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Monday, 15 March 2021 19:34

Halling Primary Update

Written by

See my initial article here, which has attracted over 7,000 visitors in less than a fortnight. 

The situation at Halling Primary School continues to deteriorate, with the Cliffe Woods Trust failing to turn the growing dissatisfaction around. Three recent documents: Kentonline Article; Letter from the Chair of Cliffe Woods Trustees; and a Formal Complaint from a group of Early Years parents, each present different and in some cases contradictory scenarios, with the Trust continuing to deny that the genuine problems exist.

Kentonline reports that ‘several staff have departed’, the reality being that there has been a turnover in the last year of over three quarters of the teachers, four Teaching Assistants having resigned, along with other employees, some with no other post to go to. This includes seven teachers and TAs leaving at Easter, including the Deputy Head and head of Early Years. The previous long-serving and highly respected Chair of Governors resigned last summer with immediate effect after irreconcilable differences with the new headteacher. The letter of complaint, which has also been sent to Kelly Tolhurst, MP,  focuses on the sudden departure this term of the head of Early Years – ‘the reason why we chose to put our children there in the first place’.

The Chair of Trustees considers that the staff exodus is because ‘not all have felt themselves either willing or able, even with support, to rise to the challenge of improving standards’,  publicly blaming the exodus on poor staff, hardly likely to extinguish the flames.

Chair of Trustees Letter

This begins by reassuring parents ‘and to address the issues of staff turnover at Halling Primary School in recent months and the way in which the situation has unfortunately been presented on social media in a highly one sided and negative way’.  It then turns to a highly one sided and negative picture of the school and its staff, and has been greeted with outrage by some. It is briefly acknowledged that ‘most of those who have left have given excellent service to the school, and then the letter, completely unnecessarily, goes on to discuss the failures of those ‘unable to rise to the challenge of improving standards’. There is reference to the fact that all had ‘properly conducted exit interviews’, another area of dispute as these are held with the headteacher alone, with no apparent record kept. Unsurprisingly, but ‘Crucially, no criticism of the school was raised during these interviews’.

Halling Primary freely chose to become an academy in association with Cliffe Woods School at Easter 2019 under its previous headteacher who retired soon after, but knowing that change was inevitable. What staff did not expect in this letter was for parents to be told that ‘there were several important areas in which it was failing to deliver the standards and support that pupils deserve’ (see below). Responsibility for the damage inflicted on the school is not just down to one person, for ‘Any improvements within the school have been essential and implemented with the full support and knowledge of the Local Governing Body and the Board of Trustees’, who must therefore share full responsibility.   

Whilst it may be comforting to some to learn that ‘The atmosphere within the school is now one of great enthusiasm and determination’ I can confirm that this ham-fisted attempt to cover over the divisions in the school has had the opposite effect.

Update: There is still unhappiness from some parents who expressed concerns about the Christmas departures, who were then invited singly into the school 'unaccompanied' to discuss those concerns. The issue was the 'unaccompanied' requirement. 

The Medway Messenger was told that ‘The school's Board of Trustees said it wished staff well with their "promotions, relocations and changes of career". It said the pandemic had also played a part as people re-evaluated their lives and all but one position had now been filled’, and ‘it is common to see a natural turnover of staff when schools change status from local authority to independent or academy’. No suggestion there that staff had left because they were not up to scratch or were unhappy with the school. More significantly, 11 teachers have left  mid-year over the last four months or have tendered their resignations, out of a total of 17, an astonishing proportion.   

Puzzlingly, and presumably in response to a section in my previous article, the news item refers to the school Social Media Policy. The policy version I have reproduced here (Document 3) confirms it was agreed on 20th December to be reviewed in 12 months, my description of it being ‘as adversarial and threatening in tone’. Clearly, the Trustees agree with me for according to Kentonline ‘In hindsight, the policy sent out may have come across sterner than expected’  but they then inform readers that ‘We are currently in the process of writing a social media policy and have asked parents for their input with this’, presumably because the December version has been scrapped and was without meaningful parental input.

The letter (under revision) comes across as a completely genuine cry of help from parents of children in the Early Years part of the school. It needs no further comment from me. 
 
Important areas in which the school was failing to deliver the standards and support that pupils deserve.
This is a key allegation by the Trustees with overall responsibility for running Halling Primary School and clearly, I am not privy to the detail. However, there are some clues about performance, for example the ‘Good’ Ofsted Report of 2015. This highlights:
  •  Determined and effective leadership by the headteacher ensure standards and achievement have risen since the previous inspection. The deputy headteacher, governors and a developing group of middle leaders ably support her.
  •  Teaching is good, and improving
  •  Governors hold the school to account effectively.
  • Outstanding opportunities for learning in the Reception classes ensure children get off to an excellent start. Teaching is of high quality and the environment is exciting and very well resourced. Children move into Year 1 as confident, independent learners.
  • Outstanding attitudes to learning and unfailingly polite and respectful behaviour towards each other and adults contribute strongly to the improved achievement.

