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Thursday, 18 March 2021 20:28

Halling Primary Crisis: Latest Developments

Update on even fresher and major developments, most recently today, 19th April: 

A comment on my previous article about Halling Primary begins: 

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 heartbreaking.

 Meanwhile, the Chair of Trustees considers that ‘The atmosphere within the school is now one of great enthusiasm and determination'. A front-page article in the Medway Messenger on Thursday has stoked the fires featuring the same Chair claiming ‘staff not up to the challenge’. The Trust has called a meeting of Halling parents for next week, although this is primarily to introduce the new staff - should be interesting. At the meeting, the Trust will also discuss the adversarial and threatening Social Media Policy.

Ex-members of staff have now lodged formal complaints about the shocking public attack on them, which appears to be an attempt to cover up the resignation of over three-quarters of the teaching staff mid-year. Those departing next month include the highly respected Deputy Headteacher and Head of Early Years, both leaving 'for personal reasons' with no job to go to at present, together with support staff. Several of the Teaching Assistants have chosen to leave in the next few days before the end of term. 

All this is far away from the school’s highly publicised values of

Compassion • Integrity • Thankfulness • Respect • Resilience

My two previous articles about Halling Primary, here, with an update here, have attracted widespread attention and currently stand at an astonishing figure of over 11,000 visitors between them in the past fortnight.

Minutes of a Local  Governing Body Meeting in November have the headteacher reporting in response to the high rate of resignations at that point (10 teachers and TAs since January 2020, rising to 18 at the time of writing), that the Senior Leadership Team had high expectations of staff, whilst exit interviews revealed a common thread of 'changes' and 'covid'. The headteacher stated she was confident in her team, the robust interview process and noted that all staff were happy and keen to move the school forward, which is hardly consistent with subsequent events. More recently, the Deputy Headteacher and Early Years Leader have resigned with effect from the end of the current term after 20 years of service to the school, both ‘for personal reasons’ and no job to go to, along with another teacher and four Teaching Assistants. The departure of the  Early Years Leader has had a particular impact, as she is much loved by so many children who have passed through her hands in Reception. 

Recent Events
The Trust appears to have belatedly started to respond to the deep concerns reflected in my previous articles in the past week or so. It has invited all Halling parents to a meeting next week, even if it spoiled the invitation by explaining the purpose as ‘to introduce you all to the new members of staff so that you can put a face to the name, share our vision for the school and talk about next steps’, rather than to consider the issues as a previous trailer had promised.

One area of contention with staff was that for those having left, exit interviews have been predominantly with the headteacher alone which inhibited them from expressing any unhappiness and whose results appeared to give a misleading impression to the Trust. These interviews are now to be conducted with an external specialist in the hope that a truer picture will emerge. Many of those who have left have recently been telephoned by the Trust, inviting them to meet with a Trust representative to discuss issues.

A very lengthy letter to parents on 19th March, sent by the headteacher, attempts to explain all the good things that are happening in the school, with occasional references to some minor sticking points, and proposals to address them. The letter states Later in the term we will be holding a parent forum meeting, where we will be inviting you to come and discuss any issues, suggestions or ideas that you have’ which has since become the more constrained meeting outlined above. Whilst identifying that ‘parents too still have concerns around these areas, least of all Special Educational Needs’, it then goes on to focus on SEN, with another meeting for parents planned.

The school has clearly taken on my concerns about the adversarial and threatening Social Media Policy and have tried two alternative ways forward. Firstly it denied there was an agreed policy and so ‘‘We are currently in the process of writing a social media policy and have asked parents for their input with this’. Now the policy, which it appears was agreed all the time, is to be discussed at next week’s Parents Meeting although not mentioned in the invitation. This is ‘so that everyone can have an input and understand why certain sections are included, it really would be good to review the document together’; so primarily a justification, not a rewrite.

Many ex-staff have expressed their deep sadness and disappointment at the content of a letter the Trust sent out on 15th March, which has led to several formal complaints being lodged and they hope that the Trust will take this opportunity to fully investigate and reflect on the concerns of so many. From the messages I have seen, most still remain extremely loyal to Halling Primary School and desperately want the best outcome for children, parents and the remaining staff in this incredibly difficult situation. 

Two Teaching Assistants have now left the school having given due notice, although the school would not acknowledge their departure. Instead, they had to let people know via a courteous message on the village website.

I have also had several previous staff from Downsview Primary, the headteacher's previous school, contact me to suggest they are familiar with such an environment. 

Major Halling Update: Parents Meeting, Independent Investigation; Clarification; How to let parents know staff are leaving the school, Job Description for EYFS Lead Teacher.
Staff Leaving Notices: Because the school chooses not to tell parents that Teaching Assistants are leaving the school, they have had to seek an alternative method to get their message out. The solution is to use the village Facebook Page, Simply Halling. You will find their courteous messages here, the second one sent out today, the last day before the end of term, recording 30 years of service between them.  
 
