"I'm going to bring the school down"
Part I: A thorough examination of nothing at all
Fundamental to any effort to understand why TNS closed down is that critical decision made when a note of landed on the desk of the Head of School, Bill Colley, on 23 September 2018.
We contacted Bill last week and interviewed him by phone to find out more about why the decision was made to not report the contents of the note to the Care Inspectorate.
Can we start by asking that key question? Why didn’t you report a child protection matter as has been alleged by the Board of Governors, the Care Inspectorate, Perth & Kinross Council, and even John Swinney himself?
There can only have been a failure to report if the content of the letter clearly indicates a child protection concern. A staff member made it very clear that she was not reporting a child protection matter but was concerned, in the climate of hostility that the school was facing from Perth & Kinross Council and the Care Inspectorate, that they might interpret any touch between staff and pupils as abusive. In other words, she was suggesting that we had to be very vigilant and I suppose that there should be a blanket ban on any form of physical contact, which I and my colleagues would resist because it flies in the face of good practice and the development of a nurturing environment for young people. It would be completely contrary to the ethos of TNS.
To be fair to the staff member, PKC would have done that. I mean, take someting innocuous and make it into a huge issue because that is what they had been doing for 18 months, but we couldn’t let that threat undermine what we were doing with pupils.
The decision was actually taken by both Angie (Head of Care) and myself….
Can I stop you and ask why you were suspended rather than Angie?
Good point. Angie had been subjected to a huge amount of hostility, and clearly targeted hostility, from Perth & Kinross Council and the Care Inspectorate over a number of months. I didn’t want her to suffer yet again from false accusations and the stress of having to wait months for her name to be cleared yet again. So, I took responsibility for that decision, but both of us should have been suspended if any offence had been committed because it was a joint decision.
Should you not have reported it anyway, even if there was a grey area around whether or not it was child protection?
No, I don’t think so. The important thing is that no staff names were mentioned in the note and the note was also marked private and confidential. You have to remember that if the staff member was raising child protection concerns, he/she would have to use the correct procedures, that is the paperwork, and report directly to the Child Protection Coordinator and not to the Head of School. X was well aware of this. X also knew that any concern had to be reported immediately i.e. during the same day, but the alleged incidents had taken place some time ago. So, if we had found out by speaking to him/her that he/she did have child protection concerns but had delayed reporting them, he/she would probably have been dismissed almost immediately for failing to report.
Without the names of the staff it would have been difficult to investigate the concerns that were being raised and whether there was any truth in them. So, we agreed to interview X but then had the two-week October holiday and it was after that everything kicked off.
Had we reported the note to the Care Inspectorate as a matter about professional practice (which is what has been confirmed by two investigations) we would have had to wait several weeks for them to get back to us, and had we reported it to Perth & Kinross, because two of the pupils were theirs, we would have had to wait several months. So it was important to get more of the background detail and especially the names of the members of staff, before we addressed the working practice issue.
There is no obligation to report matters relating to professional practice which is what it was, so we cannot have failed to report a child protection matter, and the enforcement action taken by the inspectorate was clearly illegal.
You only trigger child protection procedures if there is a child protection matter.
So why was there a child protection investigation if there were no child protection matters?
During the October holiday the staff member wrote anonymous letters to the Care Inspectorate and Perth & Kinross Council.
Why did he/she do that if it was just about working practice?
He/he was in quite a lot of trouble at work and had a long track record of incidents where he/she had made errors of judgement and especially in his/her interactions with pupils and staff. He/she had appealed against the decision that I had made about his/her own practice and had subsequently stated to colleagues that he/she, “wanted to bring the school down and bring the Head of Care down”. We have that on record so it is not just a rumour. In other words, he/she was out to cause trouble.
The police officer who contacted the school when the matter was passed on to him said that it was, “nothing to worry about” because he recognised what was going on. However, Perth & Kinross Council and the Care Inspectorate insisted that there be an investigation. What is most interesting to me is why the care inspector who attended and who knew the staff member well made no attempt to inform that meeting of the concerns that existed about this staff member’s poor professional practice and nor did the educational psychologist for one of the pupils mentioned let the meeting know that she had interviewed him over the holiday and that he had raised no concerns about members of staff in the school.
