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Hung out to dry

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The campaign by Perth & Kinross Council and the Care Inspectorate to force TNS to close may, on the surface, seem to have been a clever and successful one, but it had been predicted months in advance by senior managers at the school.

The most effective way of forcing any school to close, especially if there are no problems and the pupils and parents are happy, is to fake safeguarding concerns.

That is precisely what happened.

As long ago as January 2018, the school was aware that it was being treated differently by the Care Inspectorate to similar services and that this would cause problems.

The Head of School spoke openly to parents about the hostility of Perth & Kinross Council and used this as one of the key reasons for needing to approach the Witherslack Group as a defence, conceding in so doing that the current Board of Governors was incapable of providing the support necessary.

Perth & Kinross officers had clearly been primed to damage the school in any way that they could by raising false allegations and complaints about school staff, and despite the quality of care and education provided.

The police officer who investigated the September 2018 concern raised by a member of staff said that it was a tiny matter compared with what he has to deal with on a daily basis from Perth & Kinross schools. He did not want to investigate it but was “forced” to do so by Perth & Kinross Council and by the care Inspectorate.

It was a twin-pronged attack, aided and abetted no doubt by those in high authority who wanted rid of an expensive but essential resource for children failed by the local authority system.

The big mistake that they made was in jumping upon the spurious concern raised by a staff member and elevating it from a very small matter into something that led to the closure of the school. That will now be examined in court.

At that time, Witherslack were preparing to take over the school and there were no indications that they had any concerns whatsoever. Their staff on the ground commented positively on the quality of care, the ethos, and the careful and professional planning that took place for vulnerable young people.

However, the Head of School did warn staff that he expected high level political interference as long ago as August 2018.

The debacle in November 2018 and everything that subsequently transpired was predicted by the new Head of School, Bill Colley.

In the following message that he sent to his business manager, it is clear that the enforcement action taken by the Care Inspectorate led to the withdrawal of Witherslack and the closure of the school. It is proof, if proof were needed, that the fake safeguarding report written by Howard Tennant did not play a part in the decision to withdraw from the takeover agreement.

The closure of the school was caused by the Care Inspectorate.

Bill even predicted that Witherslack would use the opportunity to fake child protection concerns in order to withdraw from their financial responsibilities written into the takeover agreement. He tried to warn the Board of Governors, but as has become very apparent, they were gullible and naïve, and without his guidance incapable of protecting the school from the political machinations that caused its downfall.

“Andrew and Joyce also informed me that Witherslack had withdrawn from the agreement that they take over the school on the grounds of, “concerns about safeguarding”. This is, of course, in direct contrast to their position the week before when they stated to Angie that they had, “no concerns about safeguarding and that it would be easy to adapt our current systems to their own once they had taken over the school.

Whilst all of this has been going on, and in previous weeks, I received very little communication from WG despite updating them on developments, and that had begun to arouse some suspicions that they were getting cold feet as their negotiations with the Care Inspectorate regarding registration, were, or were not, progressing.

My interpretation of all of this is that safeguarding has become an excuse to withdraw from the deal now that they have seen how the Care Inspectorate and P&K have been trying to bring the school down over the last year, and how difficult it would be to resist this no matter how good the school might be. As Jude Jones told me on Friday 2nd November, “we are very scared”.

The Board and Witherslack now face the prospect of huge reputational damage when, as seems inevitable, the school is forced to close. The Directors will face criticism from their investors if there is any criticism of their failure to understand how malevolent P&K and the regulatory authorities have been towards the school, and that this has not been taken into account during the decision-making process.

I fear they will now turn on me, and possibly Angie as convenient scapegoats. I hope that, for once, I am proved wrong, and we have nothing to fear if the truth is ever allowed to come out, but recent experience has taught me that integrity for some only runs skin deep, and that when faced with situations like this, even decent people will try to deflect the blame.

Ironically, I have for some time been trying to devise an exit plan for myself. WG had insisted that their takeover of the school was dependent on my commitment to stay on as Head – in fact it was their first stipulation and came before any other negotiations. So, I had reluctantly resigned myself to several more months at the school until the takeover process had been completed. I have offered to step aside on numerous occasions, the last of which was on Friday 2nd November. I received no response from Jude Jones to that message. Andrew has informed me on several occasions that, without my input, the school would have closed in June. His response on 3rd November was that I was needed at the school and that I had his full support.

I suspect that the main criticism that will be levelled at me was that I did not communicate information about the CP investigation to the Board as soon as I had heard about it (4.45pm on Friday 26th October) but in my defence would argue that;

1. I informed WG on that Friday that there would be a meeting on the following Tuesday to determine if a full CP investigation was necessary

2. I expected that no investigation would take place because ST had not raised a CP issue (confirmed by DS Lee after interviewing her) and that the matter would be closed immediately

3. I have had to operate with 2 sets of line management and no clear communication protocol to determine to whom I am answerable, time-scales etc

4. I had been informed by Jude Jones that I should not be raising matters with the Board because WG were now responsible for the school. You may recall that they did not want the meeting of the Education and Care Committee to go ahead last month for that very reason.

My other fears are that, the investigation being conducted by WG will now aim to exaggerate or possible distort completely the true level of concern that ST had about pupil welfare, and that they will back this up with criticisms of the school following the recent visit of their own personnel. Feedback from care staff has not been encouraging. ST is quite capable of being persuaded to alter her testimony, especially if she see it doing damage to the school, and we are all aware that she will benefit from a significant redundancy payment if it were to close.

All in all, a difficult situation from all of us, but I see with some dread the way things might transpire if expediency were to trump decency.

Anyway, I hope that paints an accurate picture of the current state of play, and of my own fears.

Have a good weekend.”

Angie and Bill were excellent professionals whose only interest was the care and protection of young people at the school.

They were hung out to dry by the Board of Governors. Their reputations and their careers have been destroyed. The very people who were there to protect them and the school have simply run away.

“Integrity for some only runs skin deep”

The Board of Governors:

  • Sir Andrew Cubie

  • Joyce Cullen

  • Magnus Linklater

  • Andrea Ross

  • Sally Kuenssberg

  • John Cummings

  • Toby Metcalfe

Bill Colley