Chapter 4: January 2018 to the decision to close the School
4.1 This period principally covers the time that Head of School B was in position, alongside the existing Head of Care. Within this section I cover complaints and concerns that were raised about the School, the May 2018 inspections, the Witherslack Group's involvement and the decision to close the School.
As set out earlier in the Finance section of this report at 2.8, the Head of Development took up post in January 2018 to boost pupil numbers and support the business strategy agreed by the Board. Head of School A retired on 31 March 2018 and was then succeeded in this role by the existing Head of Development.
Complaints and concerns
4.2 The Care Inspectorate has a locus in handling complaints about bodies under its jurisdiction, but the Registrar and HM Inspectors have no formal locus in receiving complaints about schools or in complaint handling and resolution. However, during this period, complaints were made about the School to the Registrar. These were in the main referred on to either the Care Inspectorate, or to HM Inspectors, but the Registrar was the continuing point of contact for the complainers, who were almost exclusively Perth and Kinross Council.
4.3 In January 2018, Perth and Kinross Council made a complaint to the Registrar about the School. While the complaint was wide ranging, at its heart was a complaint about the treatment of one young person and the School's response. The Registrar passed the complaint to the Care Inspectorate and to HM Inspectors. The Care Inspectorate formally investigated the complaint through its complaints procedure. HM Inspectors made general enquiries and looked into the issues raised.
4.4 Perth and Kinross Council did not formally raise the complaint with the School before lodging their complaint with the Registrar. Indeed, they chose not to do so. The first notification the School had was when a senior Council official contacted the Head of School to say that a complaint had been raised about the School with the Registrar, but that the Council was not prepared to divulge the nature, or terms of the complaint, to the School.
4.5 Good practice, indeed the practice that Scottish local authorities themselves expect within their own complaints procedure, would require that a complaint should be raised in the first instance with the body subject to the complaint to give an opportunity for matters complained of to be addressed as quickly as possible. By refusing to even divulge the nature of the complaint to the School, Perth and Kinross Council denied that opportunity for resolution to the School. If the Council had little confidence that the management of the School would deal with their complaint, their next step was not to take their concerns externally, but to raise them with the School's Board of Trustees. Again this did not happen. Instead, without allowing the complaint to be addressed by the School, the matter was escalated to the Registrar, who had no locus in dealing with complaints.
4.6 The Care Inspectorate, having received the complaint via the Registrar, investigated it under its complaints procedure and came to a conclusion that safeguarding procedures at the School had not been sufficient. Specifically, it was said that "young people were placed at risk due to the service failing to follow their protection procedures". A requirement was also made as follows:
- Review the risk assessment documents for the young people involved to ensure that they adequately reflect known risk information;
- Provide the Care Inspectorate with an interim plan of how protection practices will be strengthened until guidance and training are completed.
This Requirement was to be addressed by the School upon receipt of the Care Inspectorate's decision, and evidence sent to the Care Inspectorate that it was completed by 7 May 2018.
4.7 During this time the School challenged the Care Inspectorate decision both on the grounds that the pupil involved was a day pupil and not a residential pupil, and on its merits. As such, the case was outwith the Care Inspectorate's jurisdiction and it had no locus in the matter. Meanwhile, HM Inspectors also carried out their own enquiries. They came to the conclusion that there were concerns about the School's approach to safeguarding and its administrative processes and procedures in that regard.
4.8 Scottish Ministers received advice from the Registrar, based on reports from the Care Inspectorate and HM Inspectors, as well as the Board's response to the allegation. Scottish Ministers decided that given the Care Inspectorate's involvement, action was not necessary at that time. The School was not in their view 'objectionable', or 'at risk' of being so in terms of section 99 (1A) of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980.
4.9 However, Scottish Ministers did determine that there was evidence to consider that there may be a risk that the welfare of a pupil attending the School was not adequately safeguarded and promoted there under (section 99 (1A) (aa) of the 1980 Act. The Scottish Ministers concluded that there was "evidence to consider there may be a risk 'that the welfare of a pupil attending the school is not adequately safeguarded and promoted there' (section 99(1A)(aa) of the 1980 Act". However, the Scottish Ministers were not, at that time, satisfied that the imposition of a condition, or conditions, was necessary. Instead, Scottish Ministers intimated a series of recommendations made by HM Inspectors, which included the School undertaking refresher training on recording and reporting concerns. This decision was reported to the School in March 2018. The Registrar also wrote to the School and Perth and Kinross Council suggesting that they try to improve their relationship through mediation. The Board responded to the letter from the Registrar accepting the recommendations. With the Board's encouragement, the Head of School B confirmed his agreement to engage with Perth and Kinross Council and to take part in the mediation process suggested by the Registrar.
4.10 So, while the complaints raised by Perth and Kinross Council were technically not within the jurisdictions of these three national bodies, serious issues were nonetheless brought to light about the School's approach to safeguarding and child protection. The School did successfully later challenge the Care Inspectorate's finding, but on a technical point related to the status of the pupil involved. However, no-one at the School, neither management nor Board, seemed to have grasped the point that whether or not their challenge on a technical point was upheld, the Care Inspectorate's investigation had highlighted serious areas of concern around safeguarding and child protection procedures that needed to be urgently addressed. At no point did anyone at the School step back and consider that there was emerging a recurring theme around safeguarding and protection, and that repeatedly highlighted concerns and shortcomings pointed to a systemic failure at the School. Instead, it appears that each time concerns or complaints were made, each was regarded as a one-off event.
4.11 In terms of the delivery of training, some generic training on safeguarding and child protection provided by the NSPCC did take place. However, training more specifically tailored to the needs of the School did not take place. The Head of Care described to me that they felt no one could, or would, help them in this regard. As a result, (as set out previously at 3.26), they did not feel they had the skill base, or capacity, to deliver wide-scale change. Despite these requests for help, the Head of Care role was not revised, and the Head of Care did not receive appropriate training.
The inspections of May 2018
4.12 Following the investigation of the complaint made by Perth and Kinross Council, Scottish Ministers sought a special inspection of the school by HM Inspectors in terms of section 66(1) of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980. This inspection was to be carried out concurrently with the Care Inspectorate's planned inspection which was conducted between 7 and 10 May 2018.
