Row over absent headteacher deepens

Reports of angry confrontations between factions at All Saints Primary School, near Axminster

Reports of increased police activity at troubled All Saints Primary School, near Axminster, have been explained as routine operations, by officials.

The deepening rift between rival groups over the continuing absence of headteacher Christine Hollidge has led to claims of “intimidation and harassment”.

The Midweek Herald has received calls and letters from parents on both sides – those backing the temporary new regime and those campaigning for Mrs Hollidge’s return.

Some have claimed there have been “physical threats and personal abuse”.

But allegations that police were called to the school last week to calm an angry confrontation were not confirmed by Devon County Council officials.

Following a meeting involving police and education chiefs on Monday a council spokesman said: “Police were at the school to carry out routine speed checks.

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“The local neighbourhood officer also met staff and children as part of his usual community duties on Thursday.”

A spokesman for Axminster police said he could not comment further on the claims.

Meanwhile the continuing absence of Mrs Hollidge - apparently suspended pending an investigation - has led to a deepening gulf between her supporters and those calling for the temporary head, Martin O’Mahoney, and his team to be given the support they need.

One parent, who asked not to be named, told The Herald this week that she felt very sorry for the staff who were coming under fire while doing a “great job” and “working their guts out”.

“It is the minority who are making the loudest noise but we are happy with the new direction of the school,” she said.

Another parent wrote to say: “The real story about All Saints is not why Mrs Hollidge is away but the campaign of intimidation and harassment being undertaken by some of the self-style ‘concerned parents’. This is directed at the school’s incredibly dedicated staff, acting head, governors and other parents.

“This campaign has involved physical threats, personal abuse, and anonymous letters and stalking.”

Mrs Hollidge has been absent from her post for more than four months, having served as heard at the 137-pupil school for some 27 years.

A recent public meeting heard that a veil of secrecy had been drawn over her departure, which was the subject of an on-going investigation.

The gathering was told it was rumoured she had made a complaint of bullying after clashing with officials.

“She took a decision that someone disliked, that’s my gut feeling,” said family friend Jim Ryder.

“There is an investigation but it can’t be completed because Christine is not well enough.”

“She is profoundly shocked and deeply hurt and very much missing the children and very much looking forward to returning to work.

“But she is in a mess, in a bad way.”