Hackney New School: Entire board of trustees at troubled secondary quits
PUBLISHED: 16:32 17 July 2019 | UPDATED: 19:34 17 July 2019
An announcement that the entire board of trustees at Hackney New School resigned en masse was greeted with "rapturous applause" by both parents and staff this week.
The news sparked MP Meg Hillier to arrange an emergency meeting with Baron Agnew, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Education (DfE), to find out what's going to happen to the free school's primary and secondary buildings in Kingsland Road, Haggerston.
The DfE had transferred ownership of them to the company that runs the school, Hackney New School Ltd, which is owned by its now former trustees, headed by Andreas Wesemann.
The secondary school went through two headteachers in the space of two weeks this month. Safeguarding concerns triggered an emergency "no notice" Ofsted inspection - the results of which have yet to be published.
Ms Hillier told the Gazette: "It is a sign of complete failure of governance that the school got into this state, and the fact that the trustees resigned en masse I hope has been recognised by them as a sign of that failure. I hope that too has been recognised by the DfE.
"It's shocking and damaging to the children and the priority now has to be to make sure the children remaining there get the best possible education for their remaining time. Some of them are halfway through their GCSEs."
The Community Schools Trust is expected to take over the secondary school and the Eko Trust to take over the primary school by November - however, it is understood this needs to be approved by the Regional Schools Commissioner (RSC) for north east London, Sue Baldwin.
Ms Hillier expressed concern the RSC, a government role, did not warn her earlier this year that the school was in dire straits.
"That is shocking," she said. "Accountability is an issue. One of the problems about this whole set-up is governance happens directly from the government to the school. There are a lot of issues around free schools, and who's allowed to run them and who's watching."
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HNS was one of the first free schools to open in 2012, after they were introduced by the Lib Con coalition government.
They were touted by then Education Secretary Michael Gove as a way to increase school places and drive up standards, and essentially anyone can open one.
A spokesperson for the DfE said they were "aware of the recent changes in leadership at the school", and that officials had been "working to address the issues there".
They have not yet explained what happens to the building, land and assets of a free school when the people running it as a business stop running the school, or whether any legal protection ensure the property is transferred into public ownership.
They have also not yet answered whether the Hackney New School Trust currently remains the owner of the building and the land, and its £16m assets.
Interim Headteacher Charlotte Whelan, the former head at Newham's 'outstanding' Forest Gate Community School, told parents in a letter that "the existing trustees of HNS had agreed to step down".
"It was evident to all outside parties who have been working in the school since April that the school was in a rapid state of decline and that many of the basic things you would expect in a school weren't there," she said.
"We cannot prejudice the outcome of the (Ofsted) report until it is published. However it is fair to tell you that as it was a 'no notice' inspection triggered by safeguarding concerns, the inspectors were only satisfied that the school was safe as CST and EKO were flooding the school with their staff to ensure the safety of students and staff."
An interim board, including one representative from the Hackney Learning Trust, is expected to be agreed at a meeting tonight.
The former chair of trustees did not respond to requests for comment.
Both teachers and parents cheered when they quit, a number of those present told the Gazette.