‘Happy child, chaotic management’: Leadership at troubled Hampstead private school criticised by Ofsted despite safety improvements

The upper school in West Heath Road, Hampstead. Picture: Polly Hancock

The upper school in West Heath Road, Hampstead. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

The management of Heathside Preparatory School in Hampstead has been chastised by Ofsted in a report published this morning - even as inspectors praised other key improvements made since last year.

The school, which is split across six sites in Hampstead and charges up to £18,600 a year in fees, has seen its overall rating drop from "outstanding" to "requires improvement".

Inspectors visited Heathside between March 19 and March 21, and found the school had made necessary improvements to pupil welfare and safety, with "significant improvements" in boarding provision.

But they said leadership and management remained below the expected standard, with the proprietor, Melissa Remus, receiving notable criticism.

Inspectors also raised specific concerns about pupil outcomes and behaviour in the upper school, concluding that some of the national standards for leadership and boarding still had yet to be met.

Part of the report summarises: "Leadership is disorganised and systems to hold leaders and staff to account are ineffective.

"The proprietor intends to review job descriptions and delegate responsibility, but this has not happened.

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"The proprietor has not ensured that leaders are organised or communicate effectively with staff, parents and carers.

"Staff do not know other people's roles and responsibilities in the organisation. Job descriptions are unclear and key information is not readily available."

At the same time, inspectors noted that most parents were "very supportive" of the school and pupils had a positive attitude to learning.

They added: "They value the proprietor's educational vision and recognise the positive impact of the school's ethos on their child's development.

"However, these same parents could also identify disarray in leadership and significant weaknesses in the way leaders communicate with them.

"One parent commented, succinctly and typical of many: 'Happy child, chaotic management.'"

There are now 493 pupils aged two to 14 on the roll at Heathside, with 21 youngsters boarding at the upper school in West Heath Road.

Two emergency Ofsted inspections in July and September 2018 had thrown up a catalogue of safeguarding issues, which have now been resolved.

The school had also breached its Department for Education registration by offering GCSEs without permission.

In their latest report, inspectors noted: "As a result, pupils and staff have left the school. This has been very unsettling for everyone.

"Leaders now need to take responsibility for this, heal the bitterness and ill feeling, and support members of the school community to move forward."

Teachers at Heathside were described as well-qualified and committed, but the overall quality of teaching was rated "requires improvement" - third on a scale of four.

Pupils' personal development and welfare was described as good, with youngsters described as confident and well-rounded, with access to a wide range of subjects.

But behaviour and outcomes in the upper school were found to be lagging behind the rest of Heathside, with leadership again identified as the likely cause.

Inspectors commented: "Pupils in the upper school make less progress than they should because of inconsistencies in the quality of teaching.

"This is a result of weaknesses in leadership and the turnover of teaching staff."

Youngsters with special educational needs or disabilities (SEND) were found to be making slower progress in the upper school and writing in the upper school was "below expectations", inspectors said.

In contrast, early years provision was assessed as good, with children well-prepared for Year 1 and learning in a "vibrant and stimulating" environment.

Children's overall experience and progress in boarding was also rated good, with inspectors noting a recent change in the leadership.

Despite flagging up a concern that the school's system for managing pupils' health records was "not robust", inspectors concluded that pupils were in a "safe and secure" physical environment with appropriately trained staff.

In March 2019 an advisory, governance and safeguarding board with 11 members, of which nine are parents at the school, was appointed to help oversee improvements at Heathside. A school improvement plan has been developed with senior leaders and shared with staff.

Consultants were also brought in to help address failings identified in the previous emergency inspections.

A new co-headteacher of the upper school, a new human resources manager, a new health and safety manager and a new special educational needs co-ordinator have been in post since September 2018.

Radha Chakraborty, vice chair of Heathside's advisory board, said: "Whilst there are many positive aspects in the report, there is work to do and he school is committed to getting things right for its talented students and the local community.

"Following the previous inspection, the school's new leadership and governance bodies drew up and began implementing an action plan to address the areas it needed to improve and which will ensure sustained progress. These actions were already well under way at the time of the latest inspection and we therefore expect to deliver them swiftly.

"The school is committed to achieving the highest standards across all aspects of school life, and is grateful for the support of parents and the dedication of the headteachers, deputies and staff who work so hard to deliver for students every day.

"The focus is now on returning the school to an outstanding rating as soon as possible."