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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Topical Question Time, Urgent Question, Best Start Grant (Implementation), Digital Industries, Business Motion, Committee Announcement, Decision Time, Offshore Wind Week 2018


Urgent Question

New School Butterstone (Closure)

To ask the Scottish Government what support it is providing to those affected by the announced closure of the New School Butterstone.

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (John Swinney)

The decision to close the New School Butterstone is an incredibly sad announcement. It is a very special school that I know very well and which is located in my constituency. Since its foundation by Veronica Linklater, inspired by her passion to design an educational setting that would meet the needs of vulnerable young people, the New School has made a significant contribution to the nurture and development of many young people across Scotland. The announcement is particularly sad for children and young people, the staff and the local community. The school’s board of governors has not reached the decision lightly and all concerned are working fully in the interests of the children and young people at the school.

Education Scotland convened a conference call with leaders from all the relevant local authorities after yesterday’s announcement. The local authorities affected have indicated that they are actively working to support the smooth transition of all children and young people who presently attend the New School into alternative provision. Her Majesty’s inspector attended the school yesterday and will remain there, along with representatives of the Care Inspectorate. Partnership action for continuing employment—PACE—support is also being made available to the staff at the school. Education Scotland will continue to liaise with the local authorities and the school and will ensure that appropriate support is put in place.

Murdo Fraser

I thank the cabinet secretary for that very comprehensive response. I know that he is aware of the shock and dismay among staff, pupils and the affected families who have young people at the school. They will be very anxious about finding alternative provision in the very short time that has been made available.

There are young people at the school from a variety of local authority areas. I understand that 14 families from Perth and Kinross are affected. Given the number of local families who have children placed at the school, is any specific assistance being offered to Perth and Kinross Council, in addition to the actions that the cabinet secretary has outlined?

John Swinney

Perth and Kinross Council obviously finds itself in a particularly intense position; the largest number of young people who are currently educated at the New School come from that local authority area and it is the host authority for the school and its wider provision. We have been in regular discussions with Perth and Kinross Council to provide the assistance that it requires. Indeed, the council has contributed significantly to the multi-agency team that has been at the New School to make sure that the support can be put in place, since it became clear that the announcement was going to be made yesterday.

The work that is under way—including a first summary conference call yesterday and another call at 6 o’clock this evening—is designed to focus very directly on the needs of every young person in order to make sure that they can be supported and educated properly, that their families are engaged with satisfactorily, and that they can have confidence in these arrangements. I accept and acknowledge the importance of that family confidence in the arrangements that are being put in place.

I assure Parliament of the intense work that is going on. That work is focused on the short-term educational requirements of the children and young people, but also on ensuring that the staff—many of whom have given many years of sustained devotion to the New School—are supported to deal with a very sad set of circumstances.

Murdo Fraser

Again, I thank the cabinet secretary for that response. He will be aware that many of the young people who were at the New School were previously in mainstream education in other state schools. Some of them were moved to the New School because of their educational needs. Is he satisfied that there are sufficient places available at specialist schools elsewhere to accommodate those young people so that they will not have to return to mainstream education, which may not be suitable for their needs?

John Swinney

The fundamental point is that no decision should be taken about the placement of a young person in an educational setting that is in any way inappropriate for their requirements. That is the test that must be passed for every young person who is affected in order to ensure that they are properly supported and that their families have confidence in the arrangements. That work is under way and different elements of provision are available. We need to go through a dialogue with individual parents to make sure that they have confidence in those arrangements. I assure Parliament that the work is actively under way and is engaging all the local authorities that are involved in the education and care of the young people at the school.

Iain Gray (East Lothian) (Lab)

Given the general reduction in the number of additional support needs specialist teachers in schools across Scotland, how will the Government ensure that any young person who moves from the New School into mainstream education will get the additional support that they need?

John Swinney

It goes without saying that educating a young person at the New School Butterstone is a more expensive educational provision than educating them in a mainstream setting. In a direct and blunt assessment of cost, the provision at the New School is more expensive than mainstream schooling, so for local authorities that are affected, resources can be reallocated to make sure that the test that I set out in my earlier answer to Murdo Fraser is passed. The decisions that will be made about the educational provision for young people will be made to address their circumstances—that must be the hard question that is asked in all those circumstances.

Mark McDonald (Aberdeen Donside) (Ind)

This afternoon, I spoke to a constituent whose son has a diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autistic spectrum disorder. The family visited Butterstone last month for a tour and to sample lessons. They were due to visit last Tuesday for a three-day, two-night assessment, which was called off at short notice—staff shortages were cited—and was due to be rescheduled for next week. The family are now questioning whether the gravity of the financial issues was known to the school when they were being shown round and prepared for assessment and, they hoped, placement. I recognise that the first priority will be to support the children who are currently accommodated at the school, but what support might be available for families such my constituents who were working towards placement but who now feel that they are back to square one?

John Swinney

I would be grateful if Mr McDonald would share with me the specific circumstances of that case, because I have another case, in which a young person had been accepted at the New School Butterstone and was due to commence education there this coming Monday. The arrangements will now be very different, as a consequence. If Mr McDonald shares those details with me, I will be happy to include them in the work that will be undertaken under Education Scotland’s co-ordination to make sure that the needs of every young person can be met in these circumstances.

It is no secret that the New School Butterstone was looking for new owners; the process was under way and the school was confident that new ownership would be secured to provide the leadership and direction that was required and enable the school to provide the educational facility that Mr McDonald’s constituents would want to see available. That arrangement has not been successful, which has precipitated the closure announcement. The circumstances are very regrettable, but I assure Mr McDonald that I will do all that I can to address the needs of his constituents in that respect.