4.13 The Care Inspectorate inspection saw a reduction in the Grades awarded to the School, compared with those it had gained in 2017:
Care and Support
(5) Very Good
(5) Very Good
Leadership and Management
(4) Very Good
4.14 The Care Inspectorate report said that they had "found a number of deficiencies in protection practices during the inspection" and made two requirements and one recommendation specifically on this area as a result, which I set out in full below. The complete report can be found on the webpage http://www.careinspectorate.com/berengCareservices/html/reports/getPdfBlob.php?id=297632
Requirement 1: Young people should experience high quality support and protection through effective protection practices. In order to achieve this, the provider must:
- Review the child protection policy to ensure it takes account of national guidance;
- Review protection processes and recording systems and be satisfied that robust processes are in place to report protection concerns, leading to the identification of key information which then informs recorded decision making and eventual outcomes;
- Develop an effective adult protection policy;
- Provide adult protection training for staff and ensure that staff are clear about the circumstances in which an adult protection concern should be raised and their role and responsibilities.
This is in order to comply with: The Social Care and Social Work Improvement Scotland (Requirements for Care Services) Regulations 2011, SSI 2011/210 Regulation 4(1)(a). Children's welfare - a regulation to ensure proper provision for the health, welfare and safety of children and Regulation 15 (a) Staffing - a regulation to ensure staff receive training for the work they are to perform and that they are competent to provide
Timescale: By 20 August 2018.
Requirement 2: Young people should experience high quality care, support and protection through effective care planning that addresses their individual needs. In order to achieve this, the provider must:
- Ensure that all care plans include all identified needs and how these will be met;
- Ensure that systems are in place to evaluate progress for all young people and that this results in next steps or changes to strategy;
- Ensure that, whenever possible, parents, carers and young people are involved in care planning;
- Ensure that all documentation evidencing statutory obligations, such as reviews, is available in respect of all pupils.
This is in order to comply with: The Social Care and Social Work Improvement Scotland (Requirements for Care Services) Regulations 2011, SSI 2011/210, Regulation 5(1) Personal Plans - a regulation to ensure that each service user has a written plan which sets out how the service user's health, welfare and safety needs are to be met.
Timescales: By 20 August 2018.
1. The provider should ensure that administration of medication meets current best practice guidelines. Specifically:
- Recorded instructions and dosage must reflect the pharmacy label;
- A record should be made of when a parent last gave the child medication;
- A copy of the prescription should be kept;
- Proper attention is paid to the disposal of all medication.
This is in order to ensure that care and support is consistent with the Health and Social Care Standards 1.24 which state that any treatment or intervention I experience is safe and effective.
4.15 The HM Inspectors' visit led to the following assessment:
- Leadership of Change - Satisfactory;
- Safeguarding and Child Protection - Weak.
4.16 HM Inspectors expanded on their safeguarding and child protection assessment in their summarised inspection findings following the 2018 inspection. I reproduce below extracts from these findings, to give an indication of the seriousness of these conclusions that led to the assessment. The full report is available on the webpage: https://education.gov.scot/media/2rincf3p/thenewschoolbutterstonesif210818.pdf
On 'Policies and Practices regarding Care Plans':
- The school has too many different kinds of plans in place which leads to an overly bureaucratic process;
- Plans are not always individualised and do not always demonstrate how they will improve outcomes for young people.
- Plans which use the wellbeing indicators can be too generic and do not always reflect the specific strengths and needs of young people.
On 'Risk Assessments and Risk Management Plans':
- Risk Assessments do not fully reflect the specific risks young people, particularly in relation to information and communication technology (ICT);
- The school should continue to streamline plans in order that all identified issues and strategies are in young people's assessments;
- Senior managers, together with staff, should analyse all incidents of challenging behaviour to identify any antecedents that are leading to regular issues for individuals or groups of young people. Regular scrutiny of incidents will also help determine if young people are requiring any additional support.
On 'The school's Child and Adult Protection Policies:
- The school must improve their systems for reporting and recording child protection and safeguarding concerns, in line with national guidance.
- The current child protection policy does not take account of recent legislation and national guidance such as the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 and Getting It Right For Every Child (GIRFEC). It does not reflect issues on child sexual exploitation, or risks associated with radicalisation. A number of policies in place to support young people from harm are dated and need to take account of national guidance. Senior managers have recognised the need to review and improve child protection policies and practices.
- The Board of Governors should also be involved in the development of policies and procedures to ensure it is able to monitor, support and challenge arrangements for child protection and safeguarding.
- The school needs to ensure that self-evaluation activities include a focus on safeguarding and child protection in order to identify what is working well and highlight areas for improvement.
- As part of safeguarding and child protection self-evaluation activities, staff should engage with national guidance related to exclusions, anti-bullying, child protection procedures and staff professional learning.
- The school should continue as planned to engage with the Parent Council on child protection approaches.
- The school now needs to further develop learner participation including more explicit systems for young people to make a complaint and access support and advocacy from organisations outwith the school.
On 'Leadership of Change Theme 1: Governance Framework' :
- The Board of Governors monitors the school's approaches to some aspects of safeguarding and child protection… The Board now needs to apply further scrutiny to ensure the school's arrangements for child protection and safeguarding are robust and result in high quality policies and practices. When recruiting new members to the Board, the School should consider appointing a member with history and knowledge of child protection and safeguarding.
4.17 These are concerning comments. I set them out here at some length, as many of the issues raised had been raised formally and informally with the School before, and would be again in the next few months when serious concerns would be expressed about the School's ability to recognise, and effectively process, safeguarding and child protection concerns.
4.18 It is of interest that, in suggesting that the Trustees look to recruit someone with history and experience of safeguarding and protection to the Board, HM Inspectors are in some ways reiterating concerns raised with me by the Head of School A. I was advised by the Board that two members with more relevant experience had recently left the Board at the time of the May 2018 inspection and that despite the Chair of the Board having conversations with two others to replace them, no appointments were made, in the case of one as the relevant employer would not provide time for the involvement, and for the other because of a potential conflict of interest.
4.19 However, it is of real concern to me that despite four unannounced Care Inspectorate inspections taking place since the enactment of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014, the School was not meeting the requirements of that Act, or GIRFEC, in terms of child protection and safeguarding. That this was likely also to have been the case at the time of the pupil suicide in February 2017, appears to have gone without comment at the time, and indeed, as far as I can see, since. What was, or was not, inspected in 2017 would be a matter for debate around the gradings allocated, particularly by the Care Inspectorate, as set out below.
