Heathside Trial: Hampstead high school was 'shambolic', ex-staff tell judge
- Credit: Nigel Sutton / Polly Hancock
Two years after a Ham&High investigation uncovered chaos behind the scenes at Hampstead's Heathside School, former staff have testified in a High Court civil trial.
Staff at a £6,000-a-term private school faced smelly toilets, failing tech and feared for their jobs if they complained, a court heard.
A trial over the mis-selling of GCSE courses at Heathside School, Hampstead, heard from ex-staff that the high school had been in “chaos”.
Former proprietor Melissa Remus claimed staff made false complaints as part of a "plot” to undermine her.
Deputy High Court Judge Peter Marquand found no evidence to support that claim.
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Former Heathside teacher Emily Holmstoel said the junior and middle schools were well run, but that the high school was “shambolic” and a “disaster”.
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Staff said concerns grew when Ms Remus suddenly started accepting GCSE pupils.
Ms Holmstoel said: “It was constant anxiety among staff and we were trying to communicate to [her] that we weren’t ready... Every teacher had real concerns.”
Deputy headteacher Hannah Burman began keeping a journal.
On March 6, 2018, she wrote: “[Ms Remus] has opened a high school, started teaching GCSEs but is not investing any money in it.
“Not enough toilets. Those in the building permanently smell. Science lab has been condemned in a risk assessment... Laptops old and broken.
“The bursar will not order any resources without written permission from [Ms Remus]. [She] never gives written permission. Staff are getting more and more annoyed.”
Ms Holmstoel said that when asked about resources, Ms Remus “said she had no money, or failed to respond to calls and emails”.
She claimed Ms Remus “would say negative things about staff who requested resources”.
An independent report, written in 2018 after an unrelated complaint, was entered into evidence.
It had found staff were “fearful" of raising concerns, "as they have seen staff being victimised or bullied for speaking the truth”.
Ms Remus insisted she was “a kind person who loved staff”, presenting character evidence from past employees.
But Mr Marquand ruled: “A number of relevant staff did not feel able to raise concerns because of a fear, generated by Ms Remus, of what might happen to them if they did.”
In a June 2018 journal entry, Ms Burman wrote that Year 10 students were being entered for double science GCSEs instead of triple.
She said they were told it was “because they do not work hard enough”.
But the "real reason", she wrote, was “no facilities”.
Mr Marquand found Heathside had lacked an adequate science lab.
One staff member reportedly threatened to resign after the lab went unfixed for years.
Mr Marquand also found that “a lack of teaching resource” meant GCSE students were unsupervised for “significant amounts of time” every day.
He found Ms Burford had requested extra staff but Ms Remus “either ignored those requests or decided not to action them".
He found the DfE refused Heathside permission to teach Year 10s as the schemes of work submitted for them were “inadequate and incomplete”.
But by then, the Year 10s were already most of the way through the school year.
One GCSE student said teachers “didn’t seem to know about the GCSEs and how to teach them".
She said staff described themselves as “overwhelmed”.
“They spoke to us about this in almost every lesson and shared their worries,” she said.
“That made me feel confused. In fact, the whole atmosphere at the school was confusing. Nobody seemed to know what they were doing.”
Maths teacher Ian Groves said Ms Remus was "not a leader", saying: "She had no agendas for meetings and instead would just turn up and ramble."
Allegations were made that Ms Remus was sometimes drunk at work, but Mr Marquand made no ruling on whether that was true.
Ms Remus claimed there was a “plot” to aid a rival school by undermining Heathside, but Mr Marquand found no evidence of that.
She also claimed she had delegated a lot of responsibilities to others who “misled her on how it was going”.
But Mr Marquand said her evidence was “evasive and disingenuous”.
He ruled that her agreement was required for “financial expenditure and other key decisions”, but “decisions were not made and correspondence was not replied to promptly".
A school spokesperson said: “Dukes Education bought Heathside in July 2019. The school subsequently got a clean bill of health from both Ofsted and the DfE.
“We are delighted that the school is now thriving and ensuring a first-class education for all our pupils.”
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