Financial problems force closure of residential school

By Jamie McIvor
BBC Scotland education correspondent

Image source, The New School

A residential school for children with significant additional support needs is to close.

Parents of children at The New School Butterstone in Dunkeld, Perth and Kinross, have been told the school will shut this Friday.

BBC Scotland understands the school notified parents that it has had financial difficulties.

A deal by another organisation to take over the school is believed to have fallen through.

The New School Butterstone is an independent residential school but some councils paid for places for children.

According to the school's website it can accommodate up to 40 children from across Scotland and beyond.

Earlier this month, parents received a letter from the school saying it had been issued with an improvement notice from the Care Inspectorate.

The letter said that an action plan had been devised and that the school was "confident that by addressing those areas quickly, we will be able to demonstrate to the Care Inspectorate that significant progress has already been made to modify and improve the areas of weakness that they have highlighted".

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Education Secretary John Swinney said he would work with the school to support those affected

The parent of one child at the school told BBC Scotland: "Several of the children who attend the school have been outwith a school setting prior to starting at the school due to not managing to attend local authority provision.

"To my understanding, no local authorities have put into place any provision for these children, indeed this population of young people will need extensive transition planning and ultimately the closure of the school will leave them, at least initially, outwith education.

"For my son I am sadly confident in saying this will result in his already fragile mental health deteriorating further and becoming withdrawn from the world around him."

She added: "In at least the immediate future it will result in parents being unable to work and having to care for children during the day.

"The consequences of this are devastating and far-reaching for such a vulnerable group of our society."

'A place of safety and care'

However, one former student contacted BBC Scotland claiming the school had been "out of control" while he was there.

The student, who withdrew himself from the school, said: "Violence was a daily occurrence.

"Learning and education were non-existent and the place was set up more to be the babysitter of both young people with learning or social difficulties along with young people with anger and violence issues."

However, the school has strongly rejected those claims.

Magnus Linklater, who is a governor at The New School Butterstone, told BBC Scotland: "This is completely untrue, the school is a place of safety and care, and always has been.

"We are inspected regularly and no allegation of this kind has ever been made to us.

"Both our academic and care reports have been consistently good during the 25 years of this school's existence."

Two dozen pupils

The presumption across Scotland is to try to provide support for children with additional support needs within mainstream schools.

Many councils also have their own specialist provision so any decision to send a child to a facility such as New School would not be taken lightly.

It is understood there were 24 pupils at the school.

Its website states: "We are accredited by the National Autistic Society and continually have success with young people who live with challenges such as Asperger syndrome, Autism spectrum conditions, ADHD, Tourette's syndrome and Foetal Alcohol syndrome.

"Our flexible approach allows us to work in partnership with local authorities to reintroduce long-term school refusers to the school environment at a pace which works best for all."

However, in an email to parents and carers, Sir Andrew Cubie, chairman of the school's board of governors, said: "It is with the heaviest heart that I write to advise you that after 25 years The New School Butterstone is to close".

He added: "Regrettably the combination of increased costs and a reduction of income exacerbated an already uncertain financial position and has left the school in a situation that is now financially unviable."

Education Secretary John Swinney, who is also the local MSP, said he would work with the school and public bodies to support those affected.

A recent report by Education Scotland inspectors warned of weaknesses in the school's systems for child protection.

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