The reaction to the 2018 inspections
4.20 As is the case in all inspections, an informal meeting was held with the Head of School near the end of the May 2018 inspection to discuss the initial findings of the concurrent inspections before the formal, final reports were produced. The Care Inspectorate meeting was held at the School on 9 May 2018, and was attended by Head of School B, the Head of Care and an HM Inspector. The reactions of the School staff at that meeting, and subsequently, gave the inspectors present serious cause for concern.
4.21 Head of School B had an intense immediate reaction to hearing the putative gradings of the Care Inspectorate inspection from Care Inspectorate officials. They told the Care Inspectorate officials that the fall in Grades from the 2017 inspection: could lead to the suicide of a member of staff; that they would have no option but to dismiss the School's Head of Care; and that they themselves felt obliged to resign as Head of School, despite only taking up post on 1 April 2018.
4.22 While the Care Inspectorate grades do show a significant fall of two points compared to the 2017 inspection, and the unannounced inspection held in 2016, they were on a par with the School's performance in the inspections of February and August 2015, and August 2014, and better than the School's performance in March 2014.
4.23 Care Inspectorate staff at the meeting were concerned about the impact of Head of School B's reaction upon the Head of Care, who was very upset. At the meeting with HM Inspectors next day, which was also attended by Care Inspectorate staff, the Head of Care was still upset and had a copy of a letter which had been given to them by Head of School B. This letter was addressed to the Chair of the Board, and referred to (among other things) the need, in light of the Care Inspectorate's findings, to dismiss the Head of Care from their post. The Head of Care confirmed to me later that at that point they believed they were to be dismissed.
4.24 The letter, which I have seen, gave Care Inspectorate officials even greater cause for concern. In it Head of School B gave a glowing appreciation of the work of the Head of Care, before indicating that they would move to dismiss the Head of Care from their post. Head of School B then asserted that the inspection took place as a result of complaints made by Perth and Kinross officials, "driven not by any concerns for the care and welfare of pupils, but by their desperate need to obscure their culpability for recent the (sic) deaths of two young [people], and their failure to reduce budgetary pressures arising from their failure to provide an adequate education for children who have additional support needs within their schools."
[Redaction: Personal data removed for confidentiality reasons.]
4.25 Head of School B went on to say of the inspection "…on the basis of no credible evidence, the Care Inspectorate have adjudged that there has been a serious decline in the quality of care in the School over the last twelve months. This is clearly a political decision. Rather than address the serious failing of the local authority in their own decision-making and the tragic consequences that followed, the inspectors have chosen instead to target the School, which is in a very vulnerable position and does not have the resources to 'fight back'".
4.26 The letter closed with Head of School B indicating that they would resign and that "The inevitable closure of the School will sadly mean, for some and perhaps the majority, their education will come to an end."
4.27 However, the letter given to the Head of Care, and which the Head of Care had passed to Care Inspectorate officials, was never sent. The Head of Care did not become the subject of any disciplinary procedures in connection with the inspection, and they were never told formally by Head of School B that they did not intend to seek the Head of Care's dismissal. The matter appears to have been allowed to drift.
4.28 In this letter it is clear that Head of School B believed that there was a hidden agenda that led to the inspection and its outcome, which was 'political' on the part of the Care Inspectorate and Perth and Kinross Council officials. I have seen no evidence to suggest that this was the case. However, this belief underpins Head of School B's reaction to the inspection and goes some way to explaining some of the management decisions that were to follow in the next few months, before their suspension as Head of School. I have had no good explanation as to why the letter was given to the Head of Care, but not sent to the Chair of the Board. I am also satisfied that the Board were not asked to consider the Head of Care's dismissal, nor were they asked to consider Head of School B's assertions about the reason they believed that the inspection was made, or why the Care Inspectorate reached the conclusions they did.
4.29 Head of School B told me that one of their major concerns at the meetings with inspectors was, that given the timing of the inspections, any prospective purchaser of the School may have been influenced by a significant fall in ratings. Yet, as we have seen, Head of School B did not share their initial reactions with the Board.
4.30 I asked Head of School B about the report that they had told Care Inspectorate staff that there was risk that a member of staff may react to a drop in Care Inspectorate gradings, the same ratings as were given to the School in 2014 and 2015, by considering suicide. In response, Head of School B mentioned a general concern they had about one member of staff's mental health, but provided no evidence to suggest that any member of staff at the School was in fact a suicide risk. Head of School B confirmed that they did not follow through on giving their letter to the Chair of the Board. It is self-evident that the Head of Care was not dismissed and that Head of School B did not resign.
4.31 Care Inspectorate officials were so concerned about Head of School B's reactions at the meetings and the letter given to them by the Head of Care, which they themselves found very upsetting, that a letter was sent from the Care Inspectorate to the School for the attention of the Chair of the Board, setting out their concerns, particularly about the impact on the Head of Care, and asking that the School take appropriate steps to ensure that future meetings would not face the same kind of issues. The letter was sent, but did not reach the Chair, or the Board. The Board's first awareness of the events of these post inspection meetings appear to have been when shown a copy of the letters from Head of School B, and the Care Inspectorate, by me during the course of this Review.
4.32 I make no finding about what happened to the letter sent by the Care Inspectorate. However, given that the Care Inspectorate was seeking to bring to the attention of the Chair the serious accusations made in Head of School B's letter, including questioning the integrity of the inspection process and of the Care Inspectorate and its officials, I am concerned that the lack of a reply from the Chair of the Board was not followed up by the Care Inspectorate. I accept that over the next two months the Care Inspectorate and the school management engaged, however robustly, on the content of the inspection report. Regardless, there was no follow up on its immediate aftermath. Perhaps, had the matter been pursued at the time, some of the later friction between the School and Care Inspectorate might have been addressed earlier.
4.33 Scottish Ministers received the inspection report from HM Inspectors, and viewed the requirements and recommendations put in place by the Care Inspectorate. Both inspections identified significant weaknesses in the area of child protection, and evidence gained suggested that it was likely that a finding would be made that the School was at risk of being objectionable on one or more of the grounds set out in section 99 (1A) of the Education (Scotland) Act, 1980. However, given that action was already being taken by the Care Inspectorate, it was not considered necessary, or proportionate, for Scottish Ministers to impose conditions on the running of the School. The Board of the School was informed of this decision. Regardless of Head of School B's view, the findings of these inspections were significant and serious. Had the Care Inspectorate not put its requirements in place, which it should be borne in mind followed on action taken by the Care Inspectorate only a few months before, then it is very likely that Scottish Ministers would have acted on the findings of the HM Inspectors.
