Help us to Keep The Lights On for another decade! Back the Cable
The Bristol Cable

Exclusive: Special needs school to close amid police probe into care home

St Christopher’s residential home closed last year amid a child cruelty investigation. Now the much-criticised day school will shut its doors in March.

Reports

A special needs school in Bristol is to close just months after the connected residential home was shut down amid a police investigation into child cruelty allegations, the Cable can reveal.

Grace House School, more commonly known as St Christopher’s, which is run by private healthcare provider The Aurora Group, is to shut at the end of March. The closure of the school in Westbury Park means children with severe and complex learning difficulties and disabilities will have to be relocated. 

In July 2019, the residential part of St Christopher’s closed down and a number of staff were suspended after Ofsted discovered serious safeguarding concerns and the police launched an investigation into child cruelty. Grace House School remained open. 

An Ofsted inspection of the home just before it closed found children being restrained inappropriately, an over-reliance on agency staff, poor record keeping, insufficient training and supervision of staff. Ofsted blamed poor management for the systemic failings, which had not been addressed since being identified at previous inspections, and were putting children at risk.

The Aurora Group runs multiple special schools and care homes around the country, including one other school just outside Bristol. It is owned by Octopus Capital Limited, an investment fund that manages £8.3bn in assets for clients as well as generating income from other sources. Overall in 2019, Octopus was paid £37m for education and care services like those at St Christopher’s. 

Grace House School cited a “falling school roll” as a reason for the closure. Currently there are only seven pupils enrolled there, compared with 28 just over a year ago – a possible sign that local councils have lost the trust required to place children with high needs there. It costs Bristol City Council about £100,000 a year to send a child to the school. 

A spokesperson for Avon and Somerset Police said their investigation into child cruelty was continuing, but that no arrests had been made at this stage.

Unlearnt lessons

Concerns about St Christopher’s had been raised by the regulator for years since Aurora took over in 2016. The care home was rated inadequate in 2018. 

In the space of just three years, the school also received three damning reports from Ofsted. It was rated as Requires Improvement in 2017 and 2018. In October, an emergency inspection was called amid safety concerns relating to the residential home. 

The emergency report said school leaders were not keeping pupils safe, due to a lack of oversight over safeguarding, insufficient safeguarding processes, concerns about pupils not being recorded in sufficient detail, and concerns not always being reported to the right agencies quickly enough.

Ofsted also found recruitment processes weren’t robust enough. Some staff did not have an enhanced DBS check.

The regulator said the school’s owners had invested in the premises and facilities but hadn’t acted on recommendations from consultants on how to make the premises safe for pupils. It was reported that there was poor oversight and confusion about roles, with management relying on external support.

A spokesperson for Grace House School told the Cable: “We are very sorry for the young people, their families and the dedicated staff that there is no realistic alternative to closing Grace House School at the end of the school term on 27 March 2020.

“We will do all that we can prior to the school’s closure date to support the young people, their families and our staff at this difficult time.

“We kept the school open for as long as we possibly could while we tried to find a way to secure its future. There are sadly too many challenges for the school to continue including a falling school roll and the constraints of managing and operating a newly listed school building in a city-centre location.”

Bristol City Council has placed children at the school. A spokesperson said: “Bristol City Council has been involved in supportive measures, including working with the school, attendance on a partnership board with all placing authorities and following guidance from Ofsted.’’

This is far from the full story and we’ll be continuing to investigate what happened at St Christopher’s in the coming months. 

Affected by this, or know someone who has? We’re looking to speak to families, former workers and experts in children’s social care. Get in touch by emailing: matty@thebristolcable.org.

Join 2,500 Cable members redefining local media

Your support will help the Cable grow, deepening our connections in the city and investigating the issues that matter most in our communities.

Join now

What makes us different?

Comments

Report a comment. Comments are moderated according to our Comment Policy.

  • Can I ask that you educate yourselves in terminology or reach out to respectable professionals when creating such Articles. It is complex Learning DISABILITES not difficulties. Difficulties is a educational term like Dyslexia where individuals do not need specials care etc to support their Activity of Daily Living etc

    Thanks in advance
    Katie RNLD

    Reply

Post a comment

Mark if this comment is from the author of the article

By posting a comment you agree to our Comment Policy.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Related content

Campaigners say St Paul’s dentist could have reopened sooner, after enquiry went unanswered

NHS denies busy surgery where thousands queued could have stayed open, but residents' group leaders call for more transparency.

Listen: The Debrief, digging deeper into revelations of institutional racism at a local NHS trust

Priyanka Raval discusses the inside story of her recent investigation into racism in health services, and what it says about the state of the NHS, with Cable colleague Matty Edwards.

‘The most liberating feeling’: how an ADHD diagnosis changed one Bristol business owner’s life

After her own personal journey, Lisa Whitehouse is determined to spread awareness and help others through her work.

Whistleblowers reveal institutional racism at local NHS trust

A Cable investigation spanning months has uncovered that complaints of institutional racism at University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Trust went unheard, despite promises from management to tackle the issue.

Listen: Bristol Unpacked with BBC journalist Lucy Proctor on mad cows, Covid and conspiracy theories

Thirty years ago, BSE was spreading across the UK while the government insisted beef was safe. Neil asks Lucy, producer of The Cows are Mad podcast, about the scandal – and how conspiracy theories have thrived as trust in the establishment has nosedived.

Scotland will open the UK’s first safer drug consumption facility – Bristol should be next

Glasgow, where the UK’s drug death crisis is worst, has overcome opposition from Westminster to open a potentially life-saving overdose prevention centre. What does this mean for other cities wanting to tackle drug-related harms?

Join our newsletter

Get the essential stories you won’t find anywhere else

Subscribe to the Cable newsletter to get our weekly round-up direct to your inbox every Saturday

Join our newsletter

Subscribe to the Cable newsletter

Get our latest stories & essential Bristol news
sent to your inbox every Saturday morning