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Children left in limbo after Butterstone school closure

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The New School Butterstone closed with just four days notice last November

More than 20 children with autism and anxiety have been left without educational provision, nearly two months after their old school closed.

Parents were given four days notice that New School Butterstone in Perth and Kinross would shut in November.

The school for pupils who struggle in mainstream classes was unable to continue after a buyer withdrew.

Perth and Kinross Council said it was preparing a currently disused primary school as an alternative.

New School Butterstone, near Dunkeld, was an independent school offering both boarding and day schooling, but almost all of its pupils were paid for by local authorities.

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Parents said the school, in rural Perthshire, offered a “quiet, safe space” for children prone to anxiety

Some of the parents fought tribunal battles to secure funding for places, after their children were unable to cope with mainstream education.

But the school faced financial pressures, and governors announced its closure in late November after a potential buyer, the Witherslack Group, pulled out.

A group representing Butterstone parents said almost all the 24 pupils affected were still without arrangements for schooling.

‘Everything has been snatched away from me’

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Duncan feels he was making real progress before his school closed

Eight weeks after Butterstone closed, Duncan spends most days in his bedroom.

Three years ago, he appeared in a BBC documentary, describing how the “calm” environment and dedicated teaching staff were transforming his life.

Having previously missed a year of education through exclusions and other problems, at Butterstone he had a 100% attendance record.

“I was doing things at that school, I was getting things sorted out.

“It’s like they’ve pulled everything away from me. Everything you had has been snatched away.

“Progressing in life, it’s taking your life away.”

Thirteen of the pupils live in the Perth and Kinross Council area, and the authority has offered to educate them at the mothballed Forteviot Primary School.

Alternative options include home schooling or to make a placing request at another independent school.

But parents have claimed the Forteviot building is unsuitable, and a poor substitute for the care their children received at Butterstone.

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Susan Briggs says Butterstone’s former pupils have been badly let down

Parents group joint chairwoman Susan Briggs said: “That plan has had no input from the parents. It hasn’t taken our views or the children’s views into account.

“The building is near a road and a railway line, which we have concerns about. And we know nothing about the staff who would be employed there.”

She wants the council or Scottish government to provide support to allow Butterstone to re-open, at least as an interim measure.

“The children have been badly let down. They’ve not been listened to. Their rights have not been met,” she added.

“For the past two months they’ve been sitting at home. That’s no good for them, their mental health is suffering.

“They’re isolated, they’re lonely and there’s been nothing put in place.”

The Office of the Children and Young Person’s Commissioner has raised concerns about the lack of arrangements for the children.

Head of advice and investigations Nick Hobbs said: “It is essential that appropriate educational provision is made available for these children to ensure that their human rights are respected and that they are able to achieve their fullest potential.”

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The council is preparing the old Forteviot Primary School as an alternative

A spokesperson for Perth and Kinross Council, said: “Following the board of governors’ decision to close The New School Butterstone at short notice late last year, we have been working with individual young people and their families to find the most suitable education and care provision which best meets their needs.

“Providing an educational base at the Forteviot Primary School building is part of the longer term interim arrangements being offered to families.

“Other options include making a placing request to an alternative school, such as an independent or residential school, or supporting home education, if either of these options were considered most appropriate for the individual young people.”

Inquiry call

The Butterstone parents and former staff have also called for an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the sudden closure of the school, which had previously been described by Education Secretary John Swinney as “exemplary”.

Recent inspection reports had highlighted some areas for improvement, mainly in care plans and the supervision of IT use – but also noted that pupils felt safe and were achieving positive educational outcomes.

However, just weeks before the school closed, a complaint prompted the Care Inspectorate to raise concerns about child protection policies.

The head of school was suspended but later cleared of wrongdoing and reinstated. It is unclear if these events were a factor in the sudden withdrawal of the company that had planned to take over the school.

Minutes of a Butterstone governors’ meeting days before it closed reveal they asked Perth and Kinross Council for short-term help to remain operating while alternative arrangements were made for the pupils.

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