"Just a conspiracy theory"
The current consensus amongst those who either worked at TNS or who had children there is that the school was forced to close as a result of a planned campaign by Perth & Kinross Council and the Care Inspectorate, assisted by Education Scotland, and endorsed by Scottish Government.
It is not unreasonable to challenge that view given the preponderence of fake news circulating on social media, and the tendency that some have to generate ‘conspiracy theories’ whenever an event as shocking as this happens.
So have we all got it wrong? Perhaps the explanations given at the time were correct and that TNS closed because of financial difficulties and safeguarding concerns after all.
The problem is that when attempting to explore alternative explanations the evidence has an unnerving habit of getting in the way.
The abrupt closure (5 days notice) was clearly not in the interest of vulnerable pupils, their families, or staff working at the school, and nor did it make financial sense in that it cost over £140,000 to close early rather than wait until the end of term (due to the refunds that had to be paid to local authorities which had placed young people there). This will now have to be paid by creditors, many of whom are the staff themselves.
Furthermore, there is no evidence of any safeguarding concerns that could have forced the authorities to impose conditions on the school or to issue an improvement notice. That is simply a fact.
So one possibility is that the Care Inspectorate and Registrar of Independent Schools just make a huge mistake and that they were guilty not of ‘conspiracy’ but of gross stupidity. They failed to check the facts, acted irresponsibly, and in forcing closure by their actions caused irreperable damage to the mental health of pupils who felt happy and safe in the school.
Perhaps the Board of Governors were equally unintelligent in their decision-making. They commissioned Witherslack to conduct an ‘independent’ safeguarding report at the very time that the group was wanting to withdraw from a takeover agreement and thus provided them with a perfect opportunity to fake the excuse they needed to avoid financial penalties. They then distributed that report to Perth & Kinross Council but did not permit school managers to see it or to challenge the false assertions and lies it contained.
Once the closure announcement was made, the Board informed staff that they were forced into making that decision because, “if they had not closed the school, the Care Inspectorate would have done so”. They stated that, “A gun was held to our heads” and that they had no other option.
Perplexingly, they did not challenge the Care Inspectorate to justify their actions or take legal advice. It would have been a simple matter to demand a judicial review of the Care Inspectorate’s ultimatum and if that had happened, the school would have been saved. But perhaps they feared that their own professional reputations might be damaged and chose instead to sacrifice the school and the professional reputations of loyal staff who had worked so hard to protect the school and to sustain Baroness Linklater’s founding vision.
Mr Swinney himself, having initially stated that there were, “serious child protection concerns” now seems desperate to distance himself from those remarks and is trying to convince everyone that the imposition of conditions and an improvement notice did not in any way contribute to the withdrawal of Witherslack or the decision to close the school. This simply makes no sense whatsoever.
The ‘stupidity theory’ might carry some weight were it not for the fact that the school had been on a war footing for several months and that this was known and understood not only by school managers, but all staff and parents.
Conspiracy theories are generated retrospectively. i.e. after the event. ‘Theorists’ look for patterns and correlations which appear to support their own hypothesis and tend to ignore any inconvenient truths that get in the way. But in this case, what happened had been predicted long before October/November 2018 and steps taken to defend the school from the ‘assault’ which materialised then.
For example, the Board invited the Convener of PKC’s Education Committee to the school in January in an attempt to improve relationships between the two organisations, and once installed as interim Head, Bill Colley wrote to Rodger Hill on four occasions asking that they meet to address the difficulties that PKC were having with the steady flow of prospective pupils to the school.
He also met with a prominent councillor months before the final ‘attack’ and warned him of the huge reputational damage that was likely to be caused to the council if it went ahead. He even went so far as to secure a statement from the family of the young man who took his own life in February 2017 because he knew that this would be used against the school unless an accurate picture could be painted of the care that was being delivered at the time.
It was not until May 2018 and the unannounced inspections that school managers became aware that they were fighting a battle on several fronts and that not only was the school up against a local authority determined to blur the circumstances of the 2017 tragedy but to cut the costs of providing education for those pupils who they themselves had failed, but the 2 main regulatory bodies.
Those inspection reports made no sense at the time. But they do now.
With Witherslack showing a keen interest in the school, the Board decided not to challenge inspection findings that would not stand-up in court but which were at the time best left to become what school managers had hoped would be a footnote in history. Demanding that the inspectors justify their reports would have done more harm than good to the relationships that the new Head was hoping to build.
And finally, we come to the absurdity of the ‘non-event’ in October. “It’s nothing to worry about” stated the police officer reluctantly engaged to investigate the bitter and vindictive ramblings of a staff member who was nearing the end of their career at the school.
But the opportunity was seized by the Care Inspectorate and a Himalayan mountain range made out of that molehill by ‘professionals’ who cared not one jot for the damage that their actions would do to some of the most vulnerable members of our society. Ask them today to justify that improvement notice and they just hide, redact, and run away.
Ask for evidence, and they remain silent.
It should be a source of national shame that a happy and caring school community was so easily destroyed by the cruel actions of people charged with upholding and improving care standards and suggests that the organisations involved are simply not fit for purpose.
There was and there is no ‘conspiracy theory’. Just facts.
And that is why our demands for an independent investigation will be refused. The political costs of full discloure are simply too high.
“"So that’s my son home .. and an emotional painful goodbye to some beautiful souls who helped care and nurture my son ... my heart is so broken right now ... how anyone can dare say there wasn’t anything but love, respect , nurture and care at the school is beyond crazy . This is just a crime an absolute disgusting vile act done so underhand and no care for the dedicated staff , the vulnerable children and devastated parents left unknown of their child’s future . I’m emotionally , mentally and physically drained so the poor children and staff how on earth they are holding it together and I know they are and have not once stopped putting the children first regardless of their own pain. Such a sad sad day . All I can say is everyone child and staff member hold your heads high with pride on how they have handled an impossible life changing situation . And the fight is only just about to begin ..."