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PKC officers were "dishonest" and "incompetent"

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In January 2018, the senior management team of Education & Children’s Services wrote to the Registrar of Independent Schools to raise a number of concerns about TNS. They did not communicate these concerns to the Board of Governors.

The Head of School had already spoken to the Board about the behaviour of PKC officers and had drafted a letter of complaint about one inclusion manager and an allegation that she had spread false rumours about the school at a multi-agency meeting. The Board did not allow this to be sent.

By this time, school mangers were becoming increasingly concerned about what appeared to be a vendetta against the school in the aftermath of the February 2017 tragedy which PKC referenced in their complaint to RoIS, but without explaining that the suicide took place just 3 days after they had decided not to fund an additional year at the school for the student concerned. The officers responsible for writing the letter and for the subsequent campaign against the school were also involved in that decison.

The then Head of School also accused PKC officers of dishonestly reporting on meetings he had with them and on insisting that meeting minutes be falsified. He then insisted that all meetings with PKC officers (but no other authority) be audio-taped. He also complained that demands were being made of TNS that were designed to increase workload and put pressure on staff at a time when they were still recovering from the trauma of the suicide, and that expectations of TNS were completely different to those made on other independent schools with PKC pupils.

It has now been revealed that the PKC complaint to RoIS referenced two pupils but that PKC officers did not inform the parents/carers of those pupils that they had concerns. This raises serious questions about PKC child protection procedures and begs the obvious question, “why did they conceal their ‘concerns’ from the families involved”?

The answer may lie in the fact that the concerns were spurious and in one case involved a pupil eating a fairy cake. In the other case, PKC state that a pupil had raised concerns with the Head of School but that these were ignored. This is now known to be completely untrue. No such allegation was ever made by either the pupil or his/her parent.

A further damaging concern raised in the letter to RoIS was that the school had failed to follow its child protection procedures. This has also been shown to be untrue by a SSSC investigation which concluded that, “child protection procedures appear to have been followed at all times”.

School managers also raised concerns about the competence of reviewing officers in terms of their understanding of additional support needs and their inexperience in running and manging a special residential school; claims supported by their catastrophic involvement in the final week of term, and their inability to establish an alternative provision following closure despite an injection of £150,000 from the Scottish Government,.

RoIS did not reach a conclusion at that time about the PKC claims or the TNS denials but simply stated that it was important to improve the relationship between the school and the authority. FOI documentation shows that this response was met with derision by PKC who had not at that point seen the school’s detailed and robust response.

The newly-appointed Head of School made 4 approaches to Rodger Hill asking for opportunities to improve the working relationship between school and authority and accepted that the school should not just become a default option for pupils who had been failed by their provision. Not one of these offers was accepted.

It has also been demonstrated that the new Head of School attempted in July 2018 to publish both the PKC complaint and the school’s response to inform parents in the interests of full transparency but that this was rejected by PKC.

Ironically, the authority continued to place pupils at the school and in one case Rodger Hill wrote to the Head congratulating staff on their excellent work with a particularly complex case. It is now also known that John Swinney pleaded with the Head to maintain that placement when a decision had already been taken by the school to terminate the arrangement as a result of factors unconnected with the education or care of the pupil.

This raises important questions about his own actions in November and statements that he issued that there were, “serious child protection concerns” at the school.

Despite the initial RoIS response to the PKC complaint, she later (November 2018) states that there had been a “failing” at the school but when asked to identify this, was unable to do so. This is crucial because it was RoIS who wrote to impose conditions on the school following a report received from the Care Inspectorate immediately following a child protection investigation which also cleared the school of any wrongdoing. School managers expect that FOI evidence will demonstrate that the Care Inspectorate dishonestly represented the outcome of that investigation to RoIS.

To date, no justification has been provided for either the actions of the RoIS or the Care Inspectorate which so scared the Witherslack Group that they withdrew from a management takeover of the school.

The whole saga appears to support the view of school mangers that PKC launched a vendetta against the school following the February 2017 tragedy and that the Care Inspectorate colluded with them to force closure in November.

The connections between both organisations were noted at a very early stage by parents suspicious of the illogical behaviour of the Care Inspectorate and the fact that the Board of Governors came under “intolerable pressure from the regulators” and were forced to close a highly successful and caring school. The Care Inspectorate has refused to release information relating to communications between their officers and PKC in the crucial period leading-up to the closure of the school on the grounds that, “It would not be in the public interest”.

As things stand, there is not one shred of evidence that the school failed in any way between January 2018 and November of that year. This means that the lives of 24 children and their families, and those of 50 members of staff, were devastated by lies, innuendo, and rumour, and by the failure of the regulators to separate fact from fiction.

Unless an independent investigation now takes place to establish what happened to cause this fiasco, the lingering stench of corruption will remain.

Bill Colley