Parents of children at troubled Bangabandhu School in Bethnal Green staged a protest outside the school gates on Monday morning amid claims of neglect of pupils and failing management at the school.
Over 80 parents and local people took part in the demonstration, which comes exactly a week after support staff at the school lodged a complaint over bullying and harrassment against head teacher Marigold Palmer-Jones.
Parents told EastLondonLines they were taking part in the protest because they were extremely unhappy with the quality of management at the school and had serious concern over the safety of their children.
One mother of a three-year-old girl, who did not want to be named, told East London Lines that her daughter had been left alone in the classroom at the end of the school day.
She said: “The door was left open, she walked out of the classroom and out of the school. She crossed a road, passed through a car park by herself and went into a newsagents. She was found by another parent and the owner of the shop who became concerned after they saw her alone in the corner of the shop holding some sweets. The school confirmed this on their CCTV but have refused to let me see the footage. Anything could have happened to my daughter that day.”
Momena Khatun, another parent, said: “I’m worried by the attitude of the governing body and the head teacher’s lack of experience. The school is run by supply teachers because staff are unhappy and they leave. Marigold was disciplined and then she was made head teacher.”
Rujina Ahmed, another parent, said: “The parents who do not speak English are not listened to. The governing body has received over 20 complaints but ignore them. There is a breakdown in communication between parents and the head teacher.
“We don’t just want to get rid of Marigold Palmer-Jones; we want a fresh new governing body, a shake-up of the whole school management.”
Councillor Rabina Khan, group leader of the People’s Alliance of Tower Hamlets, who was at the protest, said: “I was astonished to learn what is happening. The governing body are the ones who need to be held to account. The local authority is not taking this seriously. They need to investigate; they are sitting on this. The issue here now is the governing body, which is not reflective of parents at the school.”
Anna Lee, GMB Regional Organiser, said: “Parents supported by GMB assembled outside the school to give a clear signal that this issue will not go away. The governing body display breathtaking arrogance. The parents I spoke with today are not only very worried but they are very angry that the governing body continues to ignore them.
“As much as the school and the local authority would like us all to be quiet and go away the fight will go on and it is the silence from the school and Tower Hamlets council which is deafening.”
The protest follows complaints by staff of bullying, harassment and religious insensitivity against Palmer-Jones, acting head teacher at the time, which were first made in July last year. An inquiry by the Board of Governors of the school supported the claims, but Palmer-Jones was subsequently made permanent in her role. Around 27 members of staff have left the school since the allegations first surfaced.
In 2016, Palmer-Jones threatened staff with dismissal if they did not immediately sign new contracts with changed terms and conditions of employment, which included paying support staff less, increasing and reducing hours of work and changing their starting and finishing hours.
There were also allegations of religious insensitivity. Rachel Jenkins, GMB Branch Secretary told East London Lines: “Marigold changed the use of a long standing prayer room without prior notice and refused to allow staff to have a prayer room. She also drastically changed lunch breaks which would make it impossible for them to pray.”
The Union claimed that Palmer-Jones followed staff around the school, took staff individually into her office and forced them to sign new contracts under the threat of dismissal and that staff were reduced to tears.
Khan said: “The GMB have firm evidence to substantiate their claims of harassment and bullying in the school.”
Tower Hamlets Council said: “The Local Authority has taken these issues very seriously. The concerns raised by parents have been fully investigated and the findings of the investigation have been acted on.”
The Board of Governors of the school have not responded to request for a comment.