turned a friendly and compassionate school into a place I dreaded going to every day. The workload increased a huge amount and it is my opinion that this was not for the benefit of the children. I became a Primary School teacher to help children to learn and grow. I could not do that with a constant feeling of anxiety, stress and sadness that was thrust upon me. Aside from increased workload, the head did not seem interested in the staff's opinions, ideas, concerns or well-being and there seemed to be a general lack of compassion. I feel truly sad and sorry for the members of the Senior Leadership Team who are trying endlessly to make Halling Primary a happy place to be again.

  • Comment Link Sunday, 07 March 2021 12:54 posted by Jerry

    You clearly have a high opinion of Cliffe Woods Primary although it has gone down since the sad but unavoidable departure of Mr Watson. Mr Muggeridge certainly needs to devote all his attention to making the school function properly at this difficult time and with re-opening around the corner is unlikely to have spare capacity for the problems at Halling. I can't see any advantage for the schools being joined together in this way, except Mr Muggeridge's salary.

  • Comment Link Sunday, 07 March 2021 10:18 posted by Anon

    More resignations? When will this stop? How can this amount of leavers be deemed as ‘typical’ - this is not normal for any establishment, let alone somewhere as important as a school. What is going on there? Thank you for your article, let’s hope it helps to get the ball rolling and the school to be properly investigated.

    For future readers, I have checked and your email address is NOT shown so don’t let that put you off commenting.

  • Comment Link Sunday, 07 March 2021 10:07 posted by Another Despairing Halling Parent

    Thank you for bringing this to the attention of the public, we as parents are now stifled by the social media policy. The school is becoming similar to a totalitarian ideology, you must not criticise it or you will suffer the consequences. Keep up the good work and hopefully the management will feel pressurised into making some well needed and long overdue changes.

  • Comment Link Saturday, 06 March 2021 16:54 posted by Despairing Halling Parent

    Peter, You have clearly identified where the problem lies, a view that is shared by many. What can you do about it? PETER: It is not up to me; I have highlighted the issues which should be well known to the leaders of the Cliffe Woods Academy Trust. It is entirely down to them to take what they consider to be the appropriate action.

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