4.34 Head of School B's written position immediately following the inspection indicates that they believed that the School was in a good place and the victim of a co-ordinated attempt to divert attention from the shortcomings of the Perth and Kinross Council and the Care Inspectorate. Unless the contention is that Education Scotland and Scottish Ministers were also involved in a conspiracy to bring this about, Head of School B's assertion does not stand up to serious scrutiny.
4.35 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. These inspections should have been seen as a warning as to the School's ability to meet national standards in this area of its work. However, Head of School B was in denial and their judgement was clouded by their view that everyone was out to do the School down. The Board, who at that point in time were lacking appropriate skills and expertise within their own ranks, were not in a position to challenge the management view of the inspections. I was told by the Board that after the management agreement with Witherslack commenced in August 2018, they understood that Witherslack were providing expertise and engaging with their senior staff on these issues. Regardless of the skillset, the Board were also not in receipt of the full information provided by the Care Inspectorate, as set out in the section 'the reaction to the 2018 inspections' at 4.31.
The decision to close the School
4.36 There was a great deal of activity over the period between the inspections of May 2018 and the decision of the Board to close the School being announced on 19 November 2018. In mid-May 2018, the School approached Witherslack with a view to Witherslack purchasing the School. Progress was made and agreements signed, but the deal fell through in early November 2018 for reasons explored later in this report in the Witherslack Group section at 4.83. There were also allegations made around child protection matters, and a number of interactions with outside bodies.
4.37 I have set out some of the key dates in Annex E, in an attempt to help maintain a sense of the context in which many of these interlinked matters played out. Hopefully, this timeline gives a flavour of the hectic activity surrounding the School in its last months. I have not listed every occurrence or event in that period, but have mentioned those that I consider to have some significance in understanding how things turned out as they did.
4.38 Two issues dominate this period: the proposed purchase of the School by Witherslack; and the handling of allegations made by a member of staff who claimed to witness two separate incidents where other members of staff acted inappropriately towards young people. However, other issues are also significant. It should be borne in mind that the School, over this period, continued to operate as a school providing an important service to young people, some of them vulnerable.
4.39 I would also highlight one area where little progress was made. Mediation between the School and Perth and Kinross Council, which had been suggested by HM Inspectors and the Registrar earlier in 2018, was still being discussed throughout this period, but not begun. Perth and Kinross Council and the School continued to discuss how to proceed; who should be involved in the process and who should be brought in externally to lead the mediation. In October 2018, Head of School B indicated to the Chair of the Board that, in their view, relationships had improved between the School and Perth and Kinross officials to the extent that they did not see mediation as a pressing priority.
4.40 That this important attempt to mend a broken relationship was not in the end successful is disappointing and points to the degree of mistrust and hostility that existed between the parties involved. As we will see later, the toxicity of the relationship would play a part in how activity around the closure of the School was perceived.
Child protection incidents
4.41 Over the course of September, October and November 2018, consideration of a letter from a member of staff had great significance for the School. It would lead to the suspension of three staff members, the serving of an Improvement Notice and the threat of further enforcement action on the School by the Care Inspectorate. This letter was sent on 23 September and received by Head of School B the next day. No mention of the letter having been received was made at a Board meeting on 24 September 2018.
4.42 The letter sought to inform Head of School B of two incidents witnessed by the member of staff. The first allegation was that a member of staff had struck two young people on the arms with a book, and the second was that, in a separate incident, a member of staff had put their hands around a student's neck. No member of staff was named in relation to either incident within the letter.
4.43 Head of School B did not immediately investigate the allegations, as they assessed that the member of staff who had written to them was prone to making unfounded allegations and might have a personal agenda for raising a complaint at that time. Head of School B also decided that since the letter was marked 'Private and Confidential', they could not begin any investigation without the author of the letter's permission, as to do otherwise would, in the view of Head of School B, be breaking their confidence.
4.44 No action was taken by Head of School B to investigate the allegations set out within the letter for more than a month.
4.45 On 22 October 2018, the Care Inspectorate received a complaint about the incidents. It was similar to the complaint made to Head of School B, but in this complaint the staff said to be involved were named. This was followed by contact with the Care Inspectorate from a member of the School's staff, who had earlier written to Head of School B, to say that they had raised the anonymous complaint.
4.46 On 26 October 2018, the senior officer from Perth and Kinross Council's Child Protection and Duty Team contacted the Care Inspectorate to tell them that a constituent had approached a local Councillor with concerns about child protection at the School. The Care Inspectorate followed procedure and contacted Police Scotland to inform them of the Council's contact. The Care Inspectorate forwarded a copy of the complaint that they had received about the School to Police Scotland.
4.47 Police Scotland then contacted Head of School B, identifying the members of staff involved, one of whom is a close relative of Head of School B, and asked Head of School B to carry out a risk assessment and to ensure the safety of the pupils involved.
4.48 On 30 October 2018, Police Scotland convened an Inter-Agency Referral Discussion (IRD) in Perth, attended among others by the School's Deputy Child Protection Officer, a representative from Witherslack, and representatives from the Care Inspectorate and Perth and Kinross Council. At that meeting it was agreed that the pupils named in the complaint should be interviewed by Police Scotland and a social worker. The same day, following the IRD, two members of staff were suspended by Head of School B, pending the outcome of any investigation into the allegations. Also on the same day, Head of School B wrote to the Care Inspectorate explaining why they, and the School's Head of Care, did not believe that the letter received by the School should be investigated as a child protection matter, arguing instead that the letter contained references to poor practice.
4.49 On 31 October 2018, the Care Inspectorate and the Chair of Trustees exchanged emails about the incident and the School's response. The Care Inspectorate expressed concern about how the matter was handled, and that staff involved should not be in the School until investigations, including the Police Scotland investigation, were complete. The Chair of the Board gave some reassurance, and informed the Care Inspectorate that, following legal advice, the members of staff had been suspended, and that since one of the staff members was a close relative of the Head of School, Head of School B had stepped back from the investigation. Head of School B had advised the Chair of the Board about the allegations only after the IRD had concluded.
4.50 On 2 November 2018, a date of much activity on this matter, Police Scotland informed the School that having interviewed two of the pupils named in the complaint, they would not be pursuing a criminal investigation into the allegations contained in the staff member's letter.
