ONE of Scotland’s top private schools has been ordered to overhaul its anti-bullying policies in the wake of failures surrounding the treatment of a disabled child.

The Registrar of Independent Schools, which is appointed by the Scottish Government, has written to George Watson’s College, in Edinburgh, warning that the welfare of one of its pupils was not “adequately safeguarded and promoted”.

As a result, Scottish ministers have imposed a number of conditions on the school, including the introduction of a new complaints policy before the end of the month.

The schools said its anti-bullying policies have been praised by inspectors and the conditions imposed were to do with improving wider governance arrangements.

The issue came to light after it was raised in the Scottish Parliament by Andy Wightman, Scottish Green MSP for Lothian, during a debate on school bullying.

Mr Wightman said: “After being elected, I was approached by constituents with a case involving a child who was the victim of serious bullying that ended up causing lifelong injuries at George Watson’s College in Edinburgh.

“Anti-bullying measures, whether statutory, or in the form of guidance, should apply equally to all schools including private schools as children’s human rights are universal and indivisible.

“I would invite ministers to reflect on the possibility that there are wider governance and safeguarding failings in the private sector and to investigate whether this is the case as a matter of urgency.”

George Watson’s governing body has now been told to write to the registrar giving details of how it provides “scrutiny and challenge” to the school to ensure improvements are made.

If it fails to meet the requirements then it could be struck of the public register of private schools.

All independent schools in Scotland are required to be registered under the 1980 Education (Scotland) Act.

The move follows a number of allegations of bullying at the school made by the parents of a former pupil.

The registrar’s letter to the school, dated last month, summarises the parental allegations as “sustained bullying without appropriate action/recognition from the school” and “leadership issues and individual teachers and managers who are not suitable to the posts they hold”.

Other allegations include poor handling of complaints, a culture of “covering up” and poor policies and practice for identifying and supporting children with disabilities and additional support requirements.

As a result of the allegations, staff from HM Inspectorate of Education visited the school in September.

The registrar’s letter to the school states: “Scottish ministers note that, as per the report from HM inspectors, the school identified a number of areas for improvement which relate to the areas of concern identified by the parents of the former pupil.

“The Scottish ministers noted ... a number of positives including ... improved core policies related to inclusion and safeguarding including anti-bullying.

“It was also noted that HM inspectors concluded that it is too early to measure the effects of some of the policies reported on. As a result, HM inspectors will continue to liaise with the school and monitor progress.”

Inspectors went on to highlight the fact that a number of changes in school governance were not yet complete – including the introduction of a new complaint handling policy.

The letter concludes: “It is the view of the Scottish ministers that improved governance and effective procedures to handle complaints and concerns will be central to ensuring that the recent improvements in the areas of concern that have been identified are embedded in the policies and implemented in practice at the school.

“Such improvement is essential to ensuring the adequate promotion and safeguarding of the welfare of the school’s pupils in the future.

“It is considered crucial to the school’s continued improvement that the changes to governance, such as ... working to implement self-evaluation and monitoring procedures and outcomes, are made.”

A statement from George Watson's said the school had dealt with a complaint from the parents of a child who has now left the school.

It said: "The school was inspected in September. There were many very positive findings in the report, including about our approach to bullying.

"The decision of the registrar to place three temporary conditions on our registration was, in our view, at odds with the positive tone of the report.

"However, it should be noted that none of the conditions relate to any of our practice in addressing bullying or our child protection and safeguarding procedures. They are requirements relating to our revised governance procedures."

The school's principal Melvyn Roffe added: “We are proud of the way in which we look after the children and young people at Watson’s.

"There is nothing in the inspection report which suggests that that pride is misplaced.”

John Edward, director for the Scottish Council of Independent Schools (SCIS), said: “Anti-bullying measures do apply equally to all schools, especially independent schools.

"SCIS member schools take the safety, wellbeing and protection of children and young people very seriously and the rights of children and young people are at the heart of what they do.

“All staff are trained in line with Scottish guidance and procedures are updated as guidance and legislation changes."