‘Neglect, unexplained injuries’ at Hamilton School

Hamilton School in Aberdeen. Picture: Newsline Scotland
Hamilton School in Aberdeen. Picture: Newsline Scotland
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SCOTLAND’S care watchdog today revealed that inspectors had raised concerns about “child neglect and young children with unexplained injuries” at the nursery at a private school in Aberdeen which was closed on Friday on the orders of the Scottish Government.

This morning pupils from the independent Hamilton School arrived at the mothballed Braeside School in the city, reopened by Aberdeen City Council as an emergency measure following last week’s shock closure announcement.

Ministers demanded the immediate closure of Hamilton School in the city’s West End to ensure the safety of pupils after a damning report by Education inspectors raised serous concerns about the safety of children at the school.

The school announced at the weekend that the nursery would also close its doors on a voluntary basis

Today the Care Inspectorate, which is responsible for nursery education in Scotland, took the unusual step of making public its catalogue of concerns about the care of children at the nursery. The watchdog revealed that inspectors had identified 14 immediate issues of concern at the nursery and that the areas highlighted included concerns about the meals being provided for pupils, medication, support for children with additional needs, staff turnover, and leadership.

Annette Bruton, chief executive of the Care Inspectorate, said: “There were 14 immediate concerns raised by our inspection team when we visited the Hamilton School nursery.

“These were: medication; mealtimes; milk feeds; sleep arrangements; outdoor play; assessment of risk in the toilet area; engagement with children; support for children with additional needs; supporting children’s behaviour; toilet training and support with toileting; staff turnover and deployment; communication; planning for children’s interests and abilities; management and leadership.”

She added: “We stand ready to support other nurseries and childminders in Aberdeen seeking to expand, where it is safe to do so. Our urgent application to the court last Friday to close the nursery was necessary to protect the health, safety and wellbeing of young children who were not safe.

“The decision of the provider to close the nursery is, we believe - given the evidence we hold - in the best interests of children, although we know this makes it a very difficult time for parents and families.”

‘Intense public interest’

A Care Inspectorate spokesman said: “Because of the intense public interest in the case, and because the provider had signalled its intention to close the nursery with immediate effect, the Care Inspectorate has decided to share observations and current assessment of the Hamilton School Nursery as soon as possible, pending publication of a full inspection report. This is to ensure parents and those connected with the school have as much information as possible at this difficult time. The report states: “Since our inspection commenced on 7 February, we have continued to assist the police closely with their enquiries and have shared intelligence necessary to protect and safeguard children at the nursery, including information about child neglect and young children with unexplained injuries.

“On 21 February, the Care Inspectorate attended the nursery and inspectors were extremely concerned about the health, safety and wellbeing of young people. That afternoon, we applied to Aberdeen Sheriff Court for an emergency cancellation of the nursery’s registration under Section 65 of the Public Services Reform (Scotland) Act 2010.”

Meal time arrangements ‘poorly organised’

Outlining concerns about mealtimes at the nursery, the Care Inspectorate states: “Although the service had a catering team to prepare meals on the premises we did not see positive outcomes for children as a result. The arrangements to support children at meal times were poorly organised and were not planned to meet the needs of young children.

“We observed six children at a table, five of whom were approximately 14-16 months old and one was just 12 months. Five of these children were expected to feed themselves without staff support. We saw these children struggling to eat very hard crusty bread which was later thrown on the floor by some children.”

The report reveals: “Staff who were with children at lunch time were not always the ones who completed the records of what children had eaten. We saw one child, who had failed to eat anything at lunch, and when we looked at this record, the staff member had completed the form using the code “5” to indicate the child had eaten a full bowl. We were also told by a member of staff that sometimes children were hungry and would look for a second helping. They further advised that this was against the service policy, however on occasion, staff would give children additional food. We observed that the children were hungry and keen to eat their meal, however due to their age and lack of support from staff they were unable to eat a sufficient amount.”

Failure to engage with children

The inspectors continue: “It was of particular concern that throughout all areas of the nursery most staff failed to engage with children in a warm and caring manner. Staff were observed to look unhappy and disinterested. In particular, staff failed to demonstrate the expected level of nurturing and responsive care needed when working with young children and babies.

“We also observed staff looking over the heads of children, failing to make eye contact or speak warmly to children when engaged in caring tasks such as feeding young children. There were also examples of staff ignoring children who were in distress or appeared unhappy.

“One member of staff was seen to clap their hands in an aggressive manner to get children to cooperate with an activity. This was observed to cause distress to other children who covered their ears.”

According to the report, arrangements for staff to administer medication were also unsatisfactory. Children’s access to medication was poorly managed and the procedure in place was not in line with best practice.

It states: “The atmosphere in the nursery promoted a blame culture where staff were less likely to say when things had not worked so well, as they could be reprimanded. Two inspectors highlighted an issue in one room and were shocked to witness the members of staff being reprimanded by a member of the management team in front of children, staff and the inspectors. In addition to being demeaning to the members of staff, it is not acceptable to expose children to this type of negative behaviour.

“Staff told us that they were unable to control the children and that they were worried as to how this would be viewed by the management team. Generally staff were anxious about speaking with the inspectors and how this would be viewed by the management team.”

Lewis Macdonald, the North East Labour MSP, welcomed the publication of the statement of concerns by the Care Inspectorate. And he continued: “It is important that the complaints which have been made public are acted upon. The important thing in going forward is for full transparency to ensure that parents and all concerned are fully aware of all the issues.”

Earlier this month Kathlyn Taylor, 65, the school’s owner and principal, and a 25-year-old female employee at the school were charged with “criminal offences against children” and reported to the Procurator Fiscal following a Police investigation, launched after both the Care Inspectorate and Aberdeen City Council began looking into concerns raised over care at the private school which caters for children aged from three months to twelve years.

A Police Scotland spokesman said today: “Police Scotland can confirm that our enquiries into the Hamilton School in Aberdeen are continuing. Officers at Police Scotland continue to work closely with partners including the Care Inspectorate and Education Scotland.”

He added: “Any concerned parents of children at the school can contact the Care Inspectorate on 0845 600 9527. Alternatively, Aberdeen City Council has offered to provide support and information to any parent affected on 01224-814828.”

• View the Statement of Concern here (PDF) >>>