Pupils at Walthamstow school 'tortured' with staff caught kicking and hitting them

An investigation into abuse at Whitefield School in Walthamstow found that staff members remain at the school after 'hitting' and 'kicking' pupils
An investigation into abuse at Whitefield School in Walthamstow found that staff members remain at the school after 'hitting' and 'kicking' pupils -Credit:Google Maps

Staff at an East London special school have been caught hitting and kicking pupils in 'horrifying' CCTV footage branded as 'torture'. Workers at Whitefield School, Walthamstow, have not been sacked after 'attacking' the students and leaving them in isolation rooms, some in their own urine.

A whistleblower who worked at the school describes what they saw on CCTV as 'torture' and compared the rooms to police cells. In 2021, a sealed box containing 44 memory sticks of CCTV footage from inside three so-called 'calming rooms' was discovered by new leadership at the school.

Whitefield School is one of the UK's largest special schools with about 370 pupils. BBC's File on 4 found that children were locked alone in these calming rooms, which were bare and without natural light. One of which was a former stationary cupboard.

READ MORE: Friends of boy, 12, stalked and stabbed 30 times fight so killer is never released from jail

Police were involved in investigations but there were no prosecutions
Police were involved in investigations but there were no prosecutions -Credit:Andy Medina/Getty

After the footage was found, a joint investigation was launched by the Met and local authorities in 2021 into "organised abuse" by staff between 2014 and 2017, BBC reported. BBC File on 4 revealed that the appalling abuse and neglect affected 39 pupils, many who are not able to speak.

One boy who was subject to abuse in the rooms and is caught in over 55 hours of the CCTV footage is Ashley, who was 12 at the time. His family says his time in the calming rooms led to him being sectioned in 2020 and recently jumping out of a moving car.

Ashley is now 22 and his mother Sophie says his anxiety has become so heightened he rubs his head on the floor so aggressively he has big sores from carpet burns. Sophie told the BBC: "It's so unbelievable that you could keep a human being in a room the size of a cupboard and expect them to be OK. I thought he was being placed into a sensory room with beanbags and nice colourful lights."

Leaked documents describe a staff member pinning Ashley up against the wall of a room and hitting him with such force his body is recorded as 'jolting' before he then becomes unsteady on his feet. When investigating the external consultant found that the teacher who carried out this abuse seemed to 'have no remorse'.

The teacher was not referred to the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS), which verifies people are safe to work with children, among other functions. They continue to teach at the school, which is 'unfathomable', according to education consultant Elizabeth Swan. This staff member who appeared to strike Ashley was also not prosecuted, despite being interviewed by the police in relation to over 40 video clips of concern.

The BBC says it has learned of another occasion where he was repeatedly pushed - in what police described as a 'possible assault' with him then having been left alone crying and walking on his knees. The investigation further reveals that pupils were left alone in the rooms for up to four hours, with footage showing them naked, sitting in urine and eating crumbs off the floor.

The clips also show them being 'slammed', kicked and hit with force 'without obvious justification', while rhino pads (often used in rugby training) were deployed to push pupils inside. More than 20 CCTV clips show excessive force but there have been no prosecutions.

Six members of staff were proven to have abused children on the balance of probabilities but were not sacked. The video clips show another child, David, being kneed in the back before being pushed into the room.

His father Ricardo said: “My son was in a panicked state and crying and self-harming, begging them for water and food and they just ignored him - it's torture." Flourish Learning Trust, which runs the school, told the BBC that a new leadership team had taken over after the calming rooms had been shut, shared the footage with the police and learned from the failings.

It said three staff members who have returned after the incidents undertook extensive training. Parents have repeatedly requested to see the CCTV footage but have been told it would be too distressing or would breach privacy law.

A spokesperson for Flourish Learning Trust said: “What occurred between 2014 and 2017 in Whitefield School was wrong and wholly inappropriate. Those in charge are no longer involved in the Trust or our schools. These issues were only brought to light by the actions of the Trust’s current Senior Executive Leaders who uncovered them soon after taking office and demanded that they were fully investigated.

“Across our Trust, we take our responsibility for promoting and protecting the health, safety and wellbeing of our children and young people incredibly seriously. Welfare is of paramount importance and is central to the way we run our schools.

“This is a historic matter which pre-dates the current leadership of both the school and the Trust. Even before this matter was discovered, leaders had introduced significant changes to the Trust’s safeguarding policies and practice and, in recent inspections, Ofsted has found safeguarding at the Trust’s schools to be ‘effective’ and that pupils are ‘kept safe’. We can, however, never be complacent about welfare and we are continually updating and improving our policies and practice.

“Throughout this investigation, we have acted on the advice and guidance of the police, the local authority and the Department for Education. Our disciplinary panels, which were led by an independent investigator, received ongoing advice from HR and legal professionals. The LADO was kept informed at all times and was content with the handling of the process and the outcomes.

“In exposing what had occurred in the years up to 2017, we accepted that there would be reputational damage but this was far outweighed by the need to expose what had happened and ensure these practices could not be allowed in the future in any school across the sector.”

Caught on Camera: The special school staff who abused kids and kept their jobs will air on Tuesday, April 30, at 8pm on BBC Radio 4. The episode will also be available on BBC Sound.

Don't miss out on the biggest East London news. Sign up to our MyEastLondon newsletter HERE for all the latest daily news and more.