Just words

Investigation

Full disclosure demanded

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Letter to John Swinney:

Dear Mr Swinney

We are writing on behalf of the 24 young people and their families affected by the abrupt closure of The New School, Butterstone in November 2018, and the 51 member of staff who lost their jobs. We are also mindful of those children and families who had hoped to secure placements in the future, and who currently have no access to education.

As you will no doubt appreciate, the closure had a serious impact on the:

  • mental health and wellbeing of the pupils concerned

  • general development of the pupils concerned

  • education and attainment of the pupils concerned

  • health and wellbeing of parents/carers and other family members

  • finances of families affected by the closure

  • professional reputations of staff members

  • employability of staff members

  • finances of staff members

  • capacity of the Scottish education system to meet the needs of children and young people affected by developmental disorders such as autism, and chronic anxiety

We are requesting that, as a matter of urgency, the Scottish Government now commissions a full independent inquiry to examine the circumstances surrounding the closure of the school.

Over the last 6 months we have taken every step we can to determine why the school was closed but have been unsuccessful in obtaining credible answers. The information we have to date is incomplete, contradictory, and unsatisfactory in addressing a wide range of concerns about the conduct of the regulatory authorities, the Scottish Government, Perth & Kinross Council, the former Board of Governors and the Witherslack Group.

To date, we have been unable to identify any legitimate reason for the Scottish Ministers to impose conditions on the school, for an improvement notice to be issued, or for the Registrar of Independent Schools to reference two sets of “failings” at the school. It was these actions which led to the withdrawal of the Witherslack Group from a management takeover and for the school to close.

Nor have we been able to determine why the Board of Governors chose to close the school within 5 days when it was clearly not in the interest of children and young people and made no financial sense.

There appear to be no grounds for any interested party to suggest that there had been, “serious child protection concerns” at the school as stated in correspondence with parents, and to the national press.

There are a number of over-arching concerns which we believe are legitimate, and serious enough to warrant a full independent investigation. These include the widespread beliefs that:

The school was forced to close by the authorities rather than for financial reasons

The forced closure was associated with the tragic death in February 2017 of a pupil denied funding for his final year at the school

Perth & Kinross Council, the Care Inspectorate, and Education Scotland colluded to force closure

Closure took place following false allegations about safeguarding which were known to be untrue by the regulatory authorities

Closure was forced to deny parents the opportunity to place children at the school when they had failed in mainstream education

The professional competence, political independence and integrity of the involved parties fell short of the standards that would be expected in a developed country

The organisations and public bodies involved in the closure have been evasive, dishonest and duplicitous both during the events of October/November 2018 and since the closure of the school

Although ours was a small school, the concerns are of national significance if, as we believe, the behaviour of the interested parties listed above demonstrates serious flaws in the culture and professional integrity of organisations and their personnel which hold significant responsibilities within the education and care systems.

In order to address the concerns that we all have, and in order to restore faith in our public institutions, it is now imperative that an investigation is conducted that has the power and authority to compel all involved to reveal the truth behind the tragedy that has affected so many lives.

We request that, included in the investigative remit, is the provision for recommendations to be made about:

The working practices of local authorities

The working practices of the regulatory authorities

National guidance in relation to child protection and safeguarding concerns

School governance and external management arrangements

Financial compensation for those affected by the closure of the school

The adoption of the Nolan Principles for those working in public service

We have attached a list of the specific concerns that we about the closure of the school and request that these be included in the scope of the investigation, along with any others that may be provided by the parties involved.

Whilst we are grateful for the fact that some of the pupils displaced by the closure of our school now have alternative provision, some may never go to school again. The New School was not only their lifeline, but their hope for the future.

The closure was cruel and avoidable. It is now our duty to ensure that this never happens again.

Yours sincerely,

Concerns raised during specified period: December 2016 to Present (External Concerns: School Concerns)

Abbreviations:

TNS The New School, Butterstone

CI Care Inspectorate

ES Education Scotland

ECS Education & Children’s Services – Perth & Kinross Council

RoIS Registrar of Independent Schools

BoG Board of Governors

HoS Head of School

HoC Head of Care

WG Witherslack Group

ASNTS Additional Support Needs Tribunal Service

Concerns about the school

  1. “The school failed to follow its child protection procedures on more than one occasion” (ECS, CI, John Swinney, WG, TNS Board of Governors)

  2. “Students were unsafe at the school” (ECS, CI, John Swinney, WG)

