Parents and pupils at Holland Park School, one of England’s most prestigious academy schools, are in dispute with ministers over plans for the school to be taken over by one of the country’s largest academy chains, United Learning Trust (ULT). Around 200 pupils are reported to have taken part in a protest inside the school two weeks ago, after which a group of parents called for the Department for Education (DfE) to abandon the proposal.
The parents’ group has sent a letter to governors calling for a judicial review, alleging a flawed consultation and an improperly constituted governing body. The group has also requested a meeting with ministers. Melanie Juno Wolfe, convener of the Holland Park School Parent Collective, said pupils are distressed by the plans and accused both interim governing bodies of being "detached."
Holland Park School was placed under interim management by the DfE after allegations of a toxic environment involving bullying, misleading Ofsted, poor safeguarding practices and inadequate financial oversight. The school, previously known as the “socialist Eton,” was issued with a notice to improve regarding financial oversight in 2018. Interim governors later appointed ULT as preferred academy provider.
Holland Park parents are pushing for the school to remain a stand-alone academy or to form a trust with Kensington Aldridge Academy, which lost four pupils in the Grenfell Tower fire, and the local authority. They oppose the school joining ULT, which includes over 80 private and state schools. A petition opposing the move has garnered hundreds of signatures and has been supported by journalist Sarah Vine, who is Michael Gove’s ex-wife.
The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea has criticised the school and has called for DfE intervention over the situation. The lead member for children’s services spoke out against the ULT takeover, and the executive director of children’s services criticised the lack of communication between the school and parents.
A KAA representative stated that they firmly believed their proposal to form a partnership with Holland Park and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea was highly compelling. They recognized the historical challenges within the school due to the large number of Holland Park students that joined their sixth form. Their proposal aimed to address these issues while also keeping the local leadership and unique identity of Holland Park intact.
The DfE spokesperson clarified that one of the conditions for the school to improve was to consider joining a multi-academy trust. After a thorough evaluation, the school’s existing trust board concluded that United Learning would provide the best support for their needs. They are currently undertaking stakeholder engagement, including with parents, before submitting a formal proposal to the department.
A representative of the Holland Park school governing body acknowledged the serious issues that have affected the school for many years, leading to the appointment of a new trustee board last year. They gave all bids serious consideration before choosing United Learning as their preferred provider, believing them to be the strong and expert MAT that could offer the necessary support.
While they recognize that some parents may disagree with their decision, they insist that the priority and guiding principle of the governors is to ensure that the school is fit for purpose and providing top-quality education to its students, which cannot be achieved without significant and long-overdue change.
The final decision on the school’s future rests with the government, and the governors will make no recommendation until after the stakeholder engagement process concludes. They invite all interested parties to provide their input, whether in favor of the proposal or not.