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Council vendetta against school began with tragic suicide

Evidence supporting the view of school staff that Perth & Kinross Council began a campaign to force the closure of the school following the suicide of a 17 year-old pupil in February 2017 has emerged from the latest batch of FOI documentation released by the council.

The young man took his own life just 3 days after being told that council funding would not be provided for a final year at the school despite the desperate pleas of the young man himself, school staff who understood his fragile mental health, and his family. He had been failed by the authority prior to TNS and won a tribunal fight for a placement after proving that PKC could not meet his needs. The council officers who opposed his placement were the same ones who took that decision to deny him another year at TNS, who began making serious complaints about the school to the regulatory authorities in the following months, and who drafted the letter of concern received by the Registrar of Independent Schools in January 2018.

School managers had complained to the Board of Governors that council officers;

  • Were verbally and physically aggressive

  • Lied about decisions taken in meetings

  • Did not understand pupil mental health needs, were insufficiently trained, and were arrogant in their approach

  • Demanded that meeting minutes be changed and information either added or deleted

The Head of School had to insist that all meetings with PKC officials had to be audio-taped and transcribed to avoid dishonest reporting. No other authority behaved in this manner.

School managers also expressed concerns in February 2018 that PKC were trying to cause reputational damage to the school to cover-up their own (potential) responsibility for the tragedy and wrote to the family in 2018 asking for support to counter any claims that the young person had been either unhappy or unsafe at the school. This is their response;

“YP very sadly took his own life in February 2017 while attending the New School. 

We do not hold the school staff responsible for this tragic event.  

Indeed we are immensely grateful for the manner in which they acted on the day in dealing with a most terrible and traumatic incident. 

The Procurator Fiscal’s office reported that a fatal accident enquiry was not required because no criminal act had been committed.  

There was no indication that YP was feeling suicidal on the day and indeed he texted his sister at lunchtime in a light-hearted manner.  

We will never know if this was simply an impulsive act or if he had been planning it.  

He had certainly researched and written about suicide and we did find an undated note in his room expressing his despair at feeling trapped within the wrong body and feeling that things were never going to improve. 

At the time we felt quite positive that our wonderful and unique YP was developing into a rather eccentric individual and he was making plans to go to university to become an ethical hacker. 

We do know that the New School was a safe place for YP. 

From the very first time that he visited the school he felt at ease and was able to talk and open up.  

In particular the school drama teacher and computer teacher were able to engage and inspire YP and some of his dramatic performances were and remain very moving to watch. 

Because of his developing and complex autism and gender disphoria YP was unable to engage with mainstream secondary school where he was bullied and became extremely anxious. As a result he did not receive any meaningful secondary education until he went to the New School. 

It was a real struggle to get YP into the New School. Perth & Kinross Council refused the application and it was necessary to go to tribunal where they were obliged to support him and provide some education. 

During the 12 months prior to the tribunal YP received only 10 hours teaching from PKC, and that was due to an initiative by Perth Autism Scotland, who were a wonderful source of support for YP. 

In Feb 2017 we were informed that PKC were withdrawing the offer for funding his school fees for the third year.  This caused great anxiety to YP who was already extremely anxious about exams and people’s expectations that he would do well. 

YP was not ready to go out into the wider world. 

He took his own life on 20th February, just days after being informed of the decision to cease funding his placement. 

One cannot say that there was a direct causal link but we can say with certainty that the withdrawal of funding placed considerable stress on an extremely vulnerable individual.”

It is now vital that a full independent investigation is held into the closure of the school and that it has the powers necessary to compel the regulators, council officers and all other parties to disclose relevant information. There should be a particular focus on the complaint submitted to the Registrar of Independent Schools by the council in January 2018 and the actions of officers pre-dating that when school managers were complaining of their unprofessional behaviour and lack of understanding of pupil needs.

The investigation should also examine links between the council and the inspectorates, and the actions of the Care Inspectorate in particular in the period September to December 2018.

Despite the false information provided by the council to their elected members, to the press, and in public statements, it has become clear that there were no, “serious child protection concerns” at the school nor any ‘failings’ that the regulators can identify.

The council should also be forced to conduct a serious case review into the tragic suicide to determine what (if any) role they had to play in the young man’s decision to take his own life.

For him, as for our children who so traumatically lost their placements in November, the school was a place of safety, somewhere that gave them hope, and a community in which they could feel proud to be themselves.

Bill Colley