Witherslack slammed PKC safeguarding procedures
In an interview with our investigations team today, former Head of School, Bill Colley has revealed that senior members of Witherslack spoke disparagingly of PKC when conducting due diligence ahead of the takeover that was signed in August 2018.
One of the directors stated that PKC officers were, “obviously arse-covering” when they submitted their complaint to the Registrar of Independent Schools in January of that year, in reference to the February 2017 tragedy and the fact that the suicide occurred just 3 days after the young person had been told by PKC that they would not fund him at TNS for a further year.
TNS managers also spoke to Witherslack staff about their frustration that PKC refused to conclude a child protection matter that they had raised with them and that requests for information were ignored, and the school and parents concerned left worried for months on end.
WG suggested that if PKC were located in England, it would now be in ‘special measures’ for these failings and would have been instructed by the authorities to improve its procedures when the welfare of young people was at stake.
WG noted that the officers who submitted the complaint (under Rodger Hill’s name) were the same ones who had caused difficulties over the preceding months and who had taken the decision to deny the pupil his place at the school in the first place, despite the fact that he was receiving no education within the authority. They were also on the placing panel that refused funding for a final year, despite warnings from school staff and parents that he was too fragile to move on, and needed an aditional year to make good the years of absence from education when PKC was responsibile for him.
From their initial engagement with the school in May/June 2018 until the second week in November, WG, “raised no concerns about child protection or safeguarding at TNS, and the only issues discussed were in connection with the new management information system they were introducing during this period”. Whilst having management responsibility for the school from August onwards, WG asked for, “no changes to be made to procedures or staffing levels, despite stating that Scotland was, “15 years behind England in terms of child protection and safeguarding”.
WG also criticised child protection training in Scotland, including that provided by PKC, and stated that it was imply not good enough. They insisted that TNS staff undertake their own training which was described by experienced care and teaching staff as they best they have had.
WG explained that they would engage positively with PKC but if the authority got awkward, “we can do nasty too”.
Sadly, WG under-estimated the situation despite the warnings they had been given and once they realised that they were up against not only PKC, but the regulators and the Scottish Government, suddenly used safeguarding to avoid the financial penalties associated with withdrawing from the takeover agreement.
Bill Colley confessed that he would have had no difficulty with WG pulling-out of the deal if they had done so honestly, despite the fact that this would have caused considerable short-term financial difficulties. “The school roll was increasing rapidly and we were expecting a big boost to numbers over the following six months, so although it would have been a heavy blow, we were well-poised to develop the school and build on the successful service we had. Witherslack’s behaviour was inexcusable and speaks volumes of their company and the directors as individuals. In all honesty, I had not realised that their standards could be as low as those of the local authority, but they were. From a business perspective, I could see why they were so scared and I doubted that our own Board of Governors was strong enough to face up to the hostility. But to cause so much unnecessary suffering, damage the reputations of loyal professionals, and destroy a school we had worked so hard to save, just for the sake of a few thousand pounds, was appalling”.
As we had always suspected, staff, pupils, and a 26 year-old school community were just collateral damage in a sordid political game aimed at covering-up the Feb 2017 tragedy and reducing pressures on the educational budget of a failing council.