  3. “Staff had insufficient knowledge, understanding and training in safeguarding children and young people” (CI, WG)

  4. The school failed to develop a collaborative relationship with PKC

Concerns about conduct of others associated with the closure

  1. PKC conducted a campaign of intimidation against the school and treated it unfairly when compared with other services it had commissioned

  2. The Head of Secondary & Inclusion (ECS) made erroneous claims about the quality of provision/care at TNS in his letter of concern to RoIS

  3. Reviewing officers from ECS did not understand the needs of student X and denied him a further year at the school and that this contributed to his decision to take his own life

  4. Reviewing officers from ECS did not understand the needs of IG and curtailed his time at the school

  5. Reviewing officers from ECS failed to ensure an appropriate placement for IG after he left the school and that this contributed to his decision to take his own life

  6. Reviewing officers from ECS failed to understand the needs of Pupil Y (case 1 in the letter of concern to RoIS) and wrongly attributed responsibility to TNS

  7. Reviewing officers from ECS placed pupil Y in an inappropriate provision

  8. Reviewing officers from ECS provided false information to CAMHS regarding that pupil’s progress at the school and the quality of support offered

  9. Reviewing officers from ECS failed to report concerns about the provision made for pupil Y at School K

  10. Reviewing officers for ECS failed to report serious concerns about the welfare of pupil Y when placed in secure accommodation

  11. Reviewing officers for ECS failed to report failures in social work support for pupil Y which caused serious harm to pupil Y and her family

  12. Reviewing officers from ECS were dishonest on their reports of meetings with the Head of School (former HoS)

  13. ECS reneged on an agreement with TNS regarding the status of potential placements at the school by rejecting a placing request on the grounds that a conditional offer made to a parent was incompetent

  14. Reviewing officers from ECS caused reputational damage to the school by making false claims at a multi-agency meeting (2017)

  15. Reviewing officers from ECS demanded that information raised at review meetings be deleted from the minutes

  16. Reviewing officers from ECS demanded that material be added to meeting minutes that had not been discussed at meetings

  17. Reviewing officers from ECS behaved unprofessionally in their dealings with the school, and in particular with respect to verbal and physical aggression towards staff members

  18. Senior officers of ECS caused reputational damage to the school by stating that there had been, “serious child protection concerns” at the school.

  19. Senior officers of ECS caused reputational damage to individual members of staff by stating that there had been, “serious child protection concerns”, at the school.

  20. Senior officers of ECS demanded that school managers be reported to their professional bodies when they were aware that there had been no wrongdoing.

  21. Senior officers from ECS provided false information to elected members regarding the quality of provision at the school and safeguarding concerns/police investigations

  22. Officers from ECS failed to protect the wellbeing of pupils at the school during the final week of term

  23. A senior officer of ECS demanded the immediate removal of a pupil from TNS when this was clearly not in her interest, failed to follow national guidance on transition planning, failed to allow either the young person or her carer to contribute to decision-making

  24. Officers from ECS failed to adhere to the United Nations Charter on the Rights of The Chid during the final week of term

  25. Officers from ECs failed to assess and support pupils at the school and to meet their needs during the final week of term

  26. Officers from ECS did not have the understanding, skills or experience to take on managerial roles during the final week of term

  27. Senior officers from ECS failed to respond for several months to an urgent plea for the resolution of an alleged child protection case and in so doing caused great distress to a young person and his family

  28. An officer from ECS/adult services made an inappropriate complaint to the CI and SSSC regarding the conduct of TNS Head of Care

  29. An officer from ECS/adult services failed to respond to repeated requests for a resolution to a child protection allegation and in so doing caused great distress to a young person and his family

  30. An officer from ECS failed to follow child/young adult protection guidelines in ensuring that investigations were carried out timeously

  31. A senior officer in ECS failed to ensure that child/young adult protection guidelines were carried out timeously

  32. Officers from the CI failed to respond to requests for child protection thresholds in cases where children/young people had autism/learning disability

  33. Officers from CI failed to respond to a request made in March 2018 for the TNS child protection policy to be reviewed and endorsed

  34. Officers from CI failed to respond to a request for information about their own allegation of unprofessional conduct of a TNS staff member until a reminder was sent 5 weeks after the request was made

  35. Officers from CI refused to answer a request for clarification that a concern raised by a staff member was about professional conduct or child protection.

  36. Officers from CI failed to respond to clarification about how an incident/incidents could be proved “convincingly” not to have happened.

