Hackney New School gives fourth head in two years the boot - but fails to tell parents, who say school is 'out of control'
PUBLISHED: 10:35 28 June 2019 | UPDATED: 14:47 28 June 2019
A group of teachers from Hackney New School have spoken out over the shock dismissal of their fourth head in two years - which saw three inset days called without warning this week.
Parents say governors at the free school, in Kingsland Road, Haggerston, failed to tell them Mary Li would be going or that the school would be effectively closed.
Youngsters who had stayed behind at the secondary school for music clubs on Wednesday last week witnessed "teachers sitting around in tears" after the shock announcement of Ms Li's departure was made.
Ms Li only took over last year from Antony Facinello. Mr Facinello had in turn had replaced Hugo Hutchinson - a stand-in after the school's first head Lesley Falconer left with two weeks' notice ahead of the 2017 Easter holidays.
On Tuesday last week the leadership at the free school in Kingsland Road, Haggerston, posted a note on its website apologising to parents for the "short notice", and said the school would be closed for the rest of the week for "staff training".
A group of teachers from the school, speaking on condition of anonymity, said in a statement that Ms Li's dismissal had "had a huge impact on the students' wellbeing and confidence in the school" and "left the new head to learn processes on the job with no formal handover and the rest of the SLT to pick up the pieces".
And they said "lack of continuity at the highest level" - the rapid turnover of headteachers - had "added to the difficulties of behaviour management and this, as one of the root causes, has not been a concern of the governing body".
Some parents, speaking to the Gazette, have called for the school's founder and governor Andreas Wesemann to step down.
Jamie Duff from the National Education Union also laid the blame for the situation firmly at the door of the school's governing body, and urged immediate action to "rebuild their relationship with staff and to stabilise the school".
He said the high turnover of teachers and heads at the school had "inevitably led to instability and uncertainty".
"This combined with other serious concerns has resulted in the teachers questioning the ability of the governing body to effectively manage the school," he said.
"The teachers at the school are dedicated and hard working and want the best possible education for their pupils. We have tried time and time again to have constructive dialogue with the different heads about how to improve the school but unfortunately the governing body have blocked any discussions or negotiations. The staff at HNS and the young people of Hackney deserve better."
The school had a high turnover of staff at the end of the last academic year, and according to the NEU a lot of them are expected to leave at the end of term this year.
One parent told the Gazette: "To say the school has spiralled out of control is an understatement. Parents of children in Year 10 are particularly upset by this. Parents in other years are looking at moving the children out.
"My child was mid-mock exams before receiving a letter as he walked out of school on Tuesday saying the school is closed for three days. There was no prior communication with parents at all. They did not even tell us Mary had left the school."
The HNS Trust has issued a statement admitting the school "faces many challenges", but tried to reassure parents by saying it had already started to put plans in place to improve the situation.
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"We recognise that there has been a significant amount of change within the school, in a short period of time," the statement read.
"We have identified that we require additional support to strengthen our leadership capacity and have appointed advisers to support the trust's development."
It added said the school was closed to deliver staff "intensive training" to help "implement new policies and ways of working".
The decision to close was "not taken lightly" and the trust apologised for the disruption it would have caused parents.
"The decision to close now, towards the end of term, will reduce the impact on pupils' learning," they added.
"This will enable the school to lay the foundations of this new approach before the school term ends and embed it for September.
"As a trust, we remain committed to continuing to provide a high-quality learning and caring environment for our pupils, so they can have the support they need to flourish in all areas of their learning and development and lead happy and fulfilling lives."
'Staff have been attacked'
As well as the unrest among staff, parents have told the Gazette about scenes of disarray among students, with fights breaking out between children.
One allegedly left a child "pouring with blood", we were told last week, leaving kids to step in to break up the fight themselves because no teachers were around, it is said.
Staff have reportedly asked the governing body to seek help with managing kids' behaviour from the council-run Hackney Learning Trust, with the request said to have fallen on deaf ears. Instead, as above, they have appointed "advisers to support the trust's development".
"In the last week staff have been attacked and have put themselves in the line of fire on multiple occasions to try and protect students," the teachers said.
"Staff are acutely aware of how unacceptable the situation is.
"It is unacceptable to them as well. Staff are broken-hearted by the cluelessness of the governing body.
"They have petitioned them verbally and in writing about the situation."
Tellingly, the statement also noted: "As a free school the governing board - and the school - sit outside the normal checks and balances that exist within the borough for state schools."
Former head of maths Mary Li was "a well-liked and respected head," they also said, "who enjoyed the support of her colleagues and broadly of many of the students".
And her redundancy "has had a huge impact on the students' wellbeing and confidence in the school. It has left the new head to learn processes on the job with no formal handover and the rest of the SLT to pick up the pieces."