4.51 On the same day, having already had a report from the Care Inspectorate about the School's handling of the incident, and in the context of previous concerns raised by the Care Inspectorate and HM Inspectors, the Registrar reported to me that they had a call from the Care Inspectorate. In this call the Care Inspectorate indicated that: they had little confidence in Head of School B's ability to understand what constituted a child protection issue; they did not consider the school's Head of Care/Child Protection Officer to be fully effective and strong in that role; and that they were considering enforcement action against the School. Since the pupils mentioned in the complaint were day and boarding pupils, both HM Inspectors and the Care Inspectorate were preparing an early visit to the School.
4.52 The Registrar then wrote to the Chair of the Board to remind them of the conclusion of Scottish Ministers in August 2018, that there was evidence to support a finding that the School was at risk of being objectionable in terms of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980. The Registrar also sought further information about the incidents and allegations of breaches in child protection policy, and to ask for information on how the School had responded to the complaint. It is clear at this point that Scottish Ministers, having not pursued in August 2018 the question of whether the School was at risk of being objectionable on one or more of the grounds listed in section 99(1A) of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980, would wish to revisit that decision.
4.53 Furthermore, on 2 November 2018, the Chair of the Board (having been informed by the Care Inspectorate of the likelihood of an Improvement Notice and the possibility of further enforcement action being taken against the School), contacted the Board to inform them of all of the developments, including Head of School B's role in the matter and view of events, and asked Witherslack to undertake an investigation into the School's handling of matter on behalf of the Board. The Chair also, separately, began an email exchange with Head of School B, which stretched over the next few days. The Chair of the Board formed the view that Head of School B lacked an understanding of safeguarding responsibilities.
4.54 On 7 November 2018, Head of School B formally informed the Care Inspectorate of the allegations made to the Head of School. The Care Inspectorate were concerned at this point that Head of School B was seeking to minimise the allegations and to justify the School's initial response. On the same day, acting on legal advice, the Board suspended Head of School B, and Witherslack agreed that one of their members of staff would act as interim Head of School during Head of School B's suspension.
4.55 On 8 November 2018, the Chair of the Board wrote to the Registrar setting out his understanding of the events and noted the failure of Head of School B to see the matter as one of child protection. Also on 8 November, both the Care Inspectorate and HM Inspectors paid a visit to the School, and met with representatives of the Board, and Witherslack. Following this meeting, HM Inspectors reported to Scottish Ministers that they should consider placing conditions on the School, which should focus on leadership of the School and staff awareness of safeguarding responsibilities.
4.56 On 9 November 2018, the Care Inspectorate issued an Improvement Notice and indicated that should the terms of the Improvement Notice not be met, then further enforcement action may be taken against the School, which could lead to the withdrawal of the School's care accommodation registration. The improvements to be made by the School were on safeguarding training, whistleblowing, and how conflicts of interest should be managed. The School was given until 21 November 2018 to meet the terms of the Improvement Notice. Failure to do so could lead to further enforcement action, which could lead to the School losing its registration for care accommodation. The decision of the Trustees on 19 November 2018 to close the School on 23 November 2018 overtook these events.
4.57 The actions, and inactions set out above have generated a great deal of controversy and strong feeling, which still persists. Head of School B, and the Head of Care, are both strongly of the view that the letter, which triggered these events, was not and could not be considered to be a child protection issue which required to be investigated as such. They continue to hold the view that the matter is simply one of professional practice. Head of School B also states that the matter was progressed to the extent it was, in order that they would be suspended, and not be in a position to influence or impact the decision to close the School. Head of School B also believes that officials within the Care Inspectorate saw this incident as an opportunity to force the closure of the School and that this explains their actions.
4.58 On the other hand, Police Scotland, the Board, Witherslack, Perth and Kinross Council, the Care Inspectorate, HM Inspectors and the Registrar all separately came to the view that the matter was clearly one which at least required to be investigated as a child protection matter. The Board, the Care Inspectorate and HM Inspectors also believed that, in any event, the letter received by Head of School B should have been investigated under the School's whistleblowing policy, as a member of staff was raising with the Head of School their concerns about the behaviour of other members of staff.
4.59 It is important here to have regard to the terms of the letter sent to the Head of School B:
"Tuesday 11 September 2018
I observed a member of Care Staff in the Dining Room at lunchtime, hitting two students, [redacted], from behind on the shoulder/upper arm with a book in order to try and modify their behaviour. Both students were sitting at a table at the time.
Thursday 20 September 2018
I observed a member of [redacted], staff coming into [redacted] class room, approaching student [redacted] from behind and placing their hands quite heavily down on [redacted] shoulders and around the sides of [redacted] neck with both thumbs towards the back of [redacted] neck. [redacted] was sitting at a table at the time.
Regardless of any excuses, I do not believe that either of the above actions is acceptable under any circumstances and for many reasons. The latter would include the obvious possibility of accusations being made by the students concerned, acceptance on both sides that this is normal behaviour and the potential for an escalating culture of methods involving what might be construed as physical abuse within the organisation."
[Redaction: Personal data removed for confidentiality reasons.]
4.60 As set out previously, the initial response of Police Scotland on seeing the text of the complaint was to set up an IRD. That meeting, attended by the School's deputy Child Protection Officer and Witherslack, both representing the School's interests in the matter, agreed that an initial investigation, including interviewing the pupils named in the letter, was merited. It was investigated as a child protection issue and, after interviewing two of the pupils, Police Scotland decided that there were no grounds for pursuing the matter further as a criminal investigation. The bar for such an investigation is set higher than that for a child protection investigation under the procedures applying to the School.
4.61 Head of School B, the Head of Care and others have presented this decision publicly, and to me, as showing that there were indeed 'no allegations' and that the letter sent to Head of School B was not a child protection matter. I put these points to the Police Scotland officer who called the IRD, and who led the investigation. It is their view that the decision of Police Scotland not to investigate the matter further has been misrepresented. They are very clear that the letter to the Head of School B did contain allegations, which required to be investigated. They are also clear that the content of the letter merited investigation, even at the higher bar that is set for criminal investigation, and that an initial investigation was required before any decision on the matter, at whatever level, could be taken. They expressed concern to me that their own contact with Head of School B had been made public, and that their position and views were being portrayed inaccurately.
