School head and boy’s parents sue each other

0
2432
new forest small school
New Forest Small School in Lyndhurst

A FURIOUS headmaster shouted “goodbye and good riddance” during a heated meeting with parents of a pupil who were complaining about his school.

Advertisement

Sarah and Adrian Clift were banned from the independent fee-paying The New Forest Small School in Lyndhurst following the meeting with co-founder and head of secondary Nicholas Alp to discuss the couple’s concerns over the way it was being run.

The Clifts immediately withdrew their then-12-year-old son from the school, which boasts of being “alternative” with an “idyllic human-scale environment”.

Mr Alp is now suing them for £900 he says is owed for the time the boy was going to stay at the school before transferring to another one in January.

The Clifts are counter-suing for their deposit of £2,000, claiming that Mr Alp’s words and behaviour at the meeting on November 14th last year meant their contract with the school had been terminated and that their son had to leave immediately.

Mr Alp admits telling the Clifts at the meeting goodbye and good riddance “in the heat of the moment” but claims he only did so because they had been “abusive and threatening” during the meeting.

The next day, on November 15th, they received an email from Mr Alp saying that the Clifts were banned from the school but their son could continue to attend.

The Clifts’ son joined the school in September 2012 and his parents were happy with his schooling until six years later. At its last inspection in 2018 it was rated ‘good’ overall by Ofsted.

However, according to Mr Clift they became aware that there were behavioural issues in and out of class. He said on one occasion boys had thrown chairs about. Mrs Clift, who invigilated a number of GCSE exams at the school, became “alarmed” by the number of students who failed to turn up for history exams and the school’s “apparent lack of concern”.

Giving evidence at Southampton County Court, Mr Clift said that there were also allegations that a 17-year-old member of the upper school, who was also working as a volunteer teaching assistant, had been involved in drugs there.

He said there were further allegations, mainly from pupils and other parents, that teenagers were involved in drug use in woods near the school.

Asked by District Judge Michael Giddins if he had any evidence of the drug allegations being true, Mr Clift replied: “No.”

The couple were also unhappy with the size of classes increasing from 12 to 14, and his son’s class contained two pupils with “particular behavioural issues”.

Mr and Mrs Clift were also upset that a pupil was “made” to read out swear words during an English literature class taken by Mr Alp. Mr Cliff said that a pupil who had been in the class at the time had told him about the incident.

The couple complained by email about the issues and received a reply from Mr Alp saying they had been investigated. He said the swearing was justified by literary context and the chair throwing incident was “exaggerated”.

The Clifts then claimed that Mr Alp’s wife Alison, who is head of primary at the school, told a group of pupils that someone had complained about a class size and that they should “suck it up” as nothing was going to change.

Asked by Judge Giddins how he had learnt that had happened, Mr Clift said he had been told about it by another parent and had no evidence that Mrs Alp had said it. Mr Alp told the judge that his wife had not said the words.

Mr Clift said they complained about Mrs Alp’s words because his wife, who is a social worker, feared it would create a safeguarding issue at the school where children would feel there was “no point” in complaining about anything.

On November 1st last year they gave one term’s notice in withdrawing their son from the school and sent a cheque for the outstanding fees of £1,700.

The Clifts were then invited in for the November 14th meeting.

Mr Clift said when the headmaster arrived 25 minutes late he had been “so angry, so abusive and so unpleasant” that the couple decided to leave, adding: “The school was refusing to budge and accept any wrongdoing at all.”

He said as they left Mr Alp shouted that they were not welcome back and “good riddance”.

Mr Clift told the judge he took those words as “a very clear statement that the school wanted to end its relationship with us immediately”.

Mr Clift told the judge that the couple then went to collect their son and all his belongings from a classroom before being escorted off the premises by a member of school staff.

He said that what had been said at the meeting had “destroyed all trust” between the couple and the school, and that they believed Mr Alp’s behaviour had terminated the contract between them.

Mr Clift said he then phoned his bank and cancelled the cheque as his son would not be returning to the school for the rest of November and December as previously planned, so the couple owed nothing.

He said that Mr Alp then sent a “deeply unpleasant and defamatory” email telling the Clifts they were banned from the school, although their son could remain as a pupil. In it Mr Alp accused the couple of “abusive and threatening behaviour” at the meeting.

Mr Clift told the judge he believed he and his wife had been banned for complaining, adding: “He [Mr Alp] knows that he would be lying to the court if he accused of us of threatening behaviour, he has provided no evidence of that whatsoever. Mr Alp was being extremely aggressive, we were not.”

He also pointed out that in witness statements from other staff no one else had said they had acted in such a way.

In cross-examination, solicitor Morris Seifert, who is acting for Mr Alp, told Mr Clift: “You did not go to this meeting with any intention of solving this complaint.”

Mr Clift denied this. He said the couple had wanted to raise their issues and have the school “deal with them”.

He said his wife was especially concerned about the safeguarding issue. But he denied that she had said, as was written in the school minutes, she “wanted children to be able to ask as a teacher could be tampering with them”.

Mr Clift said: “Her eyes nearly popped out of her head when she saw the word ‘tampering’.”

Mr Seifert also said that meetings of the minutes did not contain any mention of some of the comments Mr Alp is alleged to have made to the Clifts.

Mr Clift said he disputed the minutes as being “entirely accurate” pointing out that they were typed, undated and unsigned. Mr Alp said the original handwritten minutes were no longer available.

Mr Clift refuted any suggestion that he and his wife acted aggressively during the meeting, saying: “I didn’t want it to be a shouting match. Neither of us raised our voices, the shouting was only one way. That is the first time I have ever walked out of a meeting, I was walking away from a conflict caused by Mr Alp.”

The hearing was adjourned to a later date.

Advertisement