‘De­plorable’: Anger and tears at clo­sure

BUTTERSTONE: Par­ents call for probe into New School’s demise

The Courier & Advertiser (Angus and The Mearns Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - PETER JOHN MEIKLEM

Par­ents were re­duced to tears as the New School at Butterstone shut its doors for the fi­nal time yes­ter­day.

The clo­sure leaves 24 fam­i­lies with an un­cer­tain fu­ture af­ter the au­thor­i­ties failed to find al­ter­na­tive ar­range­ments for the young peo­ple af­fected.

The spe­cial school – for chil­dren with con­di­tions such as autism, ADHD and Tourette’s syn­drome – is seen by many par­ents and car­ers as “the last chance” to keep the young peo­ple within ed­u­ca­tion.

Cam­paign­ers launched a fight­back against the clo­sure yes­ter­day, sub­mit­ting a 6,000 sig­na­ture pe­ti­tion to Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment ed­u­ca­tion sec­re­tary John Swin­ney.

They de­manded an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the role of­fi­cial bod­ies have played in the clo­sure, with many be­liev­ing the school has been sub­ject to an un­fair vendetta. But oth­ers have pointed to a num­ber of se­ri­ous in­ci­dents at the school in the years prior to the most re­cent in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

Par­ent Lee Archibald, 37, from Dundee, said: “There is an in­jus­tice be­ing done. Our kids’ ed­u­ca­tion is be­ing sac­ri­ficed and it is ut­terly de­plorable.”

Par­ents at an axed Perthshire school for chil­dren with spe­cial needs have ac­cused gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials of de­lib­er­ately “plot­ting the down­fall” of the on­ce­cel­e­brated in­sti­tu­tion.

They claim the sus­pen­sion of staff at the New School at Butterstone, in­clud­ing head teacher Bill Col­ley, in the days prior to this week’s clo­sure an­nounce­ment was part of an or­ches­trated cam­paign to un­der­mine staff.

Fam­i­lies were left with only four days to find al­ter­na­tive ar­range­ments for the 24 chil­dren, with many still left in limbo.

Par­ents and car­ers – some in tears – gath­ered at the school yes­ter­day to take their young­sters home for the last time.

The cam­paign­ers sent Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary John Swin­ney a pe­ti­tion of al­most 7,000 sig­na­tures on Thurs­day night ask­ing the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment to save the school.

The Care In­spec­torate and Ed­u­ca­tion Scot­land in­ves­ti­gated the school near Dunkeld, which charges fees of be­tween £50,000 and £70,000 a year, in the weeks lead­ing up to the clo­sure af­ter a com­plaint “raised sig­nif­i­cant con­cerns about how chil­dren are pro­tected from harm”.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­sulted in staff sus­pen­sions and an or­der to com­plete cer­tain “im­prove­ments and ac­tions”.

The school’s board of gover­nors said it was im­pos­si­ble to do so in the time frame given and emailed par­ents on Mon­day to say the school was now “fi­nan­cially un­vi­able” and would shut.

A po­ten­tial buyer for the school, the Wither­slack Group, with­drew its in­ter­est fol­low­ing a pe­riod of “due dili­gence” while the in­ves­ti­ga­tions were on­go­ing.

Par­ent Lee Archibald, 37, from Dundee, said: “Our kids’ ed­u­ca­tion is be­ing sac­ri­ficed and it is ut­terly de­plorable that the Care In­spec­torate and Perth and Kin­ross Coun­cil have done this. Of­fi­cials at the coun­cil have con­stantly made com­plaints about is­sues the par­ents didn’t want to com­plain about and have used the Care In­spec­torate as a pup­pet to plot the down­fall of the school.”

Su­san Briggs, 40, from Stan­ley, who still has not found a new school for her son, said: “The lo­cal author­ity has in­sin­u­ated that my child wasn’t safe at the school and I don’t think that is the case at all.

“You have got 24 chil­dren with com­pli­cated sup­port needs who have had their ed­u­ca­tion taken away to­day.”

Deputy First Min­is­ter Mr Swin­ney said: “Since the board took the de­ci­sion to close the school, Ed­u­ca­tion Scot­land, the Care In­spec­torate and all the rel­e­vant lo­cal au­thor­i­ties have been work­ing with the school and with fam­i­lies to fo­cus on the needs of each young per­son.”

A spokesper­son for the Care In­spec­torate said: “We re­mained com­mit­ted to work­ing with the school to en­sure the care pro­vided to chil­dren im­proved as we re­quired, how­ever, de­spite this, the school in­formed us of their de­ci­sion to close.”

No one at Perth and Kin­ross Coun­cil was avail­able for com­ment.

Pic­ture: Steve Macdougall.

Dis­traught par­ents try to com­fort each other out­side the school yes­ter­day just hours be­fore it closed for good.

Pic­ture: Steve Macdougall.

Par­ents and cam­paign­ers protest close to the New School at Butterstone.

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