The Principal of Bradstow residential school, in Broadstairs, says there has been no public consultation or discussion over selling the site despite it appearing on an internal Wandsworth council document under a potential asset sale list.
The school and residential home, for children aged between 5-19 years, with severe intellectual disabilities who are on the autistic spectrum continuum, is maintained by the London Borough of Wandsworth .
An internal document drawn up by consultants and focusing on asset management at the authority listed potential sale of several properties including Bradstow School.
The document was revealed by the South London Press after it was discovered by Councillor Peter Graham, from Wandsworth council’s Conservative opposition.
Cllr Graham told the South London Press that despite the document being ‘internal’ it had taken more than a year to put together and cost some £22,000 in consultant fees.
The London council’s asset plan was discussed by members of the finance committee last November but did not include copies of the consultant’s report. That came to light after Cllr Graham asked to see the background papers.
Minutes from the finance meeting state: “A Member of the Committee noted a CIPFA report developed with the Council that related to the paper and raised concern that it should have been listed as a background paper.
“Officers advised that CIPFA had been commissioned to provide advice and support to the Council in development of the strategy. It was confirmed that the paper included on the agenda was the asset management strategy for the Committee’s consideration, not the more detailed internal report produced by CIPFA.
“The Cabinet Member for Finance confirmed that she had seen the internal report.”
Councillors were told more details would be developed and considered in due course.
‘Secure provision in the future’
The news has raised concerns amongst staff and parents with children at the residential school in Dumpton Park Drive
Principal Penny Doswell said: “I understand that this may have caused parents and staff to worry, from my reading of the information this was an internal document and there has been no public consultation or discussion about selling Bradstow.
“I am in regular communication with Wandsworth Council, who continue to offer support to drive improvements in our shared commitment to provide high quality education and care to children. This process includes ongoing review of delivery and governance to secure provision into the future.”
Ms Doswell has sent a communication to parents which she says she hopes will reassure them.
Cllr Kate Stock, Cabinet Member for Children at Wandsworth Council, added: “Bradstow is an incredibly special and in many ways unique provision, which we are proud to have in our family of schools.
“Whilst we need to -across all our schools- continuously review and plan for the future we know that there is great and growing need across the country for places like Bradstow, and we have a continued commitment to keeping Bradstow as an outstanding provision across education and care, offering the best opportunities for all young people it serves now and in the future.”
Social care provision
The ‘sale’ worry comes on the heels of Ofsted inspections of social care provision at Bradstow School that initially resulted in a restriction of accommodation notice, preventing further children from being admitted to the home.
That restriction has now been lifted after a follow-up inspection in December but a rating of ‘requires improvement to be good’ remains. This applies to the residential operations, the education provision at the school has been rated Outstanding by Ofsted.
The latest Ofsted inspection for the social care provision says Bradstow provides care for up to 40 children with autism spectrum disorder, learning disabilities and associated conditions.
The home is on the same site as the organisation’s school and is comprised of separate houses so that children live in small groups. It accommodates children for short breaks and for placements of 38 weeks of the year. There were 37 children living in the home at the time of the last inspection.
There has been no registered manager since 31 August 2023, however an interim manager has recently been appointed.
Main issues raised in the September inspection were a lack of management oversight regarding behaviour and physical interventions and stretched staffing due to people leaving and high levels of sickness.
The follow up report after a reinspection in December says: “Leaders and managers have made progress in recruiting new staff and are looking at ways to improve conditions to improve retention.
“Staff are positive about the support that they get from managers and report that they feel there are enough staff to meet the children’s needs. There are contingency plans and capacity to provide extra cover when this is needed to cover sickness or unexpected needs.
“Following a significant restructuring of the staffing deployment, leaders and managers are working together to improve consistency of care so that all houses have a core team of permanent staff and that most agency staff are long term and are well known to the service and the children.”
However, the report says more consistency is needed in approaches to behaviour incidents and physical interventions.
A number of recommendations were made to be complied with by this month, including reviewing health guidance to staff; within 24 hours of the use of a measure of control, discipline or restraint in relation to a child in the home, a correct record must be made and staff must take effective action whenever there is a serious concern about a child’s welfare and make sure ensure that any concerns are investigated promptly.
Parents have complained about a lack of communication from the school, with that issue also included in one upheld formal complaint.
School governors have suggested Bradstow reviews how it communicates with parents and carers so they feel listened to when concerns are raised.
Outstanding education provision
The most recent Ofsted inspection of the school – education provision- took place last June and an Outstanding rating was given.
The report noted: “Leaders understand the needs of pupils at this school extremely well. They have designed a curriculum that is relevant and responsive to individuals’ needs. Much of the teaching takes place in small groups. Pupils also learn much in the time they spend with their individual support staff, mostly on a one-to-one basis.
“Classroom visits showed staff to be knowledgeable about pupils and what support is needed to secure their learning. Staff, including those who deliver a range of therapies, have a wide range of knowledge and understanding, which they put to good use. Some have additional expertise that provides pupils with experiences beyond the norm.
“Dropping in on a ‘weekly library session’ sounded slightly dull before the lead inspector put his head around the door. The library includes an interactive story room. This proved to be a riot of high drama and gleeful participation as staff delighted pupils with tales of Traction Man and a galactic bus. Not quite the story time that was expected, pupils came to life in this sensory session, where light, sound, wind and water served as props in a performance that would grace any professional theatre.”
One parent said they fear that with “a financial deficit, the recent restructure and now this document hinting at the potential sale of the site” there could be a huge impact similar to the demise of the Royal School for the Deaf in Margate “if action is not taken immediately.”
The parent says the unannounced Ofsted social care inspection resulted in a report that “is a scary read” and questioned what the school inspection would have been graded if it wasn’t pre-arranged.
The parent added: “The school management team and staff are as described in the Ofsted report for school side as good communicators. In fact they are appalling at actually answering any concerns parent / carers have and promptly redirect the conversation or questioning to their way of thinking, and deflect us from requestioning. This is the same for care students and day students alike.”
The parent says staff have left and there has been disciplinary action due to time off sick and they are concerned at a lack of debrief after serious incidents.
They added: “Many parents have just not returned their child / children because they feel it is best for their own safety even if this leaves them in crisis. I feel Bradstow has lost the community spirit it once had.”