Hackney Council says it is not aware of any concerns about schools attended by two local children with special needs after the private firm that runs them was hit with “deeply disturbing” allegations of poor conditions at its care homes.
Cambian Group, Britain’s largest private child care home provider, last month strongly denied a litany of accusations from former and current employees, detailed in a report by Buzzfeed News.
The allegations, which relate only to Cambian care homes and not its schools, include unhygienic rooms, vomit on walls, assaults, drugs, broken furniture and poorly trained staff – caused, according to a former staff member, by the firm’s relentless cost-cutting in pursuit of profit.
A response from Hackney Council in November last year to a Freedom of Information (FoI) request contained a list of “independent and non-maintained SEND provisions at which Hackney resident pupils are currently placed”, and how much funding the Town Hall puts towards them.
It shows the council, in 2016/17, made payments totalling over £600,000 to two Cambian schools – Grateley House in Hampshire, for children with Asperger’s Syndrome, and Purbeck View in Dorset, which is for kids with autism.
A Town Hall spokesperson later told the Citizen that these payments were to fund the education of two day students who live in Hackney with their parents.
They said the Hackney Learning Trust, the council’s education arm, carries out an annual review of both schools alongside the parents.
The spokesperson added: “We are not aware of any significant concerns of the nature highlighted in the report in respect of either of the schools where we have children placed.”
The next review will take place in the autumn as scheduled, after the council confirmed it has no plans to bring it forward in light of the BuzzFeed report.
Hackney Green Party spokesman Samir Jeraj, who spotted the payments in the 2017 FoI response, said: “The allegations uncovered by Buzzfeed are deeply disturbing.
“Hackney Council need to investigate and ensure the care provided to children is the best it can be.”
He added: “The widespread privatisation of children’s care homes means profit is being put above some of the most vulnerable children in our community.”
A Town Hall spokesperson said: “Hackney does not have any children placed in residential care homes provided by Cambian nor any children placed with their fostering agency.
“The Hackney Learning Trust provides funding for children with special educational needs attending the two schools referred to in the FoI request cited.”
The spokesperson revealed the schools received funding from Hackney in 2017/18 which totals more than £460,000.
A spokesperson for Hackney Independent Forum for Parents/Carers of Children with Disabilities (HiP) said: “We were shocked and concerned to read the BuzzFeed report on the experiences of very vulnerable children in Cambian care homes.
“We are aware of a very small number of Hackney children with special educational needs placed in Cambian specialist residential autism schools (as distinct from Cambian care homes) in recent years.
“Pupils have typically been placed in these schools because local mainstream and special schools in Hackney and in neighbouring boroughs are unable to meet their special educational needs.”
They added: “No families have told us of any significant problems with either school, but in light of the BuzzFeed article, we will be asking families if they have concerns.”
The spokesperson for Hackney Council said: “Children are placed in special educational provision following an assessment of their needs.
“The choice of an individual school is made partly on the basis of the recommendations arising out of the assessment but also taking into account the views of the parent and child.
“A proposed placement would be regularly visited by the parents and special educational needs staff from Hackney Learning Trust before any placement is made; all special education schools are registered with Ofsted and regularly inspected.
“Hackney Learning Trust would expect to see the school make progress against any recommendations made by Ofsted.
“There is also an annual review of each placement undertaken by Hackney Learning Trust to consider whether or not the school is continuing to meet the needs of the child concerned.”