Plea from 'terrified' Panorama probe school owners after vandal attacks

The sign has been painted over outside Life Wirral.
-Credit: (Image: Copyright Unknown)

The owners of a building where a school that was investigated by BBC Panorama is based have said they are "terrified" and pleaded with people not to attack their property.

Life Wirral is an independent secondary SEND school based in Wallasey. It hit the headlines this week following an undercover investigation by BBC Panorama. The investigation, which aired on television on Monday, entitled Cruelty in the Classroom, saw an undercover reporter sent into the school, posing as a work experience student.

Staff members were recorded making cruel and offensive remarks about pupils. In some cases, they are shown directly addressing students using homophobic and ableist language.

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The documentary has caused outrage and the building where the school was located on Victoria Road in New Brighton has been targeted several times by vandals. A school van had its windows smashed and this has now been removed following a request by the couple who own the building to the school.

At least a dozen eggs were pelted at the walls and several windows while one window was smashed at the front with two smashed at the back. However the owners, who wish to remain anonymous due to threats made on social media, said they were unaware of the investigation and wanted to stress they had no connections to the school business.

Smashed eggs at Life Wirral
Smashed eggs at Life Wirral -Credit:Copyright Unknown

They have now ramped up security on the building and are being supported by the New Brighton Coastal Community Team as well as Dan Davies, a high profile figure within the New Brighton community. The school sign has also been painted over to make it clear the building is not owned by Life Wirral.

The owners said they were under the impression it was a good school based on Ofsted reports and thought they were helping support vulnerable children, adding: “We were very proud of the fact we could give the premises over to facilitate that.” As the school taught vulnerable children, they can’t access the building while investigations take place and were only able to visit with notice when the school was operating.

The couple said they had felt on their own initially, adding: “It’s hard to feel angry against the people doing it. I understand the anger in the community.” They said they were disappointed they were not contacted by BBC Panorama before the documentary aired, adding: “I am terrified that future damage is going to be sustained or even worse.”

Smashed windows at the Life Wirral school
Smashed windows at the Life Wirral school -Credit:Copyright Unknown

The owner said the damage could be dealt with quickly, adding: “The first priority is the children and we were absolutely shocked to think that we rented a premises which according to a programme they were being abused.”

They said; “We understand everyone’s anger and we share it,” adding: “First and foremost is that we are devastated that the children have been required to be moved and we hope the council will look after them. In terms of the building we would like the community to be aware it’s not owned by Life. It’s just a couple who rented it.”

In an initial statement in response to the BBC programme, LIFE Wirral hit out at the corporation, accusing it of acting in a "highly irresponsible manner" and "putting the interests of a television programme ahead of the interests of vulnerable children".

The school accused the undercover reporter of "failing in her basic safeguarding duties to report significant concerns", claiming her actions put more vulnerable children at risk for longer.

Life Wirral has stood by these claims, but has since added to its original statement to offer its apologies to any students and families affected by the behaviour of staff highlighted in the Panorama programme.

The BBC said in response: “The BBC takes issues of safeguarding and protection of vulnerable individuals extremely seriously and has strict editorial guidelines covering undercover investigations, secret recording and investigations involving children.

"Our investigation was firmly in the public interest and the welfare of the children concerned was our primary consideration. Our undercover reporter gathered evidence over a period of time so we could be confident that what she witnessed demonstrated a clear pattern of behaviour, involving multiple members of staff, and in line with the concerns that had been raised with us.

"Prior to our investigation, the local authority and the school were already aware of safeguarding concerns having previously been made by others, and despite the local authority investigating, this had not resulted in meaningful change.

"In contrast, when we told the local authority about the findings of our investigation, the placements at the school were suspended and new places are being found elsewhere for the children.”

Merseyside Police has also responded to the BBC investigation and is currently investigating the matter. Wirral Council said it took immediate action after it was informed of the Panorama investigation.

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