Closure of the New School Butterstone: independent review report
The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills commissioned this independent review, conducted by James Martin CBE, into the closure of the New School Butterstone to consider the procedures and circumstances which led to the closure.
Chapter 1: The Review
1.1 This chapter sets out the context of the Review, the processes undertaken and decisions made, whilst being cognisant of legal considerations and sensitivities around the information that was gathered.
Introduction and purpose of the Review
1.2 This independent Review was commissioned by the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills in response to a range of concerns raised by parents, carers and staff regarding the closure of the New School Butterstone (the School) on 23 November 2018.
1.3 The conduct of the Review, the content of the report and any conclusions and recommendations were for me to determine, without intervention from Scottish Ministers. All comments, conclusions and recommendations are mine alone.
1.4 The Review was commissioned to engage the Board of the School, the Care Inspectorate, Education Scotland (for clarity, both HM Inspectors and the Registrar of Independent Schools operate under the umbrella of Education Scotland. Where this report comments specifically on ether the Registrar, or HM Inspectors, these titles will be used), all relevant local authorities and the Scottish Government (the Relevant Bodies) to enable me to determine whether any lessons may be learned that could enhance practice by public bodies in similar situations in the future.
1.5 Each of these organisations has to a greater or lesser degree already reflected on their own actions and procedures in relation to the School. However, it is encouraging that notwithstanding their own internal reflections, many went on to attend a series of meetings to help determine the terms of this Review, with an understanding that a collective overview of interactions with the School, and each other, would present a clearer picture.
1.6 The Review Terms of Reference were made public on 8 November 2019 and are attached at Annex A.
How the Review was conducted and the timeline
1.7 To support my work I was provided with a Secretariat of independent seconded staff and given access to independent legal advice, which I have sought from Harper Macleod LLP.
1.8 To deliver the scope of the Review, as per the Terms of Reference, I considered the roles and responsibilities of all the Relevant Bodies. This focused on the actions and decisions they took between the beginning of the period under review, 1 January 2017, until 23 November 2018 the day the School closed to pupils. All provided relevant materials and submitted written responses.
1.9 Information was also gathered from parents, carers, pupils and former staff members and these were read in parallel with the information submitted by organisations. Over 900 individual pieces of correspondence, minutes, reports, videos and transcripts were reviewed and correlated. In addition to the public announcement made on 8 November 2019 that a Review had been commissioned, local authorities, at my request, made as many parents, carers and former pupils as possible aware of the Review on my behalf. As a result, 34 members of the School community contacted the Review directly to participate, or to give permission for previously recorded interviews to be shared.
1.10 Having reflected on the information this process produced, a series of meetings were then held with all of the Relevant Bodies in February and March 2020. The purpose of these meetings was to confirm my understanding of the content of the materials supplied and to discuss with each of them the timeline of events and the interactions they had with the other organisations and individuals. These discussions enabled me to build a picture of each organisation's involvement and to help triangulate the data I had received. Each organisation was also asked for their thoughts and reflections on their own involvement and where their processes might have been improved.
1.11 I also held meetings with other relevant organisations and former senior staff of the School during the course of February. This timing allowed for discussion of any points arising from the meetings with the Relevant Bodies, while keeping to the tight timescales set for the Review.
1.12 All publicly available information was also reviewed during this time, including media coverage and Parliamentary petitions and reporting. The media search covered the period 20 November to 11 December 2018, and a total of 33 relevant media reports were identified as set out at Annex D.
1.13 In April 2020, I met with all parents, carers and pupils who had expressed an interest in meeting with me. These were not carried out in person due to the restrictions on face-to-face meetings arising from the spread of Coronavirus, but I ensured that I was able to have discussions with each person in a way that facilitated the participation of those concerned.
1.14 The report was shared with the Relevant Bodies, in confidence, on 27 May 2020 to allow for fact-checking of the content. The final report was submitted to the Deputy First Minister on 10 June 2020.
1.15 As the Reviewer, I also fulfilled the role of Data Controller for information held on behalf of the Review, with the Secretariat providing data processing support. Data was collated, categorised, consulted and analysed from different sources to cross-check and ensure a comprehensive understanding of the evidence.
1.16 The Secretariat and I were responsible for compliance with all obligations and duties under applicable Data Protection Laws. As such, the Review was registered independently with the Information Commissioner's Office, details of which were publicly available on the website https://ico.org.uk/ with reference number ZA566490. In relation to this compliance, I was indemnified against any liabilities arising out of, or in consequence of, a breach of the Data Protection Laws.
1.18 It took several weeks to establish information sharing protocols with each of the Relevant Bodies and I am grateful to those who lead on this for each organisation, ensuring that this information was shared securely and appropriately. All of the material received was stored securely on dedicated, partitioned, restricted files on the Scottish Government's electronic filing system until the report was published. In addition, all information received from former staff, pupils, parents, carers and organisations not listed as a relevant body was also stored using this secure system. All data was only accessible by myself and the Secretariat.
1.19 All of this material, electronic and hard copy, has now been destroyed appropriately, and only this final report has been retained. In addition, a duty of confidentiality remains in place for any member of the Review team in relation to information of a confidential nature.
1.20 The Review was not subject to requests made under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA), but was subject to Subject Access Requests (SAR), which were processed if required. Neither of these requests were made of the Review during the period it was being conducted. Any FOISA or SAR requests made after the date of publication will now be looked at directly by the Relevant Body (as listed in Annex B) that it is most relevant to, now that the Review is concluded.
Associated reviews and disclaimers
1.21 As set out previously, this Review had specific Terms of Reference put in place to enable learning through the independent assessment of written and verbal information. Alongside this Review other related areas of work were also being carried out by organisations and individuals, including the Children and Young People's Commissioner; the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC), the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) and the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman.
1.22 I have also been told by some of those I have spoken to that there is the possibility that legal action may be taken by some of the parties involved. At no time did this Review overlap with, or infringe upon, other pieces of work being undertaken. Organisations were asked to consider carefully the information they submitted, and all information which fell outwith the scope of the Review was not considered as part of the final recommendations.
1.23 I have only made reference to the titles of individuals in this Report, which in some cases makes individuals identifiable. I consider these people to be of a sufficiently high level of seniority within any of the Relevant Bodies, or the School, to warrant that. The identity of pupils, parents and carers has been protected in so far as possible. Where an individual held a position of responsibility, such as a Chief Executive or Head of Service of a relevant body, or the Head, acting Head, Board or Head of Care of the School, it would not have been possible to report in a meaningful way without making reference to their decisions and actions. Those people who worked within the School, that are made reference to, were ultimately responsible directly to the Board, therefore fall within the Terms of Reference. Having taken legal advice on this matter, I am confident that the approach taken in the Review will enable a clear picture to be presented, with only those who should be referenced, or identifiable, being included in my assessment and findings.
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