One result of academisation is a respite from Inspections for a further three years, so this is the latest inspection conducted. Because of coronavirus the latest Key Stage Two results published are for the summer 2019, shortly after academisation.  These show that Halling Primary was placed sixth in Medway out of 66 schools for the proportion of pupils meeting the expected standard in reading, maths and writing. At 83% this places the school just below Cliffe Woods in fifth place. However, progress in these three subjects was only average, below the levels at Cliffe Woods, so there is room for improvement there, but hardly failure!

  

Read 5712 times Last modified on Thursday, 18 March 2021 20:28

7 comments

  • Comment Link Thursday, 18 March 2021 19:49 posted by A really sad Mum..

    I honestly believe the school, the governors and the trust think this will all just blow over. Once this new round of teachers leave they can carry on like nothing has happened. I really hope this is not the case for the sake of our children and our beautiful community driven school.

    I keep hearing about parents pulling their children from the school. I would be really interested to know how many pupils (not just teachers) they have lost under her leadership.

    This feels like such a sad time for Halling.

  • Comment Link Thursday, 18 March 2021 19:21 posted by Professional Parent

    Watching even more children leaving school today crying because even more staff are leaving (that the school haven’t told the parents about!) is genuinely heart breaking.

    There have been a number of class group letters raising concern and so far the response has done absolutely nothing more than swept it under a carpet.

    It is hard to imagine how such a situation could ever have come about - how can so many legitimate concerns be completely ignored. As someone used to conducting investigations in children’s settings it’s hard to envisage how so many concerns have been glossed over.

    We have heard from at least 3 staff who have confirmed first hand they are leaving because of the conduct of one person .

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 17 March 2021 10:28 posted by Charlie

    I really hope resigned/resigning members of staff have properly conducted (independent) exit interviews so they can have their voice too. I honestly feel it’s the only way this can all be resolved.

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 17 March 2021 00:19 posted by Outraged resident

    ‘unable to rise to the challenge of improving standards’
    This is disgusting wording. Backhanded and unprofessional, they should be ashamed. An immediate apology is required for this defamatory statement towards their “valued” staff.
    Can they get away with these derogatory comments or can this be taken further? PETER: I am not a lawyer but whilst this is indicative of how the school thinks of staff I can't see its illegal, nor can I think to whom you can complain outside the Trust.

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 17 March 2021 00:00 posted by K. Ashton

    I have followed the situation at Halling with great interest. I am a retired headteacher and I am related to a member of staff who felt compelled, very reluctantly to leave Halling Primary school. I would as a Headteacher have been very concerned to have had such a high turn over on my staff team staff and to have lost a Chair and Vice Chair of Governors with immediate effect all in a very short space of time. This was not a failing school, it was a strong village school at the heart of a community in which some staff live. Appropriately, independently carried out exit interviews should have been and still must be a priority for all staff leaving. I know they have not been offered to everyone and they would normally be carried out by Governors or Trustees. There are many voices in this debate about the school and a number are rightly saying the school must move forward and the community must support it. However unless the issues including staff well being are fully and appropriately addressed it will be very hard to move forward.
    There is sometimes movement in staffing when the headteacher leaves but rarely to this extent. The move to Academy these days has little impact on staff movement as so many schools have now changed.
    At the centre of all this in these difficult times is the children's education, is it not now time for the Academy Trustees to initiate an independent investigation taking evidence from current and previous staff members, governors and parents so that the school can focus on its core purpose and at the same time leaders will be in a position learn what needs to be done to ensure this situation is not allowed to happen again. PETER As a retired headteacher myself I agree with all of this.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 16 March 2021 20:34 posted by Anonymous

    I am so grateful to every single parent, teacher and ex teacher who are all pulling together to save the school. Our children (our whole worlds) are at risk of having a poor education if Selmi carries on leading the school. A formal complaint is what the governors needed to take action and now they have it. How much more evidence do they need??!

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 16 March 2021 20:30 posted by Lwatson

    I see no other option but for Ofsted to visit! The staff are leaving due to the Headteacher. It is appalling that a suggestion would be made that it is due to the staff not wanting to listen and make improvements! You only have to look at the number alongside the tenure of the people leaving to see the issue. It’s so sad for a lovely village school to end this way due to a DELETED

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