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OPINION: Why Swinney will block a TNS inquiry

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We expect John Swinney to block any investigation into the corruption that led to the closure of TNS.

This is our conclusion after trawling through the mountain of information that has come our way through freedom of information requests and other sources.

Our analysis is that the result of any such investigation is likely to conclude that there were serious failings at both inspectorates and within the Scottish Government itself, regardless of the hapless Board of Governors and their abandonment of the school. Every attempt by former staff and parents to determine what concerns could possibly justify the improvement notice issued by the Care Inspectorate and the conditions imposed by John Swinney himself via the Registrar of Independent Schools has failed, and each organisation has refused to divulge what justification there could be for the actions that created the “intolerable pressure” on the Board of Governors to close the school.

As far as we can tell, this is the first school in Scotland forced to shut because of something that did not happen.

This is unprecedented. When a school or service is forced to close as a result of concerns such as this, pupils, parents, members of staff and the general public have a right to know what was going on. It seems very strange indeed that it is the former staff of the school that are pressing for an inquiry, whilst those who made the key decisions are burying their heads in the sand.

As our former Head stated in his interview, if the evidence exists, put it on the table for all to see.

We may be waiting for some time.

What happened to TNS is of national concern. It was, and is, a national scandal and an embarrassment to those of us who take pride in our nation. That is why the investigation will be blocked.

Aside from the more obvious conclusions of an independent inquiry, i.e. that the Care Inspectorate and Education Scotland were professionally incompetent and are thus not fit for purpose, the findings will be used by those opposed to independence to suggest, with some justification, that Scotland is incapable of running its own affairs. Those of us who want to vote ‘Yes’ in the next referendum, cannot ignore this.

We have had 20 years since the establishment of the first Scottish Parliament to get our house in order. During that time, successive governments have failed to establish a credible regulatory regime to ensure that there is effective oversight of our education and care systems. As things stand in 2019, our education inspectorate is not only a pale imitation of the former HMIe, but like a fake Chinese replica of some western fashion item, a very poor cousin to its English equivalent, OFSTED.

Merging the public body responsible for improving education system (Learning & Teaching Scotland), with the organisation established to regulate it (HMIe) in 2010 was one of the more inane and damaging decisions ever taken by a Scottish Government. It was the equivalent of asking pupils to mark their own exam papers. Perhaps that is the answer to our current attainment crisis.

OFSTED has teeth and will challenge government policy and report honestly on concerns within the English school’s system. Education Scotland has a set of dentures that local authorities and government insist are kept in a glass on the bedside table lest the full scale of concerns about the current crisis in our schools becomes known to the public. ES is now just an arm of government and COSLA, populated by former local authority yes-men charged with perpetuating the mediocrity and incompetence found in many of our councils. As such, Parliament and thus the Scottish people have been disenfranchised.

The TNS closure also suggests that we can no longer trust the Care Inspectorate to provide an honest appraisal of services catering for the most vulnerable in our society. Their desperation to cover-up what they themselves told the Registrar of Independent Schools in November 2018 suggests that they have much to hide. Regulators that insist on high standards of professionalism from care staff and managers, but who themselves lie and refuse to answer legitimate questions, cannot be trusted.

There are no ‘care standards’ in Scotland. What happened to TNS demonstrates that. We have some well-chosen words on glossy paper, but the inspection regime itself is arbitrary, undertaken by people who are incapable of defining let alone measuring what ‘care’ is, and who would rather pore over paperwork than speak to children and young people to get a sense of how a service is performing. The route to a glowing inspection report at local authority level is not through improving services but by cosying-up to the inspectorate and cross-populating management in both organisations with like-minded individuals. Scotland is so small that cronyism is rife. There is much mutual admiration and precious little genuine scrutiny.

With a second referendum looming on the horizon, Mr Swinney will not want what happened to TNS to be seen as a barometer of national competence. If it does, the public can only conclude that we are not yet mature enough as a nation to ditch those ties with Westminster for all the chaos that is taking place there at this moment in time. Opponents of independence will grab any ammunition that they can and any TNS investigation would provide them with a formidable arsenal.

We have had 20 years to get our house in order, but our political system has failed us. The public has been let down and those who passionately want self-determination, have been betrayed by feeble politicians more interested in feathering their own nests than building a nation.

Turkeys tend not to vote for Christmas. Mr Swinney is not going to sanction that investigation.

Bill Colley