Heart of the Forest: Gloucestershire SEND school safety concerns raised | #schoolsaftey

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The allegations have been made about Heart of the Forest school in Coleford

Safety concerns and allegations of bullying are being raised by parents, ex-staff and a former governor at a Special Education Needs (SEND) school.

More than 60 people signed an open letter to the council calling for an investigation into the Heart of the Forest school in Coleford.

Complaints include pupils coming home with bruises, missing teeth, and being forced to sit in soiled underwear.

The school said safeguarding students was a “top priority”.

In the letter, the group said they had “grave concerns” the school was putting the “safety of children at risk”, leaving them “too scared to go into school”.

Sam took his autistic and non-verbal daughter out of the school in December after a number of “worrying incidents”.

He claimed she came home with bruises on her face which the school could not explain or provide incident reports for.

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A group of more than 60 people signed an open letter to the council calling for an investigation

The father-of-three also claimed his daughter was not being fed, was left to sit in soiled underwear and came home missing her two front teeth, which was again not explained.

Things came to a head in December when he said an “unexplained incident” took place.

“I’ve never seen her so upset in her life,” he said.

“One of the things that will stick in my mind the most is when I brought her home from school after she was upset she hugged on to me tight and she very clearly said, ‘thank you daddy’.

“You can imagine how emotional that was.”

‘The scariest part’

Kathleen said her eight-year-old autistic son went missing from his classroom in 2019, making his way over a mile from the school on to a busy road and was almost knocked over by a bin lorry.

She said staff only became aware of his absence when a member of the public went in to the school reception, and, in her words “all hell broke loose”.

Kathleen claimed staff did not tell her about her son’s absence until the end of the school day and did not fully explain what had happened, leaving her to find out key details from Facebook.

“Nobody even knew he had gone, that’s the scariest part,” she said.

Parents, ex-members of staff and a former governor were all signatories of the letter that said safety at the school started to be compromised in 2018, when head teacher Stephanie Withington took over.”

They claim this coincided with the school becoming increasingly closed off to parents.

‘Staff follow procedures’

Heart of the Forest School was rated ‘good’ by Ofsted at its last full inspection in 2012.

The schools regulator visited the site in May for an ‘ungraded inspection’, and in a report released this week, inspectors said there has been no change to the school’s overall judgement, but the evidence gathered suggests the “grade might not be as high if a graded inspection were carried out”.

In a statement, Miles Johansen, chair of governors at Heart of the Forest, said “safeguarding students is always the school’s top priority”, and “teaching staff follow well-established procedures” when incidents do occur.

“We will continue to work with Gloucestershire County Council to review our response to a situation so we can continue to refine our approach,” he said.

“We welcome feedback from parents and would urge them to raise any concerns with us so they can be looked into accordingly.”

Gloucestershire County Council confirmed it had received the letter and a spokesperson said it “takes the allegations seriously”.

“We will carefully consider the issues raised and work with the school where appropriate,” they added.

“It’s important for us to understand the full picture before assessing whether any further measures are required or appropriate.”

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