Published: 17:00, 17 September 2021
| Updated: 18:50, 17 September 2021
A former head teacher dubbed “Britain’s strictest” says he has been applauded by staff for culture changes he has enforced at a Kent school in just four days.
Barry Smith - whose unconventional methods have been both criticised and praised - was parachuted in to The Abbey School in Faversham on Monday.
But the move has angered many parents, who claim their children have been ordered to attend ‘discipline assemblies’, fold their arms when they speak and chant phrases about good behaviour.
Pupils have also reportedly been pulled up for not maintaining eye contact with staff, and speaking too quietly when addressing teachers.
However, Mr Smith says teachers have praised his methods and the "positive difference" he has already made.
He tweeted: "In case anyone interested, had brilliant day (sic). At end of day CPD (Continuing Professional Development), staff stood up and testified at huge massively positive difference (sic) in school culture since Monday.
"That’s 4 days. Staff applauded & thanked me (& especially the head) for strength when under attack."
Bosses at The Abbey say Mr Smith - who once referred to pupils as “detainees” - has been brought in to ensure children “develop good learning habits” following their return to the classroom after a disjointed year.
But some parents say their children have been left in tears and “frightened” by the methods used.
Laura Thomas, 44, who has a daughter in Year 7, says pupils have been pulled out of lessons to attend “discipline assemblies” led by Mr Smith.
"She asked me ‘why have we got to have the assemblies when we have to fold our arms and sit in silence?’,” Mrs Thomas said.
"They’re missing lessons to have these - yesterday she missed history, and maths the day before.
"Apparently he makes them chant different phrases. I don’t know exactly what they’re saying, but apparently there are chants they have to say about how to behave.
“I am very concerned about what he is doing to my child in the school.”
Another parent, who did not want to be named, confirmed pupils were missing the last lesson of the day to go to the assemblies.
She also says youngsters have been told to fold their arms when they speak to adults.
A number of parents have also taken to a private social media group to voice their concerns.
One mother wrote that her son “got a correction for how he walked into class”.
"Maybe he was acting daft, I don't know," she said. "He says he wasn't and just walked in normally.
"But he is having physio on his knee at the moment and also has a fractured wrist and broken hand so carrying his bag isn't easy."
Another wrote: “People are about to form an uprising. There’s just anger everywhere I’m looking on Facebook now.”
A mother said: “(My daughter) was crying on the phone to me over (Mr Smith) from the time she left school (until) she got home, then cried some more. I’m livid.”
Mr Smith is the regional director at the Community Schools Trust and has a history of visiting troubled schools and instilling his hardline methods, largely with success.
He is credited with turning around the fortunes of Great Yarmouth High School, which doubled its GCSE success and drastically improved its Ofsted performance following his tenure.
But while he was praised by many parents, his appointment led to a backlash from others who accused him of “Army-like” behaviour, claiming their children were left scared of going to school.
"I am very concerned about what he is doing to my child in the school..."
In 2018 he sent a letter home to parents banning a flamboyant haircut called the ‘Meet Me At McDonalds’ for male pupils, and in October that year the headmaster enraged parents by calling in staff from a school uniform shop to measure pupils’ skirts.
In May last year an ITV News investigation revealed Mr Smith had sent an email to teachers at Hackney New School referring to pupils as “detainees”.
The report revealed an average of 80 detentions per day were being dished out.
When asked specifically what methods had been introduced because of Mr Smith’s visit to The Abbey, school bosses did not respond.
But in a statement identical to a letter circulated to parents, school head Dr Roland Speller said there had been a “great deal of misinformation and conjecture being spread on a private social media group around some recent school improvement that has no basis in reality”.
Watch KMTV'S report on what people in Kent think
He confirmed Mr Smith had visited the school to “deliver training to staff” which has recently been recommended by the government’s new Social Mobility Commissioner.
Dr Speller added: “He has also been previously praised by government ministers for his impact on school improvement.
“It therefore seems reasonable to listen to what he has to say and show us so we can form our own opinions.
“It is no way abnormal for any school to use a wide range of third parties to support staff development, particularly at the start of a school academic year.
“We take safeguarding extremely seriously in our school and always ensure that all visitors are accompanied whilst on site and comply with our school policies.
“Our focus since returning this September has been to support our students in closing the learning gaps from Covid-19.
“We have been aiming to re-establish the consistent structures and routines that would not have been easily replicable at home during the previous lockdowns.
“Students need to develop good learning habits if they are, in turn, going to achieve good outcomes of all kinds in the future.
“Barry works with a large number of schools nationally and across the south east and The Abbey is just one of these – we are not special or particular in that respect.”
Mr Smith was previously contacted for comment but did not respond.