4.62 When I asked the Board for their view of events, the Chair told me, (as set out in paragraph 4.49), that they first became aware of the letter sent by the member of staff only after the IRD had been held in Perth. This was over a month after Head of School B had received the letter. They expressed concern and disappointment that the letter had not been immediately brought to their attention and that Head of School B had not contacted the Board earlier; and certainly before the IRD was held. The Board are very clear that in their view, the letter should have been addressed as a child protection matter and, given the source of the letter, also under the School's whistleblowing policy.
4.63 The Care Inspectorate and HM Inspectors view is clear by the actions that they deemed it necessary to take. The issuing of an Improvement Notice with an indication that if the terms of the Improvement Notice were not met further enforcement action may be taken which may lead to the School's registration being withdrawn, is a very rare and serious step for the Care Inspectorate to take.
4.64 For these agencies, this incident came very much as the final straw. Having tried to work with the School over a period of almost two years to help improve their safeguarding and child protection policies and approach, the Care Inspectorate indicated to the Registrar that they now had little confidence in Head of School B and the Head of Care to recognise child protection issues. HM Inspectors believed that the handling of this matter raised the question of whether the School was now 'at risk of being objectionable' on one or more of the grounds listed in section 99(1A) of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980, also a rare and serious course of action for the Registrar of Independent Schools to offer advice to Scottish Ministers on.
4.65 Witherslack, who by this time had taken on administrative and reporting responsibilities at the School under the management agreement signed in August 2018, became aware of the matter only when the IRD was called. They reached the conclusion that the matter should have been investigated as a child protection and safeguarding issue within the School, and at a meeting on 6 November 2018, raised serious concerns with the Board about the ability of Head of School B and the Head of Care to recognise and deal appropriately with safeguarding and child protection issues. Witherslack had already been asked to undertake an investigation into the School's handing of the specific child protection allegations matter for the Board. In response to the wider concerns expressed by Witherslack at the meeting on 6 November 2018, and indications that the Care Inspectorate intended to serve an Enforcement Notice on the School, the Board also asked Witherslack's director with responsibility for safeguarding to undertake a separate and more wide ranging report on safeguarding at the School as a matter of urgency. This was undertaken by Witherslack's Safeguarding Officer.
4.66 The Report on the handling of the specific child protection allegations recommended that disciplinary action should be considered against Head of School B, who had already been suspended by the Board, for among other things, 'failing to follow guidelines in relation to the management of allegations'. It also recommended that the Head of Care, among other things, "undertakes training in order to understand the requirements of dealing with child protection and welfare concerns." Head of School B and the Head of Care argue strongly that this Report was biased, and challenge its methodology and the conclusions it reached. Head of School B also believes that Witherslack used this incident as an excuse to withdraw from the purchase of the School, and that their suspension at this time was convenient for both organisations. I have found no evidence to support these allegations.
4.67 Even if these assertions were true, the positions arrived at separately by Police Scotland, the Board, the Care Inspectorate, HM Inspectors and Perth and Kinross Council were that, at the very least, the allegations contained in the letter sent to Head of School B merited investigation under either the Schools child protection policy and/or whistleblowing policy, would still stand. As far as I am aware, it has not been suggested that all of these organisations were seeking to bring about the closure of the School.
4.68 The primary concern of any school must be the safety of the young people in its care. By regarding the letter sent to the Head of School as simply a letter from a disgruntled, and in the view of Head of School B and Head of Care, difficult member of staff, the duty of care the School had to their young people could well have been compromised. I do not think that it was sufficient for the Head of School's views about the source of the allegations to be a good reason to preclude at least an initial investigation into the allegations they made. By assessing the complainer, rather than the complaint made, on this occasion Head of School B and Head of Care acted on their own assumptions and presumptions, when the correct course of action, regardless of their personal views about the complainer, should have been to implement the proper processes, engage with the complainer and to investigate the concerns raised. It has been put to me by some former members of staff that since no young person was harmed, there was nothing to investigate. This is to misunderstand why child protection and safety procedures have been put in place for all our schools and establishments caring for young people.
4.69 Various inquiries and reviews in Scotland have found that young people have come to harm when those responsible for their care have ignored warnings or concerns raised with them either by young people, or by adults. That is why robust child protection and safeguarding procedures are mandatory in our schools. They place obligations on those responsible for young people's safety to follow up expressions of concern using fair and objective methodologies. Only after concerns have been investigated, can anyone be sure of what did or did not happen. To assume that they have not happened, or to presume why complaints have been made without investigation, potentially puts young people at risk.
4.70 I have seen evidence of poor leadership of safeguarding and child protection matters by the School's senior management. In this case, the description of the alleged incidents reported by the staff member were too quickly rationalised and given insufficient weight by Head of School B and Head of Care. Given the very same information, Police Scotland regarded them serious enough to merit an initial investigation to determine whether they represented criminal actions.
4.71 This was a School whose ability to recognise and manage safeguarding and child protection procedures had been a cause for concern, and remedial actions put in place by outside bodies, over a period of almost two years. The School had not understood the seriousness of the criticisms made about it, nor the extent to which it was falling short. It appears to me that the School's senior management team saw even constructive criticism as a challenge to the School's reputation. The extent to which relationships with outside bodies seemed consistently difficult should have signalled to the Board that they had a problem. Indeed, after the concurrent inspections by the Care Inspectorate and HM Inspectors a few months earlier, the School management's aggressive response to the outcome of those inspections, and the constructive criticism made by inspectors, should have set alarm bells ringing for both the inspection bodies and the Board.
4.72 It is clear to me that Head of School B, in the seven months or so in which they were in post, developed relationship difficulties with the Care Inspectorate, with Witherslack, with Perth and Kinross Council, and latterly with the Board themselves. As mentioned previously, Police Scotland also consider that their position has been misrepresented by Head of School B. This poor relationship building with the School's key stakeholders undoubtedly hampered the School. However, it is not clear to me that Head of School B understood the impact their own behaviour and actions had on these deteriorating relationships.
4.73 In late May 2018, Head of School B approached Witherslack on behalf of the Board to discuss the possibility of Witherslack purchasing the School. After this approach, and after the Board indicated to Witherslack that if Witherslack did not step in and purchase the School it would have to close at the end of the summer term, meetings were held between Witherslack, the Board and the School's management. These meetings led to a Business Transfer Agreement being signed in August 2018 to the effect that Witherslack intended to purchase the School. A separate management agreement was also agreed, which set out how Witherslack would administer the School on behalf of the Board of the School until December 24 2018, by which time it was expected that the Business would have transferred from the Trustees to Witherslack. These arrangements effectively meant that Witherslack would underpin the School's finances over the period between the agreement being signed and the sale of the School being completed, but would not in any way derogate from the responsibilities of the Board in the intervening period. It also included Witherslack providing 'Administration of the conduct of the Business by the Employees of the Business'. This agreement enabled the Board to keep the School open as a going concern.
