The Liberal Democrats have written to the council regarding problems at Harris Academy.
The letter can be read below:
Dear Councillor Amin,
I am writing to you to raise concerns over events at Harris Academy in Tottenham. A number of issues have recently been raised by pupils and staff, both in public and in private with the Haringey Liberal Democrats. Though of course the local authority has a very limited role in academies, I would urge you to enter dialogue with the school, particularly regarding their treatment of SEN pupils, who the council retains ultimate responsibility for. Furthermore, if Haringey Council has concerns over the school’s safeguarding procedures, there is a responsibility to report these to the Education Funding Agency, and I would encourage you to look into this. Our primary worries relate to allegations that:
- the implementation of a ‘zero-tolerance’ behaviour policy appears to primarily affect students with SEN;
- there is a lack of pastoral support for students;
- actions taken by the school’s leadership team indicate potential racial bias.
The zero-tolerance policy is the primary area of concern. Examples of offences in the behaviour policy include fidgeting and pen tapping - anything that could indicate a loss of concentration from the child. Such policies would severely impact students with learning difficulties such as ADHD. I worry that students could be excluded from lessons for failing to adhere to a behaviour policy that does not take account of their individual needs. The behaviour policy is incremental, and according to reports eventually leads to students being excluded for a number of very minor offences. In my view, these policies are deeply concerning, and could well mean that the school is breaching its safeguarding duties. I would ask the council to look into public allegations, and consider whether it is necessary to report Harris Academy to the Education Funding Agency.
Secondly, there appears to be insufficient pastoral care for students. You may have been made aware of a number of reports from pupils on social media speaking about how their mental health has deteriorated due to the school environment. Given the severe isolation caused by lockdown, looking after students’ mental health should be a top priority for schools, and I am extremely worried by these reports.
My final point relates to the possibility of racial bias from school staff. These reports are anecdotal, but appear widespread, and if true are of course incredibly serious. For example, there have been concerns that a number of teaching roles filled by black staff have been phased out, and replaced with more senior positions, which have been filled by white staff. Some students have claimed that many of these new staff members show signs of unconscious bias towards ethnic minority students, and do not show awareness of the school’s diverse population. These reports show a worrying pattern, and clearly indicate that there may be issues at the school which require attention.
I would encourage the council to use any and all powers at its disposal to look into what is happening at the school.
I look forward to your response.
Councillor Sakina Chenot
Opposition Spokesperson on Education