Leopold Primary School strike latest: Parents confront governors at heated meeting - but council doesn't turn up
PUBLISHED: 11:43 08 March 2018 | UPDATED: 13:43 15 March 2018
Hundreds of angry parents confronted governors at a heated meeting last night, demanding to know why teachers at Leopold Primary School are going on strike.
Acting chair of governors Kofi Baah struggled to control the crowd at the school in Hawkshead Road, Harlesden, as he insisted he couldn’t discuss “confidential information about an ongoing investigation” and they had to await “due process”.
Thirteen staff submitted formal grievances against headteacher Audrey Kendall last autumn amid allegations of “bullying and harassment”, the National Education Union yesterday said in a formal statement.
Nine staff members are understood to be signed off on long-term stress-related sick leave after disciplinary action was taken against them by the head, the NEU alleges. Members now plan a three-day walkout from March 20, citing “the indifference of the governors and Brent Council”.
Parents were angry that the crisis has been escalating for months, with rumours rife on Whatsapp groups and social media, while there has been no communication from Brent Council or governors.
As some parents stormed out, others complained PE lessons had been cancelled and their children taught by teaching assistants because of absent staff, including the nine who have been signed off. Several parents have removed their children from the school as the problem escalates, the Times understands.
“As governors we have responsibility for supporting and challenging the leadership,” said Mr Baah, “but the headteacher runs the day-to-day operations.”
Mr Baah took over when the long-standing chair of governors Malcolm Boyle stepped down in January amid “libellous” accusations against him.
“There have been some misunderstandings within the leadership, but it’s not fair to say anything on individual matters,” he continued. “We have constant discussion with the leadership to make sure your children are safe in school.”
He admitted the cost of paying agency staff – likely to be in excess of £200 a day for a teacher – was draining school budgets.
Mr Baah added: “A number of teachers are on long-term sick and we’re struggling with the amount of staff.
“Looking at the finances we are spending so much money on agency staff.
“I speak to the headteacher on a daily basis to make sure there are enough staff and I am assured we are putting the measures in place to cover all the vacant positions.”
Asked outright if children were safe at the school, the governor responsible for safeguarding said there are weekly meetings “going through all the safeguarding complaints, looking at where the difficulties are that the senior leadership team have to address”.
Governors also said while there were “issues with safeguarding” they didn’t feel children were currently in danger.
An independent report into the teachers’ allegations of bullying and harassment has been commissioned, but the union says members have not seen it and accuse Brent Council of “sitting on” the report. The town hall has repeatedly failed to comment when approached by the Times, and did not send a representative to last night’s meeting.
Mr Baah said governors were not allowed to see the report, either, because they may be involved in a future disciplinary process.
The NEU is demanding Ms Kendall be suspended while the allegations are explored but as yet no decision has been taken over her future. Ms Kendall has run Leopold Primary for more than 30 years, and a wing of the school was recently named after her.
“This is an unprecedented and very sensitive situation,” Mr Baah added. “We are working with the school and the council to come to the best possible outcome, and that involves doing it correctly with due process.”
He blamed the problems on the “challenges” of expanding the school to a second site in Brentfield Road three years ago, a move that swelled the intake from 430 to more than 800 children and doubled staff numbers.
The school was last inspected by Ofsted in April 2017 and found to be “good”. The report singled out the leadership for particular praise.