One of the most important statements made by the police officer to both a colleague and myself on separate occasions is that there were “no allegations”.
All of us were eventually cleared but long after the damage had been done. There has been no further action.
Interestingly, if the police officer was wrong when he stated that there was “nothing to worry about” then the Care Inspectorate should have reported him to his managers. I am guessing that they did not do this.
Did he/she write those letters himself/herself or was she set-up by the Care Inspectorate or PKC?
I don’t know.
How long did it take before the police concluded that there were no child protection matters?
They interviewed the staff member almost immediately and let the school know that there were no allegations against staff, and that he/she had no concern about child protection matters in the school. In other words, that no child was being harmed or put at risk.
Basically, he/she confirmed that the interpretation that Angie and myself had made of his/her note was correct.
This was then confirmed when the police interviewed the boys mentioned in the note who could not recall any incident occurring that might give rise to concerns.
The whole investigation took 3 days, partly because they had to arrange to interview the pupils. We knew on the first day that there were no child protection concerns. The police officer wanted to get the whole thing out of the way because he was swamped with serious stuff and this case was clearly spurious, but he had to conduct the investigation and report it first.
We found out on 2nd November that there had been no wrongdoing but that was when the Care Inspectorate said that they were taking enforcement action and when Witherslack decided to give up on the takeover.
You suspended two members of staff for something they had not done. Do you feel guilty about this?
Yes and no. It was right to suspend them for the three days necessary to conduct the initial investigation, but as the police officer stated that should have return to work immediately after that. However, the care Inspectorate refused to allow that to happen and this caused immense suffering to those involved and was an illegal action by the care Inspectorate who have no right to determine how we deploy personnel.
I also feel very guilty that I was not able to provide more support to those staff members at what must have been an extremely distressing time, but I was suspended soon afterwards and was thus out of the picture myself.
If the investigation had concluded that there were no child protection matters why were you suspended?
Very little make sense in all of this! I can’t say too much because of the legal cases that are going on and anyway you have managed to publish already a lot of the background to this whole tragic episode.
I hope that when my GTCS hearing is held, because Sandra Wright of the Care Inspectorate reported me to them, the full details and in particular the facts will become very clear.
Once all the dust has settled, the whole episode should be published as a paper which can be used in training for all staff in the residential sector so that they can learn how the Care Inspectorate works and how to avoid anything like this happening again. Having said that, I don’t think there is anything that I or Angie could have done differently to prevent this happening.
Why didn’t the board challenge the enforcement action was taken by the Care Inspectorate and by John Swinney if nothing had happened?
I’m sorry. I can’t comment on that.
What I can say is that what happened to TNS is the first occasion in which enforcement action has been taken over something that had not happened and was known not to have happened, and that I must be the first Head of School suspended for making a correct decision.
We were the first school to be forced to close down because of nothing.
I suspect that in 20 years time, professionals working in this field will still be referring to the Butterstone closure and that it will become a bit of a cause célèbre. It would be good to have an academic study on the whole episode and to relate decisions made to national guidance and the current legislation.
Why did the Care Inspectorate do it? What did they have to gain?
Again, I can’t really comment until a full independent investigation has taken place and the various legal cases settled. By their actions they caused immense suffering, so I hope that we will be able to determine just why they did what they did.
Were they working with Perth & Kinross Council as everyone seems to believe?
No comment. Sorry.
Would that not be illegal?
But staff and parents have said that you told them of this in June 2018 after the inspection.
Let’s wait for the investigation.
Did Witherslack pull out of the takeover agreement because of the Care Inspectorate’s actions?
You have seen the same evidence that I have. I don’t think there is any doubt that this was the case.
In retrospect, would you do anything differently if the same note appeared on your desk?
No. To do so would be defy logic.