Kingspark School in Dundee opened in 2009 but very quickly concerns emerged. By 2013, there were 20% more pupils in the school that had been planned. By 2014, it was nearly 140% more – 175 instead of 125.
In 2010 a new electronic recording system encouraged school staff to see themselves as the victims of attacks by school pupils even where there was no malicious intent such as a child having an epileptic fit whose involuntary hand movements touched a member of staff.
Recorded “violent” incidents grew from 100 in 09-10 to over 1,000 in the first 6 months of 2013. But no one seems to have asked what was happening.
Meanwhile allegations were being made that a small but significant number of children were being illegally restrained or subject to physical abuse.
One 12 year old child was restrained on the ground by four teaching and support staff. Bruising and blood spots on his chest indicated that he had been held face down in what is an illegal hold. The incident was repeated on two subsequent days. His mother said “Four teachers held my small epileptic child on the floor till he passed our and urinated. Then they let him go!”
Another child who used a wheelchair in school for only extended walks had 12 additional arm, chest and leg restraints added to the chair without his mother’s knowledge. He informed his mother that this was for when he was “naughty”. On one occasion he was strapped in the chair and left outside in the rain. No explanation was given to his mother apart from a sorry for him being wet.
Another younger, non- verbal girl came home with finger print bruises on her upper arms and refused to go back to school until she was put in a different class. Her mother said “My little girl couldn’t tell me why she had so many bruises on her body when she came home. She is 8 years old and cannot speak. Now she cries when she has to go to school.”
Another mother reported, “The bus escort was horrified at how the carer spoke to my severely disabled daughter and the school had no explanation for that scratch on her face.”
These incidents happened regularly. Complaints to the school were brushed off or referred on to social workers for home investigation as “problem parents”. Complaints not made through the council’s website were not counted as complaints. Police investigators took the word of senior staff that there had been nothing illegal and didn’t interview any of the staff involved.
LDAS met with a small group of parents last year to support them in raising the issues. Since then the families have kept meeting to support each other and to continue to press the council. They have sought advice from professionals and tried to raise it with Scottish Govt. ministers.
The council has tried to keep this matter very much in house commissioning an internal inquiry, by education consultant Alistair Marquis, The review was not allowed to look at what happened to the children, only what the council had done about the allegations. As a result the review failed to speak to most of the affected families.
The story was broken in late April by the Sun on Sunday. Since then more families have come forward to allege their children have also been affected – that bruises were unexplained – that complaints have been ignored or brushed off.
– On the 6th of May, the two Depute Heads at the School announced their retirement. No reason was given.
– On the 8th of May, the Marquis Report found that much needed to change in the school. Physical restraint was to be used only as a last resort. The minimum number of staff should be used for restraint. Accurate records should be kept of how long children are shut away in the “safe space.” Child protection training for staff needed to be reviewed. Senior leaders in the school need to hold other staff to account for their actions.
– On the 16th of May, police reopened investigations into the worst of the incidents.
But this is not just a local story and we think that other things need to be done.
- Schools staff were trained in CALM, a behaviour management system. But training focused too much on physical restraint and not enough in calming down the situation. Councils need to make sure that such methods are properly used and enough follow up training given.
- There needs to be more independent inspection of schools. The Mental Welfare Commission asked to investigate but the school refused. HMIE has not inspected since 2009. The current level of inspection has failed to pick up the problems and a wider system is needed.
- There needs to be national guidance on the use of restraint and seclusion in Scottish schools. It exists for residential carebut local authorities are left to make their own school policies. The Scottish Government or Education Scotland need to produce such a policy.