Improve or close - threat to school

Donaldson's School for the deaf in Linlithgow. Pic by Lisa Ferguson
Donaldson's School for the deaf in Linlithgow. Pic by Lisa Ferguson

Donaldson’s School is in crisis as a senior member of staff is suspended, authorities make an unnanounced inspection and police investigate allegations of sexual offences.

Scotland’s national school for pupils who are deaf or have communication difficulties has been rocked by scandal recently and this latest crisis threatens to close the school down.

A notice served under section 66C of the Education Scotland Act 1980 was served on the school.

This is the first time such a notice has been served on a school in Scotland in more than 15 years.

According to sources the staff member was suspended from her post last week, triggering a police investigation and the snap inspection of the school.

The school has refused to confirm the nature of the allegation received against the individual but, in line with due process, says it suspended her pending a full investigation.

Laura Battles, principal, said: “It is not possible for us to discuss this matter in detail. We are working with Education Scotland, the Care Inspectorate and Police Scotland. The safety and well-being of our pupils will always remain a priority for the school.”

Local Linlithgow MSP Fiona Hyslop said: “I am very concerned regarding the situation at Donaldson’s School in Linlithgow. I have sought and received an urgent briefing from Michael Russell, the Education Secretary.

“The welfare of the children currently attending Donaldson’s has to be the immediate concern and I am reassured that Education Scotland have taken the required steps. This is the first time in 15 years that a notice under Section 66c of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 has been issued.

“I will be asking questions about the board and governance arrangements and what oversight they have had in relation to improvements which should have taken place since the HMIE inspection in December 2013 and the follow up inspection in May 2014.

“It has been clear from inspections that the nursery at Donaldson’s has been operating at an effective and high standard.”

MP, Michael Connarty commented: “It would be an absolute tragedy if Donaldsons were to close, so I think it’s about time that the government stepped in and take a direct interventive approach, event if it’s only in the short term. The school is seriously underfunded after the sale of their previous home in Edinburgh fell through as a result of the recession.

“This is a very traumatic time indeed for both pupils and parents with the threat of closure hanging over them. The Donaldsons experience is irreplaceable, however the whole organisation needs to be more open to public inspection and scrutiny. It comes across as being a very secretive organisation the moment anyone starts asking difficult questions.”

In August 2013, the board of Donaldson’s School took the unusual step of suspending Janice MacNeill, chief executive, and Mary O’Brien, the head teacher, to establish whether correct procedures were followed in a case dating back to 2009.

When the board was alerted, the member of staff was suspended and police were contacted.

The board of governors then began an investigation into why appropriate action was not taken sooner.