"Something has gone horribly wrong"
“I was prompted by the recent contribution of a former colleague to put down my own thoughts on the whole TNS affair having attempted over these last few months to steer clear of the controversy that has engulfed the school. I do not have his/her eloquence but share similar sentiments, the most powerful of which is the sheer horror that came with not only witnessing but being a victim of the appalling inhumanity that destroyed the TNS community.
Standing-back from the immediate and obvious suffering that has taken place since November, what strikes me as most disturbing is that the Scotland I lived and worked in for the best part of 35 years has become unrecognisable as I near the end of my teaching career. I once had a certain pride in our distinctive education and legal systems and believed, perhaps naively, that our heritage gave us an advantage over our nearest neighbours when it came to social justice and fairness.
No-one who has followed our story can believe that this is now the case. Something has gone horribly wrong over the last decade if the natural order of things has become so inverted that those at the top appear to have least justification for being there. Professionalism and integrity do these days appear to be inversely proportional to seniority and Scotland can no longer lay claim to the moral high ground despite the chaos in Westminster and an understandable yearning across the country for a different approach to political decision making.
If it is true that those charged with regulating services that claim to meet the needs of the most vulnerable in our society have themselves behaved dishonestly, unprofessionally, and in contempt of the principles of natural justice, then we have as a nation not so much slipped as plummeted since the heady days of devolution and the optimism of those times. What happened to TNS shines a light on the state of our country today in much the same way that Brexit has crystallised the divisions in the UK as a whole.
A fundamental principle in any system that lays claim to be progressive and just is that of basing critical decisions on evidence and not hearsay, and in providing those accused with the right to respond. Objectivity, intelligence, and dispassionate reasoning should prevail over dishonesty and deceit. Had those qualities been employed in November, the school would not only have survived but a powerful message would have been sent out to others that Scotland will never lower itself to the level of lesser nations in order to avoid scrutiny and protect the corrupt. Sadly, the opposite was true.
It must strike observers as odd that a school forced into closure under allegations of “serious child protection concerns” should be so desperate for an investigation to take place, whilst those who caused the downfall hide in the shadows and do everything they can to prevent the true story from emerging. That is the second principle we should cherish rather than spurn. Equality in the face of the law. The actions of the Care Inspectorate were clearly illegal and resulted in immeasurable human suffering, but they acted with impunity and a blatant disregard for the checks and balances that are designed to protect ordinary people from tyranny and professional incompetence, and that is what is most concerning about the whole affair.
If it is true that an individual but all-too-common tragedy affecting one TNS family in February 2017 was used as an excuse to eliminate from our educational landscape a unique community that provided Scotland with a safe haven for those failed by a monolithic state education system, then we must ask how low can our regulators and council officers sink in their pursuit of their political and financial objectives? And the question that has so often been asked of the German people since 1945 should be put to those who embarked on the campaign against the school, was there nobody who realised that this was wrong or who raised concerns that it was a betrayal not only of the vulnerable TNS children and their families but of our nation as a whole?
The importance of what happened to one tiny school in the Perthshire foothills cannot be over-stated. This is not just about the 24 pupils traumatised by the sudden closure of their safe and supportive community or the 51 dedicated members of staff who lost their jobs, but the way that Scotland governs itself and keeps in check those who wield power and who appear to do so with no accountability or moral restraint whatsoever. The TNS story provides us with our true national identity. However unpalatable it may be, this is what we have become, and the picture it paints cannot provide us with huge optimism for the future unless there is a radical change in the way that public services conduct themselves.
If the investigation we are all calling for is to be denied, what happened to TNS will happen again. The corrupt will thrive, and good people trampled underfoot. These are not the foundations on which we should be constructing an aspirant nation. For that to happen there needs to be ‘truth and reconciliation’ and a genuine determination to rid Scotland of a culture at both local and national level that tolerates injustice and turns a blind eye to the suffering of ‘ordinary people’ caught up in the corruption that bulldozes through everything we had hoped to become.
I doubt somehow that there is anyone in our political system with the courage and statesmanship to wrest control away from those who did TNS so much harm.
These are indeed dangerous times”.
Bill Colley (Former Head of School)