TWENTY youngsters with additional support needs are still in limbo with no educational provision – four months after their Perthshire school was closed.

They were pupils at the New School, Butterstone, whose governors closed it last November after a potential buyer pulled out. The school had catered for two dozen pupils with special needs, who were unsuitable for mainstream education and only four have moved on to new placements.

Bill Colley, the school’s former head, has called for a Scottish Government-level inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the school’s closure, which is also supported by teachers and parents. And a documentary – Mud Sticks – has been produced claiming to tell the true story behind it.

The independent school, near Dunkeld, offered boarding and day schooling, but local authorities paid the fees of most of its pupils.

The National:

Colley told the Sunday National: “We want the inquiry at a parliamentary level because there are some serious questions that need to be asked of the regulators and the way they conducted themselves and … a long-term campaign to bring the school down, which is what eventually happened.”

Two Care Inspectorate reports were carried out at the school in 2017 and the following year, which noted a fall in standards at Butterstone.

However, former head of care Angela Gordon said the inspectors had failed to explain why they been awarded lower grades after “significant improvements” had been made. She said: “They couldn’t give a satisfactory response, but they did say that the grading categories that are applied to each inspection are based on intelligence and that in the May 2017 inspection they had not applied a focus on safeguarding or child protection and had not looked at any records held regarding the young man who had committed suicide.

“Yet in the May 2018 inspection they did focus on safeguarding and found gaps in process and recording information.

“What kind of ‘intelligence’ would dictate that safeguarding was not an area for inspection three months after a tragic suicide of a young person in school?”

The school was given an improvement notice by the Care Inspectorate over another matter raised by a member of staff who complained about two colleagues. Colley said was it was a “very minor” professional conduct issue which nothing to do with child protection and had been blown out of all proportion.

“It’s the first time a school has been closed down over something that didn’t happen,” he said. “Ultimately, nothing actually happened and yet our school ended up being closed down.”

He added that of 24 pupils, three were old enough to go to college and only one other had a full-time placement in another establishment.

Perth and Kinross Council did not respond to a request for comment and Education Scotland said it had no comment to make at this time.

However, a spokesperson for the Care Inspectorate commented: “The safety and wellbeing of children is always our first priority and, after visiting the school care accommodation service at Butterstone, our inspectors were sufficiently concerned about elements of the care experienced by children and young people that we issued an improvement notice on November 9, 2018.

“We always work with care providers to support improvement in services wherever possible, and issuing an Improvement Notice is one of the ways we do this. At no point did we take steps to seek the closure of the school care accommodation service, which would require an order granted by a court.”

The spokesperson added: “We remained committed to working with the management of school care accommodation service to ensure the care experienced by children improved as we required, however, despite this, the board of governors informed us of their decision to close the school two weeks after the improvement notice was issued, and we subsequently received a voluntary cancellation of the registration of the school care accommodation element of their provision.”

The National: Nick Hobbs, head of advice and investigations at the office of the Children and Young People’s CommissionerNick Hobbs, head of advice and investigations at the office of the Children and Young People’s Commissioner

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Ensuring that children’s needs are appropriately addressed must be everyone’s focus. Consideration of the question of an inquiry into the closure will be undertaken once this has addressed. The Registrar of Independent Schools has received an application to register a new independent school on the site of the former New School in Butterstone. This application is at an early stage and continues to be considered.”

Nick Hobbs, head of advice and investigations at the office of the Children and Young People’s Commissioner, added: “Local authorities must ensure that the needs of each child have been properly assessed and an appropriate plan put in place to ensure they can access their legal right to education at the earliest opportunity.”