‘Students deserve better’ - Parents and former staff criticise special school leadership

Matthew and Suzanne Staines with their daughter, Isabelle, who was injured twice in one week at scho

Matthew and Suzanne Staines with their daughter, Isabelle, who was injured twice in one week at school Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

Fresh concerns have been raised about a Suffolk special school after reports of vulnerable pupils suffering unexplained injuries.

Gordon Jones,
Suffolk County Council cabinet member for childrens services, education and skills P

Gordon Jones, Suffolk County Council cabinet member for childrens services, education and skills Picture: SIMON LEE PHOTOGRAPHY - Credit: Archant

Parents and former staff members have criticised the leadership of Riverwalk School in Bury St Edmunds following a recent story in this newspaper about safeguarding concerns.

The story featured comments from Matthew Staines, whose 15-year-old daughter Isabelle attends the school and suffered two accidents in a week, including a trip to A&E. Mr Staines criticised funding cuts which he said had affected staffing levels.

Since then, two former staff have contacted this newspaper to back Mr Staines’ comments.

Speaking anonymously, one said class sizes had grown “so much bigger” in recent years.

“There are some fantastic teachers and amazing teaching assistants at Riverwalk,” they said. “Unfortunately, in lots of cases, they don’t feel supported by the leadership team. They don’t feel their concerns are taken seriously and they’re not listened to. Many staff feel undervalued and put upon. Colleagues that I still speak to are unhappy even now. They do the best they can for the students in increasingly difficult circumstances.”

Another former staff member said they feared concerns were not being addressed.

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“While I worked at the school we were consistently understaffed,” they said. “Communication was poor when I started and worse when I left. I am in agreement with Matthew Staines that underfunding plays a huge part in these concerns. The students deserve better as they are vulnerable children who have touched my heart in ways I have never thought possible.”

The school also responded to the story, with a letter to parents saying they were “saddened” by its claims, adding that staff were “very hardworking and caring”. It said the school took safeguarding “extremely seriously”.

One parent criticised the letter saying it would have been better to reassure parents that concerns would be taken seriously. The parent, who also asked to remain anonymous, said families were concerned staff were not communicating important information about pupils and allowing children to go home with unexplained bruises, or in a “very dirty” condition, They called for more teaching assistants, a school nurse on site and for parents’ concerns to be taken seriously.

‘We are aware of the concerns’

Suffolk County Council, which is responsible for the school, said it had been made aware of the concerns.

Councillor Gordon Jones, who is Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for education and skills said the safety and wellbeing of children at Riverwalk School “is a key priority for us”.

“We are aware of the concerns that have been raised and I have recently met with parents to understand their views,” Mr Jones said.

“We are providing specific support to individual families where this is needed, as well as taking wider action in the best interests of the children at the school.

“We have already begun a review of current practices with the headteacher and alongside this an independent safeguarding review is arranged to take place during this term.

“Parents will be invited to contribute to this.”

The latest Ofsted inspection, carried out in October 2016, found the school to be “good” in all areas.

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