Unjust inquiry forced us to end our life's work - nursery owner

December 30 2016

LESLEY and Roger Bates opened Redroofs Nursery in Warmley 37 years ago. Ten years later saw the opening of a branch along the Kingsway, St George. These were popular nurseries, offering parents in both areas, and further afield, much-needed childcare. Government watchdog Ofsted deemed the nurseries to be 'good' then later gave them the ultimate accolade of 'outstanding'. It was no wonder mums and dads wanted their children to go there.

LESLEY and Roger Bates opened Redroofs Nursery in Warmley 37 years ago. Ten years later saw the opening of a branch along the Kingsway, St George. These were popular nurseries, offering parents in both areas, and further afield, much-needed childcare. Government watchdog Ofsted deemed the nurseries to be 'good' then later gave them the ultimate accolade of 'outstanding'. It was no wonder mums and dads wanted their children to go there.

But in September, a part-time member of staff reported Mrs Bates for force-feeding a child who had special needs. Ofsted became involved and temporarily closed both nurseries while an investigation took place.

The couple appealed and although nothing had been proven against Mrs Bates, the Care Standards Tribunal upheld the decision saying the temporary closure was "proportionate".

The suspension was due to expire on December 15, but could have been cut short, or extended, depending on the findings of a full investigation.

Several days before the expiry date, Mr and Mrs Bates announced they would be retiring. Their decision meant as they were no longer the registered providers, the investigation automatically ceased, something Mrs Bates says Ofsted has not informed them of.

Mrs Bates, 71, said the decision to retire had been prompted after 76-year-old Mr Bates was recently taken into hospital with a suspected heart attack.

"The accusations are just not true," she said.

"We've been treated so badly. It's been horrendous and it's caused us a great deal of heartache. 

"When my husband came out of hospital after being taken ill, we sat down and thought we just couldn't go on like this. I didn't want to retire; I love working with children and have worked with them all my life but we just couldn't cope with the strain of it."

That's part of the truth, but the other part is that the Bates didn't really have a business to go back to.

"How could we open after six weeks, with no staff and no customers? All my parents had to find other nurseries," Mrs Bates said.

Mrs Bates has little good to say about Ofsted and has likened the watchdog's interviews with members of her staff to "interrogations".

"My staff were in tears, it was so awful. We were treated like criminals.

"The Warmley nursery had been outstanding for eight years and four years at the Kingsway. Ofsted took none of that into consideration.

"It was just an allegation by a part-time member of staff. Other members of staff were with me at the time -  we don't work in isolation, we all safeguard ourselves - and wrote written statements in support.

"We know that it (force-feeding) would never take place - and it didn't; it really didn't. It was somebody's interpretation."

Mrs Bates said she has been overwhelmed by the support she has received from parents, many of whom have written to Ofsted.

"My parents have been incredible. I've had the support of all of my 175 parents - none of them believed it happened. I know Ofsted have had so many calls and letters from my parents who have told them that they have given no thought to the parents who have had to go and find other places.

"I've had such lovely cards of support. I just had one from a parent who lives in Keynsham but used Redroofs. She wrote about what wonderful starts we gave to her children.

"We invited parents to the nursery just before Christmas to pick up their children's profiles and they were all saying that the other nurseries they have gone to just aren't the same as Redroofs."

Mrs Bates said there had been "horrible" comments on social media which have added to the couple's stress.

"I'm 71 so I don't do social media but my son and grandson have looked at some of the comments out there and these people are trolls. There is not one name that we recognise that has ever come to Redroofs Nursery."

The couple made it their priority to pay back all they money owed to parents who have paid up for childcare in advance.

Even the presents which Mrs Bates had bought for the children's annual party at Hanham Folk Centre, which did not go ahead, have been given to charity.

"I just want parents to know that the 175 presents I bought for the children have been donated to the Red Cross to sell in their shops to help refugee children."

Lack of income has meant the couple has sold the Kingsway branch to another nursery provider and they haven't ruled out having to put Warmley on the market, the property which is also their home.

"We are selling the Kingsway with all our wonderful facilities. It's all subject to contracts but hopefully by the end of February there will be another nursery there.

"We will not move out of the area - we will stay locally because my family are here and I want to be around my grandchildren.

"I don't know what we are going to do in the future but I do know I will miss the children so much.

Ofsted could not be contacted for confirmation that the inquiry had been dropped.