Teachers, principals and students are leaving a ‘toxic’ primary school en masse over allegations of ‘common’ racism, bullying and gross misconduct.
St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School in Malmesbury, Wiltshire, has lost around a third of its pupils as parents withdraw their children amid a host of concerns.
The biggest consternation is an allegation that in November 2021, director Sue Woods, who took over the helm in late 2019, used the N-word to describe a group of black children.
The complainant, an experienced and long-serving teacher, claims that she was put on a support plan and told to complete demeaning tasks, was scared at work and felt victimized.
He resigned in May 2022, saying he “didn’t feel like I could continue working at a school where racism, bullying and victimization were commonplace, especially when such allegations were covered up.”
The headmistress of St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School, Sue Woods, is accused of using the N-word to describe a group of black pupils.
Following the alleged incident, the entire school staff was sent to a diversity awareness course.
Wiltshire Police said (26 July 2023) that they were investigating an allegation relating to the conduct of staff, but confirmed that it did not relate to children at St Joseph’s.
They said: ‘Wiltshire Police have been made aware of an allegation relating to the conduct of staff. It would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage.’
The whistleblower is not the only teacher to leave, as around 22 staff members have left since the arrival of the new principal. In the last three months alone, three staff members have resigned, including the assistant principal.
Many of them cited Ms Woods’ behavior as the reason in exit interviews and at least two staff members came close to taking their own lives, according to a source.
In the past four years, the school has seen a drop in student numbers. Before Ms. Woods took power, the school had about 150 students and was regularly oversubscribed.
In September this year, the reception class will house only four children. The rapid drop in student numbers has resulted in classes being reduced from five to four, with the loss of one teacher and teaching assistant position.
According to an Ofsted Parent View questionnaire conducted earlier this year, 82 per cent of parents were dissatisfied with the school’s ability to support SEND children and 45 per cent of parents who took part said they would not recommend the school to other parents.
There are claims that some parents were told their child’s SEND assessment was pending review by Wiltshire Council.
However, after waiting up to two years, some parents contacted the council directly to discover that no evaluation had been submitted by the school.
While parents of children who attend nearby Kemble Primary School said they would 100 per cent recommend it to others and 96 per cent would recommend Crudwell Church of England Primary School.
In another alleged incident, death threats were sent to a student through an online learning platform. According to inside information, it is believed that a student accessed another student’s account to send the threatening messages.
When the victim’s parents got involved and asked the school if police were informed, the senior leadership team stated that they were, but was unable to provide a crime reference number or other information.
Upon consultation with the police, it was confirmed that no report had ever been made in relation to the incident.
St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School in Malmesbury, Wiltshire, where a third of the pupils have reportedly been withdrawn by their parents due to the ‘toxic’ culture of ‘bullying and racism’
It is alleged that members of the senior leadership team called the boy, who was accepted as an innocent party, to a meeting and told him that the police would come to question him about it. It is said that the boy was left crying and afraid of what could happen next.
In a shock move in June, more than half of St Joseph’s governing body resigned, losing six of the foundation’s seven governors and the school’s only local authority governor.
It came after the board tried to investigate numerous allegations against the director and were reportedly blocked by Wiltshire Council.
In a joint letter they said: ‘We have not come to this decision lightly, but unfortunately our relationship with the school’s senior leadership has become strained in recent years.
‘We have tried to do our duty to you, the pupils of the school, the local authority and the Diocese, but we have now reached a point where we feel we can no longer fulfill our statutory role with any real meaning.
‘Over the many years that our members have supported the school, we have enjoyed excellent working relationships with outstanding teaching and support staff.
‘Unfortunately, we have seen many of them and students leave in recent years.
‘We wish to extend our appreciation to the staff past and present for their tireless efforts and dedication to the school and we wish them every success in the future.’
There are calls for full transparency about the issues that have arisen, full investigations, following established best practices, to be carried out and the results made available to school staff, principals and parents to restore the reputation and the school’s position in the community once again. .
One source said leaving the issues unaddressed has had a “huge and damaging impact on the community” and wants Wiltshire Council and the Diocese to step up to prevent the school from completely collapsing.
Andy Brown, Wiltshire Council’s Corporate Director of Resources and Deputy Chief Executive, said: ‘We have robust policies and processes in place to deal with any incidents reported to us.
“We are confident that the Interim Executive Board will ensure that governance is strong and rigorous and all appropriate processes are followed.”
A spokesperson for the St Joseph’s Interim Executive Board said: ‘As a responsible employer, we do not discuss the individual circumstances of any current or former employees.
‘The Interim Executive Board will address any complaints and concerns raised and ensure that governance is strong and rigorous with all appropriate processes followed.’
A spokesman for the Diocese of Clifton said: “The Interim Executive Board is responsible for Governance at the School and the Diocese trusts it will review complaints and concerns raised and ensure all appropriate processes are followed.”
MailOnline contacted St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School for comment.