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"A room for smoking and a room for sex"

The TNS closure has demonstrated a number of things about the way the Care Inspectorate works and has reinforced concerns that have been expressed for a number of years about a regulatory regime that appears to operate dual standards for local authority and independent provisions.

The first set on concerns centre on the inspectors themselves and the fact that very few, if any, have experience of working in residential environments. They appear to be poorly trained, especially in terms of child development and additional support needs, have never held positions of responsibility in residential care (and thus never had to make critical decisions), and unable to make objective judgements about the quality of care they witness. Many inspections are focused on paperwork and procedure and not care. They are not care inspections at all.

There is nothing new in any of this. As long ago as 2002, TNS managers were advised by a care inspector to set up a room for pupils to go and smoke when they had reached 16, and another where they could go and have sex. For obvious reasons, these recommendations were ignored.

The weaknesses evident on the Care Inspectorate workforce speak volumes of that organisation’s leadership.

The second set of concerns revolve around the clear differential that exists between local authority and independent service inspections. Where the authority has cosied-up to the inspectorate through mutual appointments and national networking, their services get an easy ride. Flaws in provision that would elicit serious action are smoothed over and positive reports written for services displaying significant weaknesses in the quality of care provided. What happened to TNS would never have happened to a PKC-run residential service.

The third, and perhaps most troubling concerns involve the growing sense that the inspectorate is incapable of acting objectively and using evidence to guide decison-making.

In the TNS case, enforcement action was taken when it had already been demonstrated that nothing had happened. The inspection team responsible acted illegally by failing to follow national guidance or adhere to Section 62 of the Public Services Reform Act (2010), and there is a growing realisation that they probably lied to other regulators following the conclusion of the initial police investigation in November.

The improvement notive made demands of the school that simply cannot be justified. You cannot improve something if there is no evidence that it has happened in the first place. Conflicts of interest? Innappropriate behaviour between staff and pupils? And why demand training for staff in child protection when there was no evidence that there had been any matter to report in the first place. It just makes no sense - but then care inspectors rarely do.

Aside from the legality and rationality of their actions, consideration must also be given to proportionality.

Care Inspectorate decisions regarding TNS caused significant harm and in some cases trauma to 24 young people and their families. Kids were removed from school and placed in unsafe situations, threatening not only their liberty and their family units, but their mental health.

The Head of School was suspended for making a correct decision. It was that one decision that cost the school its existence.

And all of this happened because a ‘rogue’ member of staff wanted to stir things up following his/her own disciplinary difficulties.

So, to close down an independent service in Scotland, all you need to do is to make false allegations.

Care inspectors are incapable of doing what is right for young people or making sensible, rational decisions. Schools and residential homes are thus in danger because of the inspectorate’s lack of professionalism.

Unless, of course, they are run by local authorities. In which case, anything goes.

Bill Colley