The Witherslack Group were approached by the Head of School in May 2018 when the future of the school looked to be in some doubt because of cash-flow difficulties. They were extremely enthusiastic about TNS saying that it was a, “lovely, caring school”.
In reviewing the recent hostility from PKC they stated that the complaint lodged with the Registrar of Independent Schools in January 2018 was simply, “arse-covering” by PKC. They claimed not to be afraid of the authority and could, “play nasty” if necessary.
WG signed a management agreement to take over the school at the end of December 2018 after an interim period in which they had responsibility (August to December), and during which they could proceed with investing in the buildings, and aligning their systems to the school’s.
In October, during the 2 week holiday, they were due to replace the ICT systems in the school but did not do so. Shortly after the school returned, the Care Inspectorate demanded an investigation into a concern raised by a staff member about the working practices of other staff, but which the Care Inspectorate tried to insist was a child protection matter. They were proved wrong, but despite a police investigation that confirmed that senior managers had acted appropriately, the Care Inspectorate issued an improvement notice and demanded a second investigation.
The Head of School warned the Board that asking Witherslack to conduct this was not wise because he sensed that they were being scared-off by the regulators, and that an indication had been given that the CI would not accept their registration of a new service.
Unbeknown to the Head of School, the Board also allowed Howard Tennant of WG to conduct a ‘safeguarding review’ whilst the Head and 2 staff members were suspended. His report was published on 10th November but was not shown to the Head of Care until 18th November, just before the crucial meeting when the decision was taken to close the school.
The Tennant report has since been discredited as ‘unprofessional’, ‘absurd’, ‘clearly corrupted by a conflict of interest’, and ‘defamatory’. Amongst the key issues he raised in the report are;
A 130 year old toilet window (used by parents, pupils, staff, and inspectors) amounted to a safeguarding issue
There were no windows on classroom doors
Medication dispensed by Boots and a consultant psychiatrist was wrongly packaged
A boy who wanted to become a tree surgeon should not have been allowed to speak to visiting tree surgeons
A number of child protection matters had not been recognised and dealt with by the school (untrue and unreferenced)
In their 8 month involvement with the school, the first concern raised by WG about safeguarding was in that report. None of the WG team in the school had indicated any concern during their lengthy and intense visits and were shocked to hear that the school was closing.
If the Tennant report is taken to be accurate, it follows that the Care Inspectorate and Education Scotland were guilty of gross professional incompetence in failing to identify these issues raised during their own inspections.
Witherslack played a key role in destroying a 26 year-old school community. But the Board were naive in allowing them to do so.