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TNS closure "planned in October 2017"

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An inside source at Perth & Kinross Council has confirmed what school staff have suspected for some time; that the closure of the school was coordinated between the council and the Care Inspectorate, and planned as long ago as October 2017.

Following the suicide of a young man in February 2017, three days after the authority had denied him an additional year at the school, high level officers within Education and Children’s Services met to consider how blame might be attributed to the school rather than to their own decision-making and concluded that if safeguarding concerns could be raised, these could be used at a serious case review to undermine confidence in TNS.

PKC were aware at the time that school managers had indicated that the young man was not ready to leave because of his fragile mental health, and also that he was very happy at school and making good progress.

The source confirmed that officers were instructed to ‘raise concerns’ about the quality of care at the school with external agencies and to try to find fault with TNS provision when attending meetings and ASN reviews.

In September 2017, the then Head of School drafted a complaint to PKC about the actions of Inclusion Manager, Susie Turner, in spreading malicious rumours about the school at a multi-agency meeting, but the Board of Governors blocked the letter, believing that it would “damage relationships between the school and the authority”. The concerns had arisen because Angus Council attempted (unsuccessfully) to block a pupil placing request at an ASN tribunal by raising the suicide as an issue, despite the fact that the school had not been implicated in that tragedy.

In January 2018, Rodger Hill (Secondary and Inclusion) sent a complaint to the Registrar of Independent School rather than to the Board of Governors, in order to maximise reputational damage to the school. According to the Head of School at the time of closure, this complaint has never been scrutinised but was designed to prompt the unannounced inspections in May 2018 at which the Care Inspectorate could (unjustifiably) drop the care grades. The complaint alleged that, amongst other things, the school had failed to follow child protection procedures; a charge shown to be untrue after a SSSC investigation.

At the same time, Ashley Blundell (PKC Adult Protection) submitted complaints to the SSSC and Care Inspectorate accusing the school of failing to follow child protection procedures. These were also shown to be untrue.

The relentless campaign against the school by PKC caused the former Head to demand that all meetings with PKC officers be audio-taped because of their ‘dishonesty’. School managers also questioned the competence of reviewing officers and their level of understanding of autism and mental health difficulties, a concern supported by their behaviour during the final week of school in November 2018 when they made key decisions which harmed and traumatised pupils.

The PKC officers for managing inclusion in the authority were Dorothy Henderson and Susie Turner who were on the Inclusion Panel that decided the young man should not continue at the school, and were the reviewing officers who raised most concerns amongst school managers. The source also stated that the authority appeared unable to meet the needs of huge numbers of children and young people whereas TNS could, and that this was putting increasing pressure on the ASN budget at a time of significant cuts in spending.

The source claims that the appointment of a new Head of School in April 2018, and the involvement of Witherslack were met with dismay at PKC.

The successful pupil recruitment strategy adopted in January 2018 had caused an upsurge in interest in the school and the roll had risen from a projected 17 to 25 at the time of closure. Not only were there 13 PKC pupils attending the school but another 10 had requested places and several had already been offered. The school had a referral list of 50.

The new Head of School made several attempts to meet with Rodger Hill and Mark Neil (recently appointed Head of Inclusion) in order to develop a more sustainable relationship between school and authority, but they refused.

The source further claims that the actions of the education officers were not approved of by many members of the Inclusion Team and that there was a collapse in morale which led to the departure of 3 educational psychologists within one year. He/she described the culture in PKC as, “toxic”.

According to the source, the appointment of Karen Reid (formerly Head of the Care Inspectorate) as Chief Executive of PKC meant that it was easy to coordinate a campaign against the school with the Care Inspectorate. He/she also suggested that PKC Chief Executive at the time of the suicide, Bernadette Malone, might be involved as she is currently a Board member at the Inspectorate.

All of this adds weight to the argument that there should be a full independent inquiry into all aspects of the school closure and that this must be held at government level to ensure that all parties are held to account.

Bill Colley