Police inquiry at Dunstable’s Ardley Hill Academy after parents slam school’s autism unit

A Dunstable school’s autism unit has been slammed by parents, who claim a child was “thrown” to the floor by a member of staff.

Ardley Hill Academy, Lowther Road, has come under fire from parents, who have written to Andrew Selous MP with a number of safeguarding concerns about the school.

Ardley Hill Academy

Ardley Hill Academy

Some of the parents have children who attend its unit, a class which caters for children with autistic spectrum disorder, and say that over the last few weeks things have “come to a head”, with the council recently conducting a safeguarding investigation and Bedfordshire Police also investigating the allegation of assault.

In the letter to Andrew Selous, it is claimed: “Parents of the children in the Autism Provision have had concerns about the unit for a long time, both in terms of its safety and effectiveness.

“A safeguarding investigation was started when parents raised concerns about the fact that staff were shutting the children in a tiny room - known by the children as ‘the cupboard of hell’.

“They were doing this when the children were having a meltdown. This action only escalated their anxiety and frankly, has probably psychologically damaged all of them.

“One parent removed their son from the school on November 21, when the child had to be locked in an office all afternoon for his own safety.

“Since then another parent had a call from the school safeguarding officer on November 30. She was told that two days earlier, on November 28, that her son had been thrown to the floor by a member of staff and hit his head. The member of staff has been suspended and the police are involved.

“They don’t get any specialist support because they are supposed to be a specialist unit who know what they’re doing.”

The letter also lists ‘general safeguarding concerns’, with claims including: children are locking themselves in the ‘calming room’ where teachers can’t reach them, and key fobs are being taken by the children to exit and enter classrooms.

The parents listed ‘general SEND concerns’, with claims including: some parents do not receive reports after an exclusion, and that school staff members do not notify parents about incidents quickly enough.

The letter also alleged that worrying “incidents” happen on a daily basis; for example, it claimed that a child was “strangled and hit by another child” and that the staff were unaware until the injured child ran inside to seek help.

In April 2018 Ardley Hill Academy was given a rating of ‘Requires Improvement’ by Ofsted, but parents say they were disappointed that it did not find fault with the unit.

Although Ardley Hill is an academy and run independently from the council, the parents claimed that they were upset that Central Bedfordshire Council’s SEND team, which works alongside the school, had not inspected the unit since it opened two years ago.

Headteacher Jonathan Smith, said: “The safety and well-being of pupils is of paramount importance to us at Ardley Hill Academy. We take any accusations of misconduct by staff extremely seriously and will always act swiftly and in accordance with policy.

“We recognise that there were some issues in the autistic provision and that we needed to improve. We welcomed the support and advice of the local authority and have acted immediately on all of their recommendations.

“We will continue to work with the local authority and parents to keep improving the provision so that it is a place we can all be proud of.”

A Central Bedfordshire Council spokeswoman, said: “We have listened to the concerns of parents and thoroughly investigated these. We have worked closely with the school to make immediate changes and will continue to work with them and monitor the provision.”

Commenting on the claim that a child was thrown to the floor by a member of staff (Nov 28), a Bedfordshire Police spokeswoman, said: “We are investigating an allegation of assault and enquiries are ongoing.”

Andrew Selous MP, said: “My role is to take up the concerns which parents bring to me and I immediately contacted Sue Harrison, director of children’s services for Central Bedfordshire Council.

“I have read carefully what the parents have said and very much understand their concerns and want to do everything I can to make sure their children have provision that they are happy with and that it is appropriate and working well for the children.

“I will look at the formal council investigation very carefully and I hope it will address the parents’ concerns. If it doesn’t, I will take up further concerns with CBC and Ardley Hill itself.”