Heathside trial: Hampstead headteacher deceived parents, judge finds

The entrance to the upper school in West Heath Road and, right, Melissa Remus, Heathside's headteach

The entrance to the upper school in West Heath Road during the tenure of former headteacher and proprietor Melissa Remus (right). Pictures: Polly Hancock - Credit: Polly Hancock

In 2019, the Ham&High published a lengthy investigation into Heathside School, denounced by staff as a 'circus'. Two years on, the High Court has found its former headteacher deceived parents.

The former headteacher of Heathside School deliberately deceived parents, a court has ruled.

Melissa Remus was ordered to pay £38,000 damages, with more to be added.

A judge found she took on GCSE students at the private school in Hampstead without legal authorisation, then tried to cover it up.

Ms Remus denied the allegations but Deputy High Court Judge Peter Marquand rejected much of her evidence, describing it as “unconvincing”, “evasive”, “contradictory”, “disingenuous” and “unsatisfactory in content and delivery”.

Heathside School is now under new owners. It was not a party in the lawsuit.

The Allegations

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The judgement followed a two-week civil case brought by two families who enrolled their children in the £6,000-a-term school in 2017.

Heathside was only authorised by the Department for Education (DfE) to teach up to Year 9.

But the parents of a teenage boy said Ms Remus told them their son would be among five to seven pupils starting in a brand-new Year 10.

He in fact began the 2017/18 school year as the only Year 10 pupil and, during an Ofsted visit, was hidden in an office.

The deputy head said Ms Remus told her the boy had to be “kept upstairs, out of the way”.

Ms Remus claimed he was isolated due to his behaviour, but Mr Marquand found she also wanted to hide him from the inspectors.

Two months later a female pupil joined Year 10.

The trial heard of efforts to hide the pair's existence, with Ms Remus blocking Year 10 timetables from being put up in school or on the computer system.

On the school roll, the pair were listed as Year 9 pupils.

Despite starting both pupils in Autumn 2017, the judge found no evidence of Ms Remus seeking permission to teach GCSEs until April 2018.

The DfE refused.

The parents only found out the school had no permission to teach their children in July 2018.

Former Heathside School headteacher Melissa Remus

Melissa Remus, pictured in 2011. - Credit: Nigel Sutton

Defence

Ms Remus claimed the boy’s parents had “begged” her to take him.

She said she told them she would be “sticking her neck out” by doing so as she did not have the necessary permission.

“I reject her evidence on all of these assertions,” wrote Mr Marquand, saying it was “almost inconceivable” that parents would enrol their son in a school with no permission to teach him.

He said documents showed the school had offered them Year 10 education.

The boy’s registration form said “Year 10”. They were invoiced for “Y10 Fees”.

Mr Marquand said it was “not believable” that Ms Remus, as headteacher and proprietor, would not have had to authorise those documents.

Similarly, the female pupil’s formal admission offer and registration form said she would be in Year 10.

Mr Marquand said both families had established “deceit”.

He accepted that Ms Remus had believed the DfE would grant permission for GCSE teaching if she asked for it.

But he found that she did not have permission and “ambiguity was used deliberately to deceive”.

Heathside Prep School's main offices in New End, as they looked in April 2019. Picture: Polly Hancoc

Heathside Prep School's main offices in New End, as they looked in April 2019. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Polly Hancock

Damages

Each family was awarded £9,000 in damages for distress – £2,000 for each parent and £5,000 for each child.

The boy was awarded an additional £20,000 damages on grounds that negligence at Heathside damaged his grades, preventing him from taking A-levels or going to university.

His parents will be reimbursed on top for all of his Heathside fees, plus further education fees. The sum is yet to be decided.

It will be decided at a later hearing whether the girl’s fees will be reimbursed, as they were being paid by a trust but the lawsuit was brought by her parents.

Ms Remus may be ordered to repay the girl’s Heathside fees, the charge for leaving her old private school at short notice, and a year of her subsequent college fees.

Ms Remus said: "For 25 years, Heathside was an excellent and much-loved school, known for helping children turn their lives around.

"My intentions were always good and I was trying to help two young people who had both been refusing to attend their previous schools.

"I could not afford lawyers to represent my side of the story and was no match for the parents' barrister and legal team.

"During the hearing, I was suffering from the severe effects of being hospitalised with Covid-19 shortly before the trial and was refused an appeal to postpone.

"I am considering whether there is room for an appeal and so I cannot say any more now. Either way, I only wish these two young people well."

For more, read:

Heathside Trial: Hampstead high school was 'shambolic', ex-staff tell judge

Investigation: Council tries to shut down Hampstead private school denounced as a circus

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