Advertisement

  1. ITV Report

Family wins funding to investigate closure of special needs school

Ofsted closed St Christopher's School in Westbury Park in July. Credit: ITV News

The parents of a teenager who was forced to leave a specialist school that supports children with severe autism in Bristol are investigating whether they can sue the education watchdog.

Ofsted closed St Christopher's School in Westbury Park in July after concerns about safeguarding.

At the time, Avon and Somerset Police confirmed it was investigating "allegations of child cruelty offences."

Within hours of the closure, parents were called to pick up their children and either take them home, or to take them to an alternative suitable placement.

Kevin's son Jonah has been a resident at St Christopher's for the past six years.

Unfortunately the nearest alternative placement that's been found for Jonah is almost a hundred miles away and there's little availability.

Kevin says Jonah might have to stay at home for the next six months. He says this is having a huge impact on his development.

Following the closure, Kevin sought legal advise from Bindmans LLP, who said:

"We have been instructed by the parents to advise on the lawfulness of the actions and decisions that led to the sudden closure of the residential unit at St Christopher’s. The Maxwells have been granted a legal aid certificate which will allow them to investigate any potential claims in respect of that sudden closure."

Kevin says the closure has been difficult for Jonah's development. Credit: ITV News

The Aurora Group which runs the school says:

Everyone at the Aurora Group is saddened by the closure of the children’s home at St Christopher’s School.

We had committed investment, a redesign of the site, a new management team and a transformation plan as part of our planned improvements for the children's home but following Ofsted’s service of a suspension notice on 29th July, we had no option but to close the home and to support the young people to leave at short notice.

We continue to do all that we can to support the young people, their families and staff during this difficult time.

– Aurora Group spokesperson

While this investigation will be looking at all parties involved in the decision to close the residential unit at the school, Kevin says Ofsted should be held to account.

A spokesperson from Ofsted says:

We are confident that we took the correct decision in this case. That is because in July we were made aware of new significant concerns about child cruelty, which now form part of a major ongoing police investigation. We only take such decisions to suspend children’s homes registrations when there is a reasonable belief that any children may be at risk of harm – this test is set out in law. The decision was also taken after strategy meetings with other agencies, which shared our concerns.

We understand the distress this caused to the families involved, but it is important that we take swift action where we have serious concerns about children’s safety. When children’s homes close it is up to local authorities to find suitable accommodation for children in care, and we always work with them during this process.

To put this into context, St Christopher’s School has been inspected seven times since it was registered in 2016 and it has never been graded better than ‘requires improvement’. In June, it was inspected and judged to be inadequate for a second consecutive time. Following this inspection we took steps to restrict more placements at the home and served a notice of proposal to cancel registration.

– Ofsted spokesperson

In a statement, Ofsted added: "Following the decision to suspend, St Christopher’s School did not appeal the decision and chose to voluntarily cancel its registration."

Watch the full report here: