A temporary headteacher at a Bethnal Green school was given a permanent position despite an internal inquiry which backed claims that she had bullied staff at the school.
Support staff at the Bangabandhu Primary School, have now lodged an official complaint to Tower Hamlets council demanding that the local authority takes action against head teacher Marigold Palmer-Jones.
Complaints by the staff of bullying, harassment and religious insensitivity against Palmer-Jones, acting head teacher at the time, 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, both teachers and support staff at the school have left since the allegations first surfaced.
Their union, the GMB met with Mayor John Biggs in August this year seeking his aid but no council action was taken. GMB wrote to him again in September but received no reply, Eastlondonlines has been told.
Tower Hamlets Council said: “The Local Authority has taken these issues very seriously and repeatedly tried to resolve this situation with GMB. We have held numerous meetings with them and have also offered an independently chaired conciliation session.”
However, Kate Jenkins, GMB Branch Secretary, told EastLondonLines: “The local authority is silent on this, they have not been proactive. They are only concerned with the protection of a head teacher.”
Anna Lee, GMB Regional Organiser, said: “What has been clear all along is that the authorities thought they could just sweep this under the carpet.”
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. Jenkins told EastLondonLines: “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.
The GMB lodged a complaint to Bangabandhu’s governing body, who commissioned an independent investigation into the claims.
The investigation, which took four months, found that staff were “effectively ambushed and put under considerable pressure to immediately agree to changes under threat of losing their jobs. This threat alone is sufficient to amount to bullying.”
However, Tower Hamlets said: “The independent investigation into claims of bullying of staff at Bangabandhu did not find a culture of bullying or harassment at the school.”
The staff involved did not receive the full report of the investigation, only an executive summary. As a result of the findings, Bangabandhu’s governing body launched a second inquiry in March this year, a formal disciplinary investigation into Palmer-Jones. But this found there was no case to answer.
Support staff and the GMB felt the second investigation was not thorough enough. Jenkins said: “The staff never saw the results of the investigation, which took only five days. It was concluded and wrapped up without interviewing any staff members. They basically did a paper exercise.
“They have not followed procedures. They were dismissive, they made excuses even after she failed their own initial report. The governing body did not want to address the victims. They never met with them, they are not interested.”
Gary Carter, the GMB national officer, said: “Although an initial report states that the acting head teacher’s actions amount to bullying, shortly afterwards she was rewarded by the governors when Marigold Palmer-Jones was given the job permanently.”
Concerned parents of children at Bangabandhu have created an online petition demanding the release of the independent investigation confirming the allegations of bullying, harassment and the religiously insensitive approach to staff.
There are currently 454 pupils at the school and the petition has 389 signatures. The petition has comments left by parents, including “I used to be a school governor and this behaviour is unacceptable” from Tahir Alam. Another user, Kalam Choudhury, wrote: “I want to stop bullying in the school and the head teacher must be removed from the school.”
Lee said: “Our members will not give up until the school and the local authority acknowledge what has taken place and take the action that they should have taken in the first place.”
The Board of Governors of the school have not responded to request for a comment.