Clarification: There are all sorts of figures that are being thrown around about the number of teachers leaving or have left. The school staffing list shows 17 current staff. I have the names of 13 teachers who have left or handed in their resignations since January 2020, with dates, together with numerous other staff, but it is not appropriate to publish these. Not one of the teachers who have left went at the normal time at the end of the summer term.  
Parents Meeting Tuesday 23rd March
The Trust and school had advertised two different reasons for calling this zoom meeting after the situation described in my three articles continued to deteriorate. In the first place, the school had arranged a ‘parent forum meeting, where we will be inviting you to come and discuss any issues, suggestions or ideas that you have’. Some days later, the Trust’s explanation was that the meeting was ‘to introduce you all to the new members of staff so that you can put a face to the name, share our vision for the school and talk about next steps’. In the event, neither of these aims was even attempted, with the Trust CEO using the occasion to try and justify the actions of the school by once again denigrating what had gone before. As a result the meeting merely stoked the fires of discontent amongst those present.
 It was unfortunate that the headteacher has had no video on her PC since her appointment so that when she spoke, parents could see neither her nor members of her leadership team who shared the same station. It appears that it was not thought important enough to use a different computer for this meeting.
There was no introduction to the new staff as promised except for a list of names, together with their roles, read out by a member of the Senior Leadership Team. There was therefore no chance to put a face to the name as promised, and these staff did not even appear to be present.
Independent Investigation
There was no discussion on issues as promised for, as the CEO explained and confirmed in a follow-up letter to parents:We have contacted the Regional Schools Commissioner (RSC) to ask for independent support in both dealing with complaints and helping staff and parents with concerns and worries. The RSC contacted the Aletheia Anglican Academy Trust (AAAT) and they have kindly agreed to provide this role. We have already had a meeting with the CEO of AAAT, Steve Carey, to discuss the issues that have been raised and to start planning the support they will be providing. As a first step they will be visiting the school for a whole day next week to get to know Halling and to meet staff and parents’.  My own view is that this is an excellent way forward, although it completely removed the main purpose for the meeting, especially as Steve Carey has a strong reputation for integrity. AAAT has appointed an independent company, Education Personnel Management, who provide their HR support, to investigate complaints, thus ensuring complete independence by making it twice removed from the case.
  
The statement indicates that the initiative to call in the RSC was that of the Cliffe Woods Trust, in what appears to be the first public acknowledgement that they have a problem.   
Mr Carey will no doubt make himself available to all parents who wish to speak with him, but for those such as ex-staff who may have difficulties in doing so, I am sure he can be reached via admin@aaat.uk. Several parents have expressed concerns to me about being identified, with potential consequences for their children. I am absolutely confident that (a) this would never happen, and (b) that the arrangements put in place will make such identification impossible. I understand that he and his team will be in school all day tomorrow, and will make themselves available to meet parents. 
 
Job Description for EYFS Lead Teacher
You will find a link here to the job description for the post, which is one of the most amazing ones I have seen, even outdoing those I have analysed before including at Turner Schools. I doubt the requirement to 'sustain a wide, current knowledge and understanding of education and school’s (sic) systems locally, nationally and globally' which is something I actually covered in a thesis for my  M.A. in Curriculum Studies, is one fulfilled by many others in Kent or Medway outside the universities. Many of the other 23 components of the Job Description and 16 more of Duties and Responsibilities are simply fantasy. Personally, I thought that 'Hold all staff to account for their professional conduct and practice' was the job of the headteacher. It may be that to 'Challenge educational orthodoxies in the best interests of achieving excellence, harnessing the findings of well evidenced research to frame a self-regulating and self-improving school' is expected in some establishments, but surely there are much more important matters for the Head of Reception at Halling to attend to. The only mention of any duties specific to EYFS or relevant experience before being appointed appear in the advertisement, but not in the requirements of the job description, so perhaps the school is indeed looking for an education guru to fill the role who can learn on the job. It is indeed easy to mock this specification, but the person requirements which go on for another page and include requiring: 'An understanding of how to create accountability systems with the support of the leadership team and combine data from a range of sources in order to maximise the achievement of pupils'  are equally fantastic and wholly unreasonable. 'This document must not be altered once it has been signed', so tough if your global awareness is not up to scratch! Bizarrely the advertisement for Deputy Head on the same page, appears very sensible in its requirements, well below the EYFS expectations.  Perhaps even more strangely, the advertised Teaching Assistant Job Description, which is even more straightforward, is the only one to tell enquirers that about the school vision, a vision that is not repeated anywhere else in the school literature: 'Halling Primary School is a beacon of excellence, welcoming opportunities to share outstanding practice for the benefit of pupils within and beyond the school community. We simply expect 'Excellence From All!' Three different posts, three completely different styles and expectations. 
Finally
Serious allegations have been made about the running of Halling Primary School. It is important these are properly investigated to understand the truth behind them and the way to go forward, one way or another. Exceptionally for an academy trust in difficulty, the opportunity has been offered in this case.    
 