  37. Officers from CI demanded through a ‘requirement’ that TNS had a separate young adult protection policy but did not make the same demand of similar services despite stating that this was policy

  38. Officers from CI failed to provide evidence that care provision had declined at TNS between 2017 and 2018

  39. Officers from the CI conducted the May 2018 inspection on the basis of criteria that had not been published, of which the school was not aware, and which were not included in the reports written subsequently

  40. Senior officers from CI demanded that the Head of School be suspended at a time when they knew he had done no wrong (i.e. after 2nd November)

  41. CI imposed an Improvement Notice on the school when an independent investigation had demonstrated that there had been no wrongdoing

  42. CI demanded that conditions should met that had not occurred at the school and could not therefore be justified

  43. CI demanded that the school be closed in 5 days when this was not in the interest of the wellbeing of very vulnerable pupils

  44. CI stated that they had no involvement in staffing allocations in the service despite refusing to allow suspended staff to return to work and instructing the BoG to suspend the HoS

  45. The WG (Tennant) report into safeguarding did not indicate potential conflicts of interest

  46. The WG safeguarding report was presented to external agencies before serious errors could be corrected

  47. WG raised no safeguarding concerns until the Tennant report and at a time when they had already decided to withdraw from the takeover agreement

  48. The WG safeguarding report was presented to external agencies before erroneous assertions could be challenged by senior managers had they been given the opportunity to do so

  49. The WG safeguarding report contains damaging allegations without providing supportive evidence

  50. The WG safeguarding report conflicts with previous Care Inspectorate reports

  51. The WG safeguarding report identifies ‘deficiencies’ that have never been identified by any external inspection

  52. The WG safeguarding report contains defamatory statements which have not been challenged

  53. Concerns regarding the qualifications, skills and experience in specialist residential settings of the care inspectors involved with TNS

  54. The WG recommendation that the school close immediately was disproportionate, unjustifiable, and seriously damaging to pupil wellbeing

  55. BoG failed to challenge the Improvement Notice issued by the Care Inspectorate when there were no legal or other grounds for it being imposed

  56. The BoG informed parents that there had been child protection issues at the school but failed to inform them that staff had been cleared and that there had been no wrongdoing

  57. The BoG informed staff that they had no option but to close the school because the Care Inspectorate would have done it if they had not, but the Care Inspectorate have denied this.

  58. The BoG informed parents that they had no option but to close the school because the Care Inspectorate would have done so if they had not.

  59. The Care Inspectorate informed parents that they did not have concerns about safeguarding at the school and pleaded with the Board to keep it open

  60. The BoG failed to act in the best interest of the pupils in the school

  61. The BoG advised staff members that the school closed because, “It had shot itself in the foot again”. The BoG failed to understand that there had been no wrongdoing in either the complaint by PKC to RoIS, or in the last reported breach of CP guidelines.

  62. The BoG closed the school on the stated grounds that there were financial difficulties in sustaining the service but incurred unnecessary costs which will now have to be paid by the staff (as creditors). The abrupt closure made no financial sense.

  63. Education Scotland advised the Education Minister not to save the school, thus denying pupils their educations (as evidenced by the failure of local authorities to make alternative provision)

  64. ES advised the HoS in May 2018 that most TNS pupils should be in mainstream and thus under-estimated their difficulties, and the success of the school in achieving high levels of attendance, participation, and progress.

  65. There is strong evidence of differential treatment of TNS by CI/ES in relation to other service providers, and particularly those run by local authorities

  66. PKC were provided with £150,000 of public funding for a provision that failed to meet the needs of pupils displaced by the closure of TNS. This represents an appalling waster of public money and raises serious questions about the competence of the authority in meeting pupil needs.

  67. Parents and carers have raised significant concerns about the conduct of PKC officers after closure, and specifically that they were dishonest, failed to take into account pupil or parent views, and lacked the skills, experience and understanding to meet pupil needs

  68. The CI and PKC have continued to intimidate school managers following the closure in order to suppress their legitimate concerns about the closure of the school

  69. A senior officer at PKC has made fresh allegations in the press since the closure of the school, namely that there was widespread concern from ES, CI and WG regarding ‘educational support’ within the school. Such concerns were not raised at the time and have not been either explained or supported by the officer, nor has the school has the opportunity to examine or counter such assertions.

  70. In a meeting with the Education Minister, a former pupil of the school alleged that he had been “persuaded” to lie during an investigation and claim that he had been hit by a staff member. This serious allegation should have been passed on to the relevant authorities and investigated.