Havering Council monitoring taxpayer-funded special school after police calls, escapes and ‘necrophilia book’ scandal

Ofsted inspectors returned to The Anderson School in Chigwell in March. Picture: Steve Hickey/NAS

Ofsted inspectors returned to The Anderson School in Chigwell in March. Picture: Steve Hickey/NAS - Credit: Archant

Havering Council has refused to say whether it will continue to fund placements at a complaints-battered special school that costs more than Eton.

The Anderson School in Chigwell was opened in September 2017 by charity the National Autistic Society (NAS).

It said it would offer a specialist environment for 50 secondary pupils with high-functioning autism, to get GCSEs.

Councils across east London and Essex pay the NAS £42,000 a year for every pupil, rising to around £75,000 with ‘extras’ such as one-to-one teaching and therapy.

But up to 20 youngsters, many of whom have nowhere else to go, have been removed or pulled out by parents in two years amid a catalogue of allegations.

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In November 2019 Ofsted conducted an emergency inspection and found The Anderson School was failing to meet crucial standards.

Inspectors wrote: “Too often, concerns about safeguarding are not dealt with effectively. Weak procedures limit leaders’ ability to deal effectively with the safeguarding issues that they face.”

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The NAS said it accepted the failings and was “committed” to putting things right.

Havering Council refused to comment on whether it was still paying for placements at the school, where others such as Newham and Essex County Council have stopped.

Between September 2017 and November 2019 Havering paid a grand total of £650,314 to NAS Services Limited, the educational trading arm of the NAS.

A council spokeswoman said: “We have a small number of pupils at the school and are aware of the Ofsted inspection.

“We have regularly met with the children and families to check on the support they receive and what progress is being made.”

Parents who spoke to the Recorder claimed police were routinely being called to the site to deal with disturbances.

Youngsters with autism have been able to escape into Luxborough Lane, parents claimed, where a bridge passes over the M11, and also to climb onto the roof of the purpose-built site.

They also claimed students had been locked in rooms for hours by allegedly untrained staff for their own safety, and abandoned on school trips, including at Fairlop Water.

Two students have attempted suicide since September 2017. In both cases their parents claimed their experiences at the school had made things worse.

Michael Lovett told the Recorder that his son - who has ADHD and Asperger’s Syndrome - tried to take his own life after being repeatedly beaten up.

The 16-year-old, he said, saw his grades stagnate over two years on a £92,000-a-year placement and is now a year behind on his GCSEs back in mainstream school.

He told the Recorder: “My son was doing his 18 times tables by reception. We had such high hopes and he never learned a single thing.”

Parent Nicki Trew said her 15-year-old son was taken off roll in October 2019 and is still on suicide watch, and a year behind in his education. “He tells me, ‘Mum, I don’t have a future’,” she said. “We are going to have to live with this for the rest of our lives.”

In January 2019 an ex-agency worker, Ibrahim Uddin, was convicted at Chelmsford Crown Court of two counts of assault by beating against two then-pupils on school premises.

It followed an incident in September 2018 a staff member brought a horror novel - Exquisite Corpse by Poppy Z. Brite - about cannibalism and necrophilia into class for 12-year-old pupils to read.

A current parent said: “The NAS is an utter disgrace. It’s an expensive babysitting service. If these things were happening in my care, I would have social services on me.”

Parents claimed their children’s confidence and prospects had been irrevocably damaged.

Many suffer from anxiety and need a routine, but have been excluded, kept off for their own safety or taught in isolated classrooms for entire terms.

Parent Cindy Brandon-Necker said: “We were promised the world. The headteacher stood up in front of 10 parents before the school opened and said, ‘Next year, you’ll come and thank me.’

“One year later my child couldn’t even walk down the street without me anymore. He refuses to go out; he can’t even make a cup of tea.

“We were promised that with the right care and education, my son could have a fulfilled life and be like anyone else. At this point, that’s gone. It has destroyed his life.

“From day one they haven’t provided any of what they promised. The situation is desperate.”

The former headteacher, Gary Simms, left post in November 2019.

His replacement quit after a month and has been succeeded by Matthew Sharpe - the former head of safeguarding.

Kirstie Fulthorpe, director of education at the NAS, acknowledged that despite the organisation’s 50 years’ experience in specialist education,The Anderson School was “not meeting the high standards that our charity and everyone involved in the school expects”.

Since the latest inspection, she said, the school had been implementing an action plan and drafted in specialists from outside the charity.

Ofsted inspectors held another unannounced inspection in mid-March.

Ms Fulthorpe added: “We expect the outcome will give a clear picture of our progress and what else needs to be done to make this school as good as we want it to be – and our students deserve.”

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