4.74 Of necessity, the urgent need for an external intervention to support the School to stay open, and continue to trade, meant that a 'normal' due diligence process, which would be expected to take place before a transaction of this kind was completed, was not possible. However, adequate provision had been made in both agreements sufficient that, should anything emerge which meant that Witherslack no longer wished to proceed with the transaction, and as a consequence withdraw from the Business Transfer and management agreements, there was a mechanism which permitted them to do so.
4.75 A further complication arose over the accreditation status of Witherslack staff in Scotland. As regulations on the management of service providers and their staff differ between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom, all Witherslack employees wishing to work at the School were required to apply to Disclosure Scotland to join the Protection of Vulnerable Groups (PVG) scheme to ensure that they are suitable people to be working with children or protected adults. Consequently, until they had applied to the scheme and PVG membership was granted, Witherslack staff could not be in the School unaccompanied.
4.76 Witherslack, before signing the agreements, had had limited access to the School its management team and its administration, as the School was closed for the Summer break. Therefore, between the signing of the agreements and the attainment of PVG membership for Witherslack staff, there was only a limited opportunity for Witherslack to form a definitive view of the School and how it operated in practice. In their evidence to me, Witherslack were very clear that their initial view of Head of School B had been positive, and the initial access they had had to files and safeguarding records at the School, while accompanied by school staff, did not highlight any issues of concern.
4.77 Witherslack staff spent the period until late October 2018, when PVG status was attained, trying to familiarise themselves with the School, its staff and how the School worked in practice, as opposed to relying on the overview they had in the discussions leading up to the signing of the agreements. While Witherslack had been impressed by Head of School B in the initial period, that view began to change as time went on and they became more conversant with the School. Witherslack staff began to form the view that some staff, including senior staff, did not understand how to appropriately record, or pursue, safeguarding and child protection issues.
4.78 In Witherslack's view, when their concerns were drawn to the attention of senior staff at the School, relationships began to deteriorate and Witherslack became increasingly concerned that the work required to bring the School up to a standard that they would find acceptable would not be possible under the existing school management. Furthermore, the extent of the work required to bring the rest of the School staff up to that standard would no longer make the purchase of the School a viable proposition.
4.79 Within three weeks of gaining full access to the School, and immediately following their participation at the IRD, Witherslack sought a meeting with the Board. At that meeting, on 6 November 2018, Witherslack told the Board that it was their intention to withdraw from the Business Transfer Agreement, but that they would honour the agreement to administer the School on behalf of the Board until 24 December 2018.
4.80 In evidence to this Review, Witherslack shared a number of reasons for their decision:
- The Head of School had little appreciation of safeguarding regulations;
- The staff team at the School did not have the capacity to assess risk and operate safely as a result of lack of training;
- The School had no effective leadership, or senior team;
- It was unrealistic to believe that a replacement leadership would be found for the School in the short term;
- The quality of teaching was questionable and very little teaching was taking place;
- The School had an attritional attitude to Perth and Kinross Council, the Care Inspectorate and HM Inspectors;
- Even under a new registration, if the School continued with the same staff, past gradings and interventions by the Care Inspectorate would need to be borne by the new proprietors;
- Purchasing the School, closing it, and then reopening it under a different management was not an option since under TUPE, existing staff would have rights of employment in the School.
4.81 It can be seen that by mid-October 2018, serious differences were beginning to emerge including Head of School B's questioning of Witherslack's knowledge of the Scottish system, and Witherslack's doubts about Head of School B and the shape of leadership roles. The involvement of Witherslack personnel in the IRD on 30 October 2018 (as set out in the section 'child protection incidents' at 4.48), held after allegations had been made to Head of School B and the Care Inspectorate, and the subsequent responses by the School and the Care Inspectorate, were seen by Witherslack as confirming that their analysis was correct and their concerns justified.
4.82 Witherslack wrote to the Chair of the Board in a letter dated 5 November 2018, and handed over at the meeting on 6 November 2018, formally notifying the Board that Witherslack was withdrawing from the Business Transfer Agreement. In that letter they offer a damning assessment of the School's current position:
"In spite of our best efforts, the relationship with the Care Inspectorate appears damaged beyond repair due to continued substandard performance by staff. This results from inadequate training and supervision, and poor management and leadership from the Head Teacher and Directors. The Care Inspectorate is threatening to withdraw authorisation from the School and requires the removal and replacement of the Head Teacher. Education Scotland have also made it clear… that the school had received its final warning regarding the operation of its safeguarding policy. The staff team have no appreciation of risk to young people, and the vast majority (including the whole Senior Leadership Team) have no understanding of safeguarding requirements, meaning they do not recognise when referrals to appropriate authorities are needed."
4.83 At the meeting with the Board on 6 November 2018, in light of the withdrawal letter, the serious concerns raised and the allegations made against Head of School B, the Board asked Witherslack to undertake a Safeguarding Review of the School. This was carried out by Witherslack's Director who had a responsibility for safeguarding. This report was submitted 4 days later on 10 November 2018.
On 7 November 2018 Head of School B was suspended by the Board, and the School was operating with an interim Head of School provided by Witherslack at the request of the Board.
4.84 The report carried out by Witherslack's Director lists 'incidents', which had been noted by Witherslack staff in the 4 days between the Report being commissioned and being published including:
- Failure to record appropriately on a young person's risk assessment information, from a placing authority, that a student had expressed suicidal ideation;
- Failure to comply with regulations on the handling of prescription medicines, which had already been a requirement from the Care Inspectorate inspection in 2018;
- Failure to ensure that external contractors who did not have PVG registration were supervised;
- Students wandering the grounds during lesson time with staff unaware of their whereabouts;
- A student left unsupervised despite a risk assessment including a previous history of absconding and physical assault;
- A student, whose admission process allocates 1:1 staffing due to the level of risk presented by the young person, was left unsupervised;
- A student on 1:1 supervision, with known risk of inappropriate sexualised behaviours requiring close supervision, left unsupervised during lunch time and breaks.
