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Meeting with John Swinney (1st May 2019)

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Representatives of the staff and parent support groups met Deputy First Minister John Swinney at his offices in the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday. The following notes were taken at the meeting:

Present:

DFM John Swinney

Denise Brock (Registrar of Independent Schools)

Lee Archibald

Susan Briggs

Bill Colley

Clerical teams from DFM office and RoIS

Key outcomes sought:

1. Clarification of the child protection and safeguarding incident which led to the closure of the school

2. Assurance that a full independent investigation will be held into the circumstances which led to the closure of the school, and especially the actions of;

a. The Care Inspectorate

b. Perth & Kinross Council

c. The Registrar of Independent Schools

d. Education Scotland

e. DFM

f. Board of Governors

g. School managers

3. Identification of responsibility for the decision to close the school

Outcomes:

a) DFM did not have powers to step in and save the school

b) DFM unable to identify any ‘failings’ in the school

c) RoIS unable to identify any ‘failings’ in the school

d) RoIS unable to identify 2 breaches of CP guidelines referred to in her letter to DFM on 2.11.2018

e) Decision to close the school was made by the Board on financial grounds (disputed by BC)

f) Decision to close the school was not due to improvement notice or conditions imposed (disputed by BC)

g) Withdrawal of Witherslack unrelated to improvement notice or conditions (disputed by BC)

h) No pressure placed on the Board (disputed by BC)

i) All matters relating to ‘CP/safeguarding issues’ in Oct/Nov were the responsibility of the Care Inspectorate

j) DFM and RoIS were only able to refer to the actions of the CI and ES and not to any evidence that could justify them

k) DFM/RoIS unable to comment on legitimacy of CI improvement notice

l) DFM/RoIS unable to justify actions of CI after police investigation had concluded that events had not happened. I.e. that there can be no additional proof

m) Any future investigation would have to be independent of PKC

n) Decision re investigation will be taken after pupils are back in education (SB/LA indicated that this could be years, or not at all)

o) DFM will investigate alleged failings of PKC to support pupils with appropriate planning after closure

Mr Swinney argued that the actions that he and RoIS took in November 2018 did not cause the closure of the school and that it could have continued operating had the Board of Governors not mde the decision to close it down.

This conflicts with the accusations being made at the time that there were ‘serious child protection issues’ at the school (which, after 6 months of investigation have yet to be identified), and the statement from Education Scotland that they would advise against the school being supported to remain open (FOI).

It appears now that the various organisations and individuals involved in the closure wish to distance themselves from the unfounded allegations that the pupils were unsafe, and to blame instead the Board of Governors for the closure.

However, the Board made it very clear on a number of occasions that they were forced into that decision and that a, “gun was held to their heads”.

Most disappointing and disturbing of all, no justification has been given for the imposition of either the improvement notice by the Care Inspectorate, or the conditions set out in the letter from the Registrar of Independent Schools to Sir Andrew Cubie.

Had those demands not been made at that time, Witherslack would not have withdrawn from the takeover agreement, the Head of School would not have been suspended, and the huge damage done to so many vulnerable children and families would not have occurred.

The case for an independent investigation could hardly be any stronger.

Bill Colley