Headteacher reports teen blogger who criticised school to police

Thursday, 5th September 2013

The Hampstead Trash blog

Published: 05 September, 2013
EXCLUSIVE by PAVAN AMARA

A HEADTEACHER reported a teenage blogger to the police and phoned a university he had applied to with a warning about his behaviour after criticisms of the school appeared online.

Kinnan Zaloom, 19, has been told never to return to the grounds of Hampstead School in Westbere Road again after setting up a website attacking the way it is run.

The blog, The Hampstead Trash, makes claims about the school’s spending on promotional material and lack of investment in musical instruments and gym equipment, poor attempts to listen to pupils’ views about the school and a failure to push GCSE results to a higher level.

Mr Zaloom started the blog in February and continued with a series of articles – many containing fruity language – criticising the running of the school. He has compared his work to the irreverence and bite of Private Eye.

But the school’s headteacher, Jacques Szemalikowski, told the New Journal yesterday (Wednesday) he took action because he was worried Mr Zaloom could be “developing into an anarchist”.

He went as far as calling Glasgow University, where Mr Zaloom hoped to take his degree-level studies, to tell them about the content on the website.

Mr Szemalikowski confirmed yesterday that he had blocked the blog from school computers, contacted police and phoned Glasgow University’s admissions officer.

He said he had “major concerns and was duty bound under legal acts for the prevention of violent extremism. It is fairly worrying stuff.”

Asked what had worried him about Mr Zaloom’s articles, he said: “The fact that Kinnan has mentioned the ideologies of anarchism and individualism on this blog.”

Mr Szemalikowski added: “I must do something. In the last year he has become more and more enchanted by anti-establishment ways of thinking and has even said that there is an inherent risk that every government is corrupt.

"I phoned Glasgow to warn them what sort of person they were dealing with, to advise them that this person thinks thoughts like these, and they could then make an informed decision. I am duty bound to do that.”

The headteacher added: “I also reported what he had written to the police, and the officer I spoke to said he would pass these mad writings of his on to a colleague.”

Neither Mr Szemali­kowski nor Mr Zaloom have since heard from police.

The long-standing school caters for around 1,300 pupils, and former students include novelist Zadie Smith, women’s England international footballer Rachel
Yankey and actress Sadie Frost.

All smiles, council leader Sarah Hayward was at Hampstead last week as Sky News cameras turned up to film students opening exam results.

Mr Zaloom does not write for the blog any more because he has left the school but it is being updated by another, anonymous student.

In a piece about last week’s exam results, the site even mocked Cllr Hayward’s beaming congratulations, adding: “To this we reply with a facial expression of derision and a sarcastic ‘sure’.”

Mr Zaloom said when he was writing for the site he was hauled into the headteacher’s office on his last day of school and warned “never to return to the school site again” or police would be called.

A piece published online had claimed there were differences of opinion among staff about the management of the school.

It added the school was  “playing the school league tables” in terms of how results were presented and went on to include a series of expletive-laden sentences including: “So f*** you school management, f*** you.”

In another article, the site said: “The school claims again and again that it listens to students needs and that it takes into consideration what students say and care about. This is utter horses**t. So much horses**t indeed, that findus’ lasange is bewildered.”

It went on: “The school magazine is not worth the paper it is printed on and does s**t all to voice student consensus.”

Mr Zaloom has compared senior staff at the school to characters in George Orwell’s Animal Farm and casts Mr Szemalikowski as Napoleon in the novel.

Mr Zaloom says he was interrogated about why he wrote one of the more critical articles and warned he should never return to the school site – even to pick up his A-level exam results  – because the piece was considered “offensive”.

Mr Zaloom, who did not get the grades he needed to get into Glasgow but will be studying mathematics at Portsmouth University this year, said: “They said I had brought the school into disrepute. I said that was their opinion, but nothing I had done was illegal so why such severe action?

"I was prepared to apologise for the language. But what worries me is if I had been a year younger they said they would have expelled me halfway through my A-levels, and that means they would have been prepared to ruin my education because they didn’t like my thoughts.”

He added: “It was useless to call the police because I didn’t break the law.

"I was concerned he’d called Glasgow because I’m worried he would go to those lengths of intimidation to control a student’s thoughts. But I wasn’t too panicked because it turned out I didn’t have the grades to get in there anyway.”

Mr Zaloom, who co-founded a debating society at the school, compared his treatment to those fighting for press freedom in the Middle East.

He said: “Obviously it’s not on the same scale at all, this injustice is small, I know that. But my family are from Jordan so I know how things work there, and newspapers are not allowed to write what they want.

"Everybody is controlled, and I can see that happening here. It reminds me of Ingsoc
[a totalitarian government in the Orwell novel Nineteen Eighty-Four], people must conform or they are out.

“When he blocked the blog from the school’s computers that was bizarre. How does he find the time to go round doing things like that?”

Mr Szemalikowski defended blocking the blog from the school’s computers in April saying: “He posted lies about the school and I will not tolerate that.

"His posts were scattered with the f-word and c-word and if a student spoke like that in school they would be expelled. So of course I blocked the blog, and told him never to come back. He’s right, if he had been younger, he would have been expelled.

“It would have been his responsibility that he ruined his education, not mine.”

He added that if Mr Zaloom had not used bad language he would still have warranted an expulsion “for his mad ideas and ranting”.

Mr Zaloom said he wanted to thank “a lot of the very good teachers at Hampstead School” but felt they were not given the chance to “teach the way they want to”.

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