The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills commissioned this independent Review into the closure of the New School Butterstone to consider the procedures followed by the Relevant Bodies: the Board of the School; the Care Inspectorate; Her Majesty's Inspectors (HM Inspectors working within Education Scotland); the Registrar of Independent Schools; all relevant local authorities; and the Scottish Government. The primary purpose of this Review was to identify any learning that could enhance practice in the future.
This was a small co-educational, independent secondary special school with care accommodation. At the time of the School closure there were only 24 pupils and 51 staff, yet the impact of this closure on those affected was significant and had a wide-ranging onward impact.
During the course of this seven-month Review, I gathered over 900 individual pieces of evidence, primarily from all the Relevant Bodies, but also from former staff, other associated organisations, parents and pupils. Through considering this information, and interviewing key people, I now understand that there were several issues that arose during the timeframe of this Review, 1 January 2017 to the School closure on 23 November 2018, that influenced actions and informed decisions.
- The School, which had been in a difficult financial position for some time, closed because in the view of the Board, the Charitable Trust should be wound up;
- The deciding factor in winding up the Trust was the withdrawal by the Witherslack Group, who had planned to take over the School in January 2019. Between August and December 2018 Witherslack were providing management, and effectively underpinning the School's finances;
- The School was not performing well in the areas of safeguarding, child protection processes and procedures, and had not been for a considerable period of time;
- Poor relations between the School's senior management team and some of the outside bodies fuelled a belief, driven by some former staff, that the School was closed through a co-ordinated campaign by Perth and Kinross Council, the Care Inspectorate, Scottish Ministers and the Registrar. This theory does not stand up to serious scrutiny; and,
- More notice of the School's difficulties and the likelihood of closure should have been given to parents, carers and placing authorities. Alerting placing authorities, parents and carers with only four days' notice of the School's closure, left insufficient time for person centred planning for the future education of the young people at the School.
Those that have campaigned for this Review have been right to ask why the School closed. Much of my Report brings together the facts of what took place, and how situations were handled, specifically to answer these questions.
However, the Recommendations set out in Chapter 7 relate directly to the Relevant Bodies and call mainly for more clarity on roles, responsibilities and processes of the regulatory bodies, that can be understood more clearly in an autonomous independent School setting. I also encourage those involved to review their actions in light of my findings, and reflect on their own lessons learned. Finally, I ask that this Review is used as an example to the independent School sector of the importance of careful planning, and self-assessment of performance, and I urge the Care Inspectorate, HM Inspectors and the Registrar to help in this regard.
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