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Those critical Board decisions

The prime responsibility of the Board of Governors (BoG) was their duty of care to young people and to the staff of the school.

We have analysed the decisions that the BoG made between 2nd November 2018 and the closure of the school.

1.       The suspension of the Head of School

2.       Statement to Registrar of Independent Schools that there had been a failure to report

3.       Failure to challenge illegal enforcement action by Care Inspectorate

4.       Commissioned Witherslack to undertake internal investigation

5.       Decision to close school in 5 days

6.       Failure to consult young people and parents

7.       Permission to allow PKC, Education Scotland and Care Inspectorate into school during the final week

8.       Failure to provide support to staff traumatised by closure

9.       Attribution of blame to the school

10.   Denial of natural justice to innocent staff

 

1.       The suspension of the Head of School

The BoG suspended the Head on 7th November, 5 days after it had been shown conclusively that no wrongdoing had taken place. They did so without seeing the staff note or interviewing either Angie or Bill about that note and their (correct) decision to regard it as a concern about working practice rather than child protection. They suspended him for a ‘failing’ that was not his responsibility. Even if there had been a technical failing, it would not justify a suspension. No Head has ever been suspended in such circumstances before. There can have been no justification for removing him from the school at such a critical time.

2.       Statement to Registrar of Independent Schools that there had been a failure to report

The BoG stated to the Registrar that there had been a failure to report a child protection concern without examining the facts, and without considering the external investigation which had demonstrated that there had been no failure. The Registrar then informed John Swinney who imposed conditions on the school which led to Witherslack withdrawing from the takeover agreement. The BoG failed to challenge the statement made by the Registrar that there had been 2 failings in the school – she herself is unable to justify that claim.

3.       Failure to challenge illegal enforcement action by Care Inspectorate

The improvement notice served on the school was clearly illegal, but the BoG did not challenge it.  The ‘improvements’ it demanded were illogical and not based on any evidence of wrongdoing. The Care Inspectorate failed to follow proper procedures.

4.       Commissioned Witherslack to undertake internal investigation

Despite being warned not to do so, the BoG commissioned WG to undertake an internal investigation of the alleged ‘failure to report’ and also allowed them to produce a safeguarding report which allowed them to withdraw from an agreement without paying financial penalties. The BoG stated that they did not have the expertise to challenge its erroneous findings and failed to allow senior staff to see the report before closing the school. That admission means that the BoG was not fit to run a school as it is a core requirement that they evaluate care and exercise external management responsibilities.

5.       Decision to close school in 5 days

The decision to close the school so abruptly caused immense  and unnecessary harm to vulnerable young people and their families and cost dedicated staff thousands of pounds in notice pay.  It would not have been permitted by any court had it been challenged. The demand from the Care Inspectorate that the school close was illegal and possibly criminal.

6.       Failed to consult young people and parents

At no point did the BoG consult with those who were affected by critical decisions about their lives in direct contravention of national guidance. The human rights of the pupils were not respected.

7.       Permitted PKC, Education Scotland and Care Inspectorate into school

It was very clear during the last 4 days of term that the advisory team allowed into school was not capable of making decisions that were in the best interests of the young people of staff. The BoG failed in their duty of care to protect the school community. The BoG failed to consult with the advisory team or school staff during that final week when they themselves had overall responsibility for the school. There was a clear failure in transition planning and the advisory team failed to consult with staff who knew the pupils well. This resulted in unnecessary suffering.

8.       Failed to provide support to staff traumatised by closure

For staff still recovering from the February 2017 tragedy, the BoG failed to provide any form of support during the final week or thereafter. They withdrew access to a counselling service as soon as the school entered administration.

9.       Attributed blame to the school

In a final meeting called by staff, the BoG attempted to blame school managers for the closure rather than their own poor decision-making.  They stated that, “the school had shot itself in the foot again”, when there had been no failings. 

10.   Denied natural justice

The Head of School and Head of Care were not permitted at any time to counter false accusations made against him by the Care Inspectorate and given no opportunity to explain their actions until after the school had closed. At a ‘disciplinary hearing’ neither was found to have commited any wrongdoing and yet the action taken against them led to the closure of the school.

The poor quality of decison-making by the BoG caused the school to close when there was absolutely no justification for it to do so. TNS was the safest and fastest-growing independent special school in Scotland at the time of closure.

They wrecked the lives of innocent and dedicated members of staff and caused immense harm to vulnerable young people.

The actions of the Board at this period are an embarrassment to the independent schools sector and should serve as a lesson for all services across the country.

The Board:

  • Sir Andrew Cubie

  • Magnus Linklater

  • Joyce Cullen

  • Toby Metcalfe

  • John Cummings

  • Sally Kuenessberg

  • Andrea Ross

Bill Colley