Tough inner-city London school blasts ITV for 'unfair' report

Strict inner-city London school blasts ITV for ‘unfair’ report after it brought in Britain’s ‘toughest headteacher’ to crack the whip and hand out 80 detentions a day to ‘detainee’ pupils

  • Hackney New School in inner-city London brought in a tough super headteacher
  • ITV claimed that students were handed detentions if they didn’t smile or shuffled
  • School claims that reporters ‘made their minds up’ before arriving for site visit
  • Headteacher says ‘anyone’ can tour the school to see what it is really like

A tough inner-city school where pupils in detention were branded ‘detainees’ has hit back at ITV saying they will report them to Ofcom over an ‘unfair and unbalanced’ report that revealed the claims.

Hackney New School brought in ‘Britain’s toughest headteacher’ Barry Smith last February to improve standard after the east London school was described as unsafe in an Ofsted report.

Since the start of this year more than 7,500 detentions – an average of 80 a day – have been handed out to students. And on one day last year over 150 pupils – around half of the school – were reportedly given detentions.

Emails sent by a teacher referring to children as ‘detainees’ were leaked with four present and former staff complaining the new approach is damaging pupils’ mental health.

After an ITV London crew visited the classrooms, school bosses said they were taking their complaints to the broadcast watchdog, claiming the report was ‘neither balanced nor fair’.

The school says it has ‘nothing to add’ about the complaint, which could centre around ITV’s decision to broadcast claims from unnamed teachers that students were given detentions for not smiling or shuffling their feet.

Joynab Sultana, assistant headteacher at Hackney New, said she accompanied reporters from ITV around the school and claimed they refused to speak to students or staff and had ‘made their minds up’ before arriving. 

In February last year, the trust hired controversial teacher Barry Smith, pictured, in a consultancy role to help tackle poor behaviour, with teachers handing out thousands of detentions. Headteacher Charlotte Whelan insists the school is now a ‘calm and structured environment where students can thrive’

Mr Smith referred to students as “detainees” in this email from March

She tweeted after the broadcast at the weekend: ‘I offered to show them more classes and the opportunity to speak to staff and students who have experienced both the old and new leadership to convey that we’ve nothing to hide.

‘However, this offer was declined. They had no intention to offer a balanced and objective report. What’s clear is that the team at ITV had made up their minds well before their visit to the school.’

Hackney New School was taken over by the Community Schools Trust in November 2019 following a damning Ofsted report which forced the school to shut because it was ‘unsafe’ for students.

The schools maintain the methods described by former employees were necessary to improve behaviour which they say was ‘rock bottom’ when they took over.

They now say the school has been completely transformed with students chanting poetry and taking part in quizzes during break times.

Headteacher Charlotte Whelan said: ‘This is a school which was deemed so unsafe it was closed by Ofsted, it is now a calm and structured environment where students can thrive.

‘We did introduce a strict behaviour policy when we first arrived because we needed drastic action to turn this school around, the children, at that point, were in charge.

‘Some of these children were due to take their GCSE and were miles behind because of the substandard education they had received. We had to establish order so we could create the right environment for students to learn.

‘We have nothing to add about the ITV report other than I can confirm we will be lodging a complaint.

‘For those who wish to make up their own mind about our school, we operate an open-door policy. Anyone, and they don’t have to be a parent at the school, can come and have a look around.

‘It will not be a showcase or guided tour, you can pick the classroom you want to visit, our visitors are the guides. In every classroom you will see the same thing. Happy and relaxed children learning in a safe environment.’

The Dalston secondary was taken over by the Community Schools Trust in November 2019 after a damning Ofsted report which raised ‘concerns about behaviour and safety’

Both Hackney Council and Department for Education confirmed there had been no complaints lodged against Hackney New School.

Hackney New School is run by the Community Schools Trust which includes Forest Gate Community School which has been ranked in the top 50 schools in the country for GCSE results four years in a row.

The other school in the trust is The Cumberland School which hit the headlines earlier this year when revealed 13 students had won nearly £1m in scholarships to independent schools.

Hackney Council director of education Annie Gammon backed the school’s leadership team. In a statement, she said: ‘Hackney New School underwent a management change in 2019 following an inadequate Ofsted inspection.

‘Since that time, the council has been pleased by the changes and significant improvements made by the new leadership team.

‘As a free school, Hackney New School (HFS) is not accountable to Hackney Council. However, the council has supported the school in its development work.

‘Officers and councillors have made a number of visits to the school since 2019, and have found that safety, behaviour, ambition for all the pupils, and the quality of teaching and learning have all moved forward positively and at pace.

‘These visits and our communications with parents indicate a well-ordered, positive community. In addition, the council has received no complaints about the school from current parents.’

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