The Risks identified in the report for the Board to be aware of are listed as:
- A lack of knowledge of safeguarding regulations at all staff levels;
- An inability to recognise risk, resulting in inappropriate risk assessments;
- The level of supervision of some young people is disturbingly poor;
- There is extremely limited evidence of any form of monitoring, evaluation and governance as regards safeguarding.
4.85 Urgent practical actions to improve the management of safeguarding arrangements were also set out in the report including: "increasing the presence of the senior leadership team during the day, weekly senior leadership team meetings, safeguarding training, and daily rotas, for both care and education regarding who is responsible for what (sic) young people". The recommendations were accepted by the Board and Witherslack were authorised to put them in place immediately.
4.86 The contents of this report were, in many if not all aspects, strongly disputed by Head of School B and the Head of Care. They were of the view that: many of the incidents mentioned in the Report were misrepresented; that each can be explained; that some were trivial and have been blown out of proportion; and that the School's systems were efficient, and policies and procedures applied appropriately. Witherslack's view is that each incident highlighted in the report is serious in itself, and represented a very serious risk to the young people concerned. It should be noted that by the time this report was published, Head of School B had been suspended by the Trustees.
4.87 The report made one recommendation to the Trustees:
"It is recommended that all actions set out in this report take place urgently.
It is further strongly recommended that the School be closed as quickly as is achievable in an orderly manner in order to ensure safety of young people without unnecessary disruption."
4.88 On 15 November 2018, Witherslack wrote to the Board to tell them that they would cease to support the School from 23 November 2018. In their evidence to me, Witherslack explained their decision and its timing:
"The inaction of Trustees and senior staff, both to the concerns of the regulators and the recommendations of our safeguarding report, highlighted to us that the situation at the school, where it was almost impossible to ensure the safety of young people, was not being taken seriously as was warranted. Unable to guarantee the safety of young people (as evidenced by our safeguarding report and the investigation into suspended staff), and with the inaction of Trustees, we were left with no option, but to bring the management contract to an end early."
4.89 This was a devastating report, delivered at a challenging time for the School. Witherslack had already indicated their withdrawal from the Business Transfer Agreement before this report was commissioned. The School's closure was therefore almost inevitable before the Board received the report. I make this point because in speaking to people about the closure of the School, there is some misunderstanding about Witherslack's role in the closure of the School. From the Witherslack perspective, the School could not be operated safely under the existing Senior Leadership Team, and there was no reasonable prospect of sourcing a replacement team therefore, the logical thing for them to do was withdraw and to apply the provision in the Business Transfer Agreement that allowed them to do so. At that point, unless they could find an alternative source of income, or an alternative buyer, the Board would have had little or no option but to close the School, as they would have had to have done at the end of the previous summer term had Witherslack not stepped in. Witherslack's involvement therefore bought the School a few months grace, nothing more, if they determined not to proceed.
4.90 The decision of Witherslack to agree to prepare a safeguarding report for the Board, at the request of the Board, coming as it did after their decision to withdraw, has been presented to me by some as an attempt by Witherslack to justify their withdrawal. However, the concerns that Witherslack had around safeguarding and child protection had already been made clear to the Board in the letter of 5 November 2018, and at the meeting of 6 November 2018. It is difficult therefore to see how Witherslack would gain from conducting such a review in the way suggested. It also should not be lost sight of that the review was sought by the Board and commissioned from Witherslack. It was not a Witherslack initiative.
4.91 While there is some dispute over the incidents which the Witherslack report gives as examples of poor practice over a period of less than a week, the report is clear that there were, in the view of the Witherslack Director of Safeguarding, systemic failures at the School on safeguarding and weaknesses in leadership. The most disturbing part of the report is the recommendation that the School should be closed 'as quickly as achievable in an orderly manner in order to ensure the safety of young people without unnecessary disruption'.
4.92 And yet, just five days after the report was presented to the Board, Witherslack decided to bring forward the date of their withdrawal from the management agreement, from 24 December to 23 November 2018, citing the unsafe nature of the school and inaction by the Board in the 10 days since they confirmed their withdrawal from the purchase agreement. It is not immediately apparent how that decision would 'ensure the safety of young people without unnecessary disruption' set out in the report's recommendation; indeed, it might appear to be contrary to that part of the recommendation and even put the wellbeing of young people at risk. I put this to Witherslack when I met them. Their response was that in Witherslack's view, matters were so serious at the School in terms of the safety of the young people attending there, that they would be safer at home than in the School.
4.93 In summary, the Board knew on 6 November 2018 that the School would almost certainly have to close at the end of the term. There was no alternative source of finance available without Witherslack's involvement, and no potential buyer in the offing. On 7 November 2018 Head of School B was suspended by the Board, and the School was operating with an interim Head of School provided by Witherslack. The Board met and discussed the School closure at the end of term on 16 November 2018, After the meeting on 16 November, Witherslack intimated their intention to withdraw from the management agreement on 23 November 2018. The Board met again on 19 November 2018 to inform outside bodies of their decision and to seek their assistance in keeping the School open until at least the end of the term at Christmas. There were in effect only six days between the Board receiving the Witherslack safeguarding report and formally accepting that the School should close.
4.94 It seems to me that apart from the examples of 'incidents' at the School between 3 and 10 November 2018, some of which would have in any event been known to Witherslack when they met the Trustees on 6 November 2018 to intimate their withdrawal, nothing in the report was new or material and of sufficient gravity to alter the position. Yet, in their evidence to me, Witherslack say 'the situation at the School, where it was almost impossible to guarantee the safety of young people, was not being taken as seriously as was clearly warranted.'
4.95 I do not think that it could reasonably have been foreseen by the Board that the report that they had commissioned into safeguarding at the School would result in a recommendation from Witherslack that the School should close 'as quickly as achievable.' Nor do I think that the Board would anticipate that the Witherslack position would change so soon after they had given the Board their assurance that they would see out the remainder of their management agreement to administer the School on behalf of the Trustees.
4.96 Witherslack took the decision to withdraw, in what they say was the best interest of the young people at the School and of Witherslack, as they were entitled to do. However, experienced as they are in the running of schools of this type, they must have known that giving only eight days' notice of the intention to withdraw from the management agreement, at a time when the Head of School had recently been suspended, would mitigate against an orderly, well planned closure of the School. The Witherslack senior managers told me in evidence that they considered that they had no alternative but to bring the management contract to an early end. I was not made aware of any alternative courses of action that were considered. The decision on when the School would close was effectively taken out of the Board's hands by Witherslack's decision to withdraw on 23 November 2018.
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