Oaks Park High School criticised after death of student
PUBLISHED: 18:38 30 June 2020 | UPDATED: 14:08 01 July 2020
A school has been criticised for failing to deal with bullying after the death of a Year 10 student.
The pupil at Oaks Park High School in Newbury Park, died on June 12.
The news inspired numerous former students and relatives of current students to come forward, claiming the school failed to effectively discipline bullies or deal with racism.
On June 19, the school’s chairman of governors Mohamed Omer sent a letter to all parents and carers, seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, which responded to criticisms of the school.
It reads: “Unfortunately we are aware of unhelpful and wholly inaccurate comments and rumours on social media that have caused upset and distress to the family and our school community.
“Please be reassured that the agitating and inaccurate comments about the school on social media do not reflect the facts of the situation.”
The letter adds that “the appropriate authorities are working closely with the family and a range of partners to establish the circumstances” of the student’s death.
It also states that bereavement counselling will be available to all students and staff.
All of those spoken to by the Local Democracy Reporting Service claimed bullies were sometimes placed in “exclusion”, essentially a time-out, but that no further steps were taken.
But a Redbridge Council spokesperson said: “The entire community at Oaks Park High School was devastated when it learned recently of the loss of one of their pupils.
“Oaks Park High School prides itself on being a truly inclusive school that places great emphasis on the development of positive relationships between students and staff. Therefore, it was very upsetting and disappointing for the school to be confronted with such serious and unfounded allegations at what it is a deeply troubling time.
“The school’s comprehensive Personal, Social, Health, and Economic (PSHE) education and assembly programmes deal with all kinds of prejudice and bullying in a range of ways. It’s important to stress that Ofsted have found them to be outstanding in this respect.
“While we don’t want to prejudice the ongoing police investigation, we feel it’s important to stress that at no point has the police apportioned any blame or involvement towards the school.
“Oaks Park has robust safeguarding systems in place, and there are clear procedures in place to deal with any issues concerning bullying, or any behaviour that is not conducive to the positive and welcoming school environment they enjoy at Oaks Park.
“We would please ask that the school is given time and space to grieve its loss without fear of further intrusion.”
A former student, who asked to remain anonymous, said she saw “a lot of bullying going on” during her years at the school and that her younger brother is now being bullied there.
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She said: “The school does not want a bad reputation of ‘bullying’. But by brushing it under the carpet, they do not see it makes the bullying worse.
“There is an online bullying procedure created by the school but it does not provide results.
“I have gone in [to talk to staff] many times but they do not take me seriously. They speak to the students and that’s about it. They never speak to the students’ parents.
“They might put one bully in time-out until the end of the day but there’s no change. Students just carry on in the playground and in corridors.
“When my brother stuck up for himself, he would get punished for it. He’d get put in time out with the same student that bullied him.”
Betty-Tyna Manzambi, who graduated from the school in 2017, said victims were “lucky” if their bullies were placed in exclusion and that more often they were merely spoken to.
She recalled being called racist insults by another student and said the school was “not supportive” even when she reported the problem.
She said: “Students were blatantly bullied because of their weight or their complexion and the school did not do anything.
“Some households are racist or anti-black so I’m not blaming the students 100 per cent. The school did not push to teach them about colourism or fighting racism.
“It’s sad it’s taken someone’s life for it to be talked about. I think we thought every school was like this.”
Betty-Tyna felt issues with racism could be better dealt with if the teaching staff were more diverse, particularly at senior management level.
She said: “Students want to see someone who looks like them in those positions, who can inspire them. If nobody looks like you, it can affect your life chances, it definitely affected mine.”
She also questioned how much support teachers were given, saying some seemed to have been “put at the forefront straight away” and seemed “overwhelmed”.
A petition calling for better mental health and bullying support across all Redbridge schools in the wake of Zain’s death reached more than 1,000 signatures in just two days.
An Ofsted report published last year rated the school as good and stated that “pupils know what to do if they have concerns, including on the rare occasions when bullying occurs”.
Redbridge leader Cllr Jas Athwal said: “Following the devastating news, our thoughts remain with the family who have lost a loved one and with the Oaks Park school community who are grieving.
“This is a very emotional and stressful time and is undoubtedly worsened by the fact that most pupils and parents are currently detached from the comfort of their regular day-to-day networks and usual routines.
“Our council is working closely with the school and we would ask that the privacy of all those close to the student be respected at this time.”
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