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TNS closed because it was becoming "too successful"

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A PKC councillor has admitted that TNS was forced to close because the local authority could no longer afford to pay for the provision it offered to children and young people failed by their own services.

Speaking to a former parent of the school and on condition of anonymity, the elected member confirmed that the senior management team of Education & Children’s Services agreed a plan in September/October 2017 to apply pressure on the school at a time when it was still reeling from the February tragedy, and struggling financially in the aftermath of that event.

The complaint submitted to the Registrar of Independent Schools in January 2018 was designed to cause reputational damage to the school and open the door to the later unannnounced inspections which would raise spurious concerns about ‘safeguarding’. He/she refused to be drawn on whether the presence of former PKC education chief John Fyfe on the board of Education Scotland, and the position of Bernadette Malone (former PKC Chief Executive) were part of the plan, nor Karen Reid’s involvement as the former Head of the Care Inspectorate. If, as many now allege, the whole scheme was devised as a collaboration between PKC and the regulators, it raises serious questions about the vulnerability of the education and care systems to cronyism and local corruption.

At the time of closure, pupil numbers were increasing rapidly with 24 pupils attending the school (up from a projected 18 in January 2018), 8 further places had been offered, and around 50 enquiries were being processed from across Scotland.

Ironically, former Head of School, Bill Colley had made several attempts to meet with the Head of Secondary & Inclusion to try to limit the flood of PKC pupils seeking placements at TNS, but without success. The authority had shown itself incapable of working by itself and had either lost or withdrawn from several tribunals because it knew that it had no case to argue that it could meet pupil needs within its own schools.

Rather than improving local provision or replacing those members of the Inclusion Team who had proved themselves incapable of providing the leadership necessary to make inclusion work, senior managers agreed to launch a campaign against the school to force closure and reduce their budget deficit. Their failure to provide an adequate alternative for the 13 PKC pupils displaced by the closure (let alone more than 150 other children not attending school in the authority) exposed the level to which council provision has sunk over recent years, and supports the theory that additional support needs are now being managed by simply giving-up on young people.

Former school managers were aware of the campaign against the school and had warned the Board of Governors and asked for support to counter the aggression being shown towards staff and even parents from September 2017 onwards. TNS staff accused PKC officers of dishonesty, making unreasonable demands, and undermining support for vulnerable children and young people. The former Head stated that he did not feel safe attending meetings with PKC personnel and demanded that all reviews and other contact between school and authority be audio-taped to ensure that education officers did not misrepresent what had been discussed.

The consensus in the school at the time was that PKC officers were ‘out of their depth’ when dealing with pupils who had autism, PDA, and similar developmental disorders, and simply unable to devise plans to meet their needs in local schools. Their views were supported by the disastrous events of the final week of term when critical decisions made by PKC personnel did so much harm to vulnerable pupils and their families.

The councillor also stated that the events of October/November last year when a ‘concern’ raised by a staff member were exaggerated to the level of a ‘child protection’ matter to force the closure of the school, are now an embarassment to the authority, but also indicated that elected members have very limited powers to discover exactly what role their senior officers played in the whole debacle.

Former staff and parents now want the actions of PKC officers to be examined to determine if any illegality took place and in particular the suspected collusion between the authority and Care Inspectorate and Education Scotland.

Pupils, staff and parents were just the collateral damage in a clearly coordinated plan to close the school, arranged by senior managers in PKC, and assisted by the weakness of the Board of Governors.

The part played by Mr Swinney himself has yet to be determined.

Bill Colley