Last modified on Wednesday, 19 May 2021 23:52

8 comments

  • Comment Link Monday, 19 April 2021 11:46 posted by Anonymous

    I wish all the parents and staff of Halling school all the best for the future. If only we at Downsview had come together better we could have saved Halling from all this....and maybe Downsview too!!

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 30 March 2021 21:46 posted by Drew Peacocks

    Interesting speak to the 2 people from the other trust today. Seems like it was a bit of an eye opener for them too. Let’s hope justice can be served now and we can get the school back on track, taking the good things Miss Selmi has bought in and grow on them. We need to try and support the current crop of teachers and let’s hope they can get a real leader in...

  • Comment Link Friday, 26 March 2021 17:10 posted by Parent

    It’s interesting that everyone thinks everything was perfect before. I have seen an improvement in my children’s education over the past 15 months and they love being at school. I am sorry to see some of the teachers leave but many of the ones who left were too fluffy. There was plenty of in fighting before the new headteacher and the academy started. I have had previous teachers moaning about other teachers during parents evening in the past and the quality of their teaching. I agree everything is not well but there were lots of parents who did not like the previous headteacher and removed their children from the school. Such a shame some parents didn’t get their opportunity for the shouting match they wanted the other night!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! PETER: I have seen no suggestion that everything was perfect before Cliffe Woods took over, but plenty of suggestion that some changes were to be expected. I am pleased for you that your child is in one of the few classes that has not been disrupted by a change of teacher, or using a TA (with no criticism of these hard working staff). It is unfortunate that your child had fluffy teachers, obviously not including reception, an area of excellence in the school. You are clearly on good terms with those fluffy teachers to have observed this infighting, which no one else appears to have seen. I keep a record of census data which shows no decline in pupil numbers over the two years before the school academised as you claim. With regard to the Parents Meeting, the Trust having invited parents to come along to discuss the issues, by banning discussion we shall never know if they were going to shout or behave responsibly, and it is utterly irresponsible to claim otherwise. For reference 'Parent' did not provide their email address, so I don't know if this is a genuine or made up comment, but thought it was a useful insight anyway.

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 24 March 2021 20:28 posted by Concerned parent

    I am amazed at how cliffe woods is apparently so successful after its top bod Tim Muggeridge sat in our Halling meeting laughing and making comments about the toilets before the academy took over. I mean what did he think he was going to achieve by slating the school prior to his arrival. He boasted how he had visited the school on a few occasions and noted how bad it was, funny how all the parents who visited the school didn’t feel the same before they sent their children to Halling. The fact that he held the meeting and not the head who has a lot to answer for has just infuriated parents even more. The fact that it wasn’t actually a meeting it was a show of how wonderful the academy had made Halling school (not that one parent has noticed a single difference since joining) except all this upset and unrest. Not one question we have all been asking has been addressed due to investigations (again palming us off). Miss Selmi and SENCO teacher were reading from a script which had probably been written for them. We don’t have any faith in the academy or the head teacher and the meeting just made it worse. We are no more informed than before. Get rid of the academy and bring back the good school we had with the debt it had as well, I’m sure as a community we can help to sort this out between us. PETER: Sadly there is no return, or no escape from Cliffe Woods. All you can do is to work to make the arrangement as good as possible. No disrespect to you, but there is a long way to go, but none of this is your fault. You need to address those responsible.

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 24 March 2021 18:31 posted by James

    Hi Peter
    Working with this Head was an experience that I would not wish on any other school. When at Downsview in Swanley many staff left and I saw many TAs in tears. At Downsview she was only a Deputy Head but was making her presence felt for sure.. she made herself very unpopular by the time she left.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 23 March 2021 21:02 posted by Concerned Parent

    Was anyone else on that wonderful meeting earlier, seriously what
    was the point? Meet the new teachers... what new teacher lol. School is a joke.
    No wonder why that new teacher turned the position down who would want to come here? And yet again who is suffering? Our Children.

  • Comment Link Sunday, 21 March 2021 11:36 posted by Furious Halling Resident

    Thank you for yet another revealing article Peter.
    It has been truly heartbreaking to see the steady demise of what has always been the heart of our community. It is so frustrating to watch the Trust tie themselves in knots with their rash ‘explanations’. I can only assume their extremely damning letter sent to parents regarding some staffs was sent in the hope it would silence parents yet again, in reality it has done the reverse. I wonder what their explanation is for the admin, site and wrap around care staffs resignations? Such actions from what should be a truly professional body are absolutely appalling. Fortunately for parents, this latest attempt by the Trust to save their own bacon has backfired and they are hopefully now beginning to realise how they really do need to sit up and listen and not solely rely on the apparently misleading information given by the Head and some of her very loyal governors whom, I wonder, were persuaded to apply to join the board? I fail to see how they can have any real interest in the school itself if they are prepared to allow this to escalate further; if we can see the discrepancies then why can’t they?

  • Comment Link Saturday, 20 March 2021 15:01 posted by Halling Parent

    An excellent summation of events Peter. Keep the pressure on, hopefully it will force the hand of the trust to launch a proper investigation rather than disingenuously blaming teachers in response to genuine and substantiated criticism.

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