A REPORT into Scottish Borders Council’s (SBC) handling of allegations that a teacher was assaulting pupils at a school has been published.

Elected members met in private last week to discuss the findings of Andrew Webster QC’s inquiry.

And during that meeting it was agreed that the report should be released to the public, with councillors due to gather again on Friday (February 25) to talk through its recommendations.

Linda McCall, of Earlston, was convicted of assaulting five vulnerable children in her care between August 2016 and October 2017.

An internal investigation at SBC initially cleared the teacher of any wrongdoing.

But parents persisted with their complaints and McCall was found guilty at a Selkirk Sheriff Court trial of assaulting five pupils aged between five and seven years old while employed by the local authority.

Mark Rowley, leader of SBC, said: “What happened between August 2016 and October 2017, when young people were assaulted whilst in school and subjected to abusive behaviour, is shocking and completely unacceptable. It was wrong and it should never have happened, and I am sorry that it did.

“Last May, Scottish Borders Council agreed to commission an independent inquiry to look at how the council dealt with issues connected to the conviction of a former teacher for assault. The independent inquiry has considered any deficiencies in the handling of concerns that were raised and whether policies, processes and practice were right and appropriate at the time.

“Such was the analysis required, and the sheer quantity of information considered, it has taken several months longer to conclude the independent inquiry than initially anticipated. Following a decision of council last Thursday I am pleased to say that the independent inquiry report will be published today in full, and it will be available online on the council’s website later at www.scotborders.gov.uk/SBCinquiry.

“It is important to read the report in its entirety as it provides a clear picture and timeline of what happened and when.

“Andrew Webster QC spent time presenting the findings of his independent inquiry at a meeting of full council last Thursday, after which the council agreed unanimously to issue a written apology to the parents of the young people concerned. I can confirm that this has now been undertaken by the chief executive.

“On behalf of the council, I am sorry that the matters were not referred to the Child Protection Unit at the earliest opportunity, as they should have been, and I am sorry that the council failed to communicate appropriately with those parents who had raised various concerns. Most of all, the council apologises wholeheartedly that the incidents of abuse occurred in the first place.

“We must now learn from these mistakes and ensure they are never repeated. At last Thursday’s meeting it was agreed that a further full council meeting be held, in public, at the earliest opportunity. This will allow further detailed consideration and discussion on the content of Mr Webster’s report and his recommendations, and of the next steps required by the council.

“Mr Webster’s report will be published today as part of the papers for that council meeting, which will take place on Friday 25 February.”

Carol Hamilton, SBC’s executive member for children and young people, added: “The report authored by Andrew Webster QC which will be published today is of acute interest to me and to many people across the Borders. Although the report addresses the response of the council as a whole, I will be considering the detail and paying particular attention to the recommendations as they apply to education.

“For my part, I too am deeply saddened by contents of the report. It makes for very uncomfortable reading.

“I am clearly sorry that the matters were not referred to the Child Protection Unit early on, and I am sorry that communication with the parents was so clearly wrong. It should never have happened and we should have done much better.

“I will be working closely with my fellow Elected Members to fully consider the Independent Inquiry report, and to look at how we ensure the abuse experienced by these young people does not happen again. I offer my heartfelt apologies to these children for what they experienced.

“Changes will inevitably follow such a major review, and we will provide further information on these as soon as we are able to do so.”