Council managers have faced questions over whether more could have been done to prevent ‘horrendous’ treatment of children at a special needs school near Ravenshead which was later forced to close by inspectors.
The Harlow Academy, which was rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted, was shut in August 2022.
It followed a number of “serious safeguarding matters” being found during a visit by the education watchdog, which said pupils were not being kept safe and were at risk of “immediate and imminent harm”.
At the time the school had 79 pupils, aged three to 18, with severe learning difficulties, physical disabilities and complex medical needs.
The school, which was run by the Evolve Trust, was closed down following the concerns. The building has since re-opened as Fountaindale School, under a different trust.
The events were discussed by a committee at Nottinghamshire County Council on Monday (October 16), which led some members to ask council officers why more was not done before Ofsted intervened.
The council’s director of children’s services said neither they nor Ofsted had been able to specifically identify any child exposed to what would be considered serious harm.
A review into the situation by Dr Mark Peel has since been completed, which led to a report published in June.
The review concluded there is “considerable hurt and anger in the parent and carer community about what has happened”.
The report found during the autumn 2021 term, there were 20 incidents of concern reported about care at the school.
These were lodged by staff at Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, which oversees care for people with intellectual disability and mental health problems.
The concerns included inappropriate use of restraint, failure to provide equipment and poor management.
The review concluded Nottinghamshire County Council, the healthcare trust and Nottinghamshire Clinical Commissioning Group did not put a process in place to address the safeguarding concerns.
The situation was discussed by county councillors at a children and young people’s committee on Monday (October 16).
One councillor questioned why a ‘serious incident notification’ was not raised with Ofsted before the closure.
A serious incident notification is raised when a child dies or is seriously harmed.
Another councillor said there was a “culture of bullying” within the school and said some children suffered from abuse.
Cllr Anne Callaghan (Lab) said: “The physiotherapists and the speech therapists, pulled out of Harlow Academy because of what was going on.
“The county council knew, so why wasn’t a serious incident notification raised?
“The report doesn’t reflect the seriousness of what took place at Harlow Academy to some of our most vulnerable youngsters.”
But Lawrence Jones, Service Director, Children and Families, said: “We could not identify a child who had been seriously harmed and Ofsted did not notify us of a child who had been seriously harmed.
“Arguably, children may have been harmed, the question is around the question of seriousness.
“We treated the issues regarding Harlow as if a serious incident notification had been made.”
Cllr Callaghan replied: “In over 30 years working for Nottinghamshire County Council, I never come across a school where Ofsted came and within five minutes closed that school down.
“There obviously were serious issues.”
Cllr Michelle Welsh (Lab) told the committee that she had met some parents from Harlow Academy.
She said one child was left in their wheelchair all day when they were supposed to be having physiotherapy – and has now been left with long-term complications.
She said: “What those kids went through was utterly horrendous.
“It went on for far too long. I’ve never known Ofsted to go in and virtually shut down a school straight away.
“How many complaints were made to the county council? Did we visit the school when we received a complaint?
“Are we reassured that in the future, if someone makes a safeguarding complaint that we as a local authority will do something?
“What are we doing now for some of those families and parents and children who suffered? I would say some of it was abuse.
“Surely alarm bells would start ringing when the NHS pulled their therapies from that school because of a culture of bullying.”
Colin Pettigrew, Corporate Director, Children and Families, said: “The chronology, who knew what when, and how parents and carers were supported is all subject to a report in the public domain that was published in June of this year.
“That report was shared with all the parents and carers.
“Harlow was being led by the Evolve trust which has been closed down.
“The schools that the Evolve trust were responsible for managing have all been transferred to alternative providers.”
Tracey Taylor, cabinet member for children and families, (Con) said: “Much as the Harlow example has been horrendous, the benefit that has come out of the report is that it has identified our problems that could exist anywhere else in the country.
“I take the recommendations from the independent report as a huge benefit.”