Turmoil as JFS head suddenly quits post

Ex-Ofsted chief is interim principal following Rachel Fink's departure; parents voice concern over safeguarding and discipline


A week of upheaval at JFS has seen the departure of headteacher Rachel Fink and the appointment of former Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw as interim executive principal.

Parents have voiced concern about the situation at the school, highlighting disciplinary and safeguarding issues. Speculation is rife about the findings of a supposedly negative Ofsted inspection last month, which have yet to be published.

Sir Michael, 74, served as chief inspector of schools in England until 2016, having previously worked as a teacher for 43 years, most recently at Mossbourne Community Academy in Hackney.

He met pupils on Monday, the same day that governors’ chair Andrew Moss informed parents that Mrs Fink had “decided to step down as headteacher with effect from May 31”. He acknowledged her service to the school over three years “and the enormity of the challenges presented during the Covid pandemic”.

Mr Moss added that plans for a permanent successor would be announced in due course. For the moment, Sir Michael would be supported by Dame Joan McVittie, a former London school head, safeguarding expert and senior Ofsted inspector. Dr Oliver Walton and Anna Joseph from the JFS senior leadership team would also take on key supporting roles.

He acknowledged that “changes of this nature cause concern. We have full confidence in this team along with the entire staff body to deliver the educational priorities and to maintain the Jewish ethos of the school.”

On Tuesday, Mr Moss wrote again to parents, acknowledging “the strong feelings voiced by some, privately and on social media, regarding the events of the last 24 hours.

“In relation to Ofsted, there has been much rumour and speculation following the inspection at the beginning of May. We would ask for your continued patience while we await publication of the report. Until that time, we are unable, nor legally permitted, to comment upon Ofsted’s findings.”

He added: “In relation to yesterday’s announcement, we have legal processes and duties which we are bound to follow which means we are not always able either to announce changes within a timescale that we might choose, or indeed at all. Clearly there are changes under way and we would only ask that everyone gives their support to ensure that the school ultimately can achieve the standards that we all require of it.”

One parent told the JC that Sir Michael was taking on a school with wellbeing and discipline problems.

Micala Fox, 50, has two children at JFS and a daughter who recently graduated.

She claimed her youngest son had “been bullied quite severely for two years and the school has done very little about it.

“There are an inordinate number of disciplinary problems in the school that are simply not being addressed,” she alleged.

Her daughter Emma, 18, who has just left, was critical of the school’s culture, describing its mental health awareness projects as “very much performative.”

She added: “There’s a general culture of looking the other way at JFS and that is a big thing that above all else needs to change. Everything else is a symptom of that.”

Her mother echoed her praise for the departing head, saying JFS had “just lost the best thing they have going for it”.

Mrs Fink had been a responsive headteacher who “implemented great changes” and listened to parental feedback but had been “caught between a rock and a hard place.

“It would take more than the three years she’s had to turn a school around. I think where she’s brought it is a considerable achievement given where it was,” Mrs Fox said.

A current pupil said that the changes at the top had been “a bit sudden. No one was really expecting it. Everyone’s a bit confused.” The pupil also wanted the school to provide “more support for mental health”, such as therapy.

Speaking anonymously, another JFS mum said Mrs Fink’s “heart was in the right place”.

She had “tried to make the school a happy place and obviously didn’t succeed”.

The mother also cited anger among some parents over the school’s “appalling” communications and an inconsistent approach to discipline.

She claimed the “behaviour of a minority of the kids can be very bad”, an issue that had affected her own children’s learning.

“Some of the kids get away with everything and other kids will be disciplined for looking out the window.”

Another parent likened the situation to the resignation of previous JFS head Jonathan Miller in 2016 after a period of unexplained absence. “We didn’t get a satisfactory explanation when he left, and now we are in the same position.” Although the buck should stop with governors, some parents should take responsibility for not supporting the school in dealing with unruly pupil behaviour.

However, others suggested it was a time to get behind the school, among them a mother who said: “JFS is an institution and we need to be very careful in the way that the community deals with what is obviously a delicate situation. We should come together as a community to support the school.

“There’s obviously a lot that they’re having to deal with at the moment and as a parent I understand that.

“As far as my children who are at school, they’ve gone into school, they’ve been told of the change and their day-to-day school and life has not changed at all.

“They’ve gone into school happy and they’ve come back happy, which is what they do every single day.”

The JC sent a number of questions to Mr Moss regarding the current situation. He had not replied at the time of going to press. An interview was also requested with Sir Michael and Mrs Fink was approached for comment.

Ofsted would give no indication as to when the JFS inspection report would be published.

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