The parents of a dyslexic nine-year-old boy are suing one of Britain’s top independent prep schools – because they claim was relentlessly bullied for two years.
Wealthy property developer Paul McDonnell, 49, and his wife Angela, 46, removed their son Patrick from posh Bilton Grange School in Dunchurch, Warks., after he was allegedly labelled “thick” by other pupils.
Angela, who runs her own floristry business, claims Patrick was subjected to two years of abuse which included being punched, kicked and threatened by his classmates.
On one occasion a pupil allegedly wrote “Patrick is dim and thick” with a stick in snow in the grounds of the school – whose past pupils include Olympic ceremony rapper Taio Cruz.
Angela claims a further four pupils were also withdrawn by their parents after suffering a catalogue of violence and bullying at the school which caters for 308 pupils aged 4-13.
The couple withdrew Patrick from the £15,000-a-year school two weeks into the Lent term in February 2011.
But when they asked the school to refund the £5,225 in fees they had paid in advance the headteacher refused.
In May last year the couple were ordered to pay a further £5,225 for last year’s summer term even though Patrick had already enrolled at a new school.
They are now suing the school in the Small Claims Court in a bid to claw back the money.
Angela yesterday accused teachers of turning a blind eye to bullying – adding that one parent told her it was “an accepted way of life” at the school.
She said: “There were four actual incidents when Patrick was punched and kicked.
“Two years prior to that he had been verbally bullied and they never acted on it.
“We had incidents where Patrick had a football punched out of his arms and a little boy said ‘I’m going to punch your lights out’.
“There was another incident where a child had written ‘Patrick is dim and thick’ in the snow on the playground.
“Both me and Paul went to see the teacher and then the head and they said they were going to make his life easier and deal with it but they obviously didn’t.
“We wanted to take him out and put him in another school and forget about it but then in May they came to us looking for the next term’s fees.
“They wouldn’t back down and said we had not given them sufficient notice to withdraw Patrick, that’s when I got an educational solicitor.
“One parent who removed their child from the school said ‘it’s an institution where bullying is an accepted way of life’.”
The couple will take their case to the small claims court at a date to be fixed later this year.
Dad Paul added: “We’ve said that if we win we will donate the money to beat bullying charities.
“It’s never been about money, it’s about exposing the school.
“Whether we win or lose, we have always said we have done the right thing morally.”
They claim four other parents also removed their children from the school which charges up to £19,245 a year for a full boarder.
Angela and Paul, whose other son Rory, eight, attends a state school in Coventry, claim one girl was assaulted with a cricket bat and left needing crutches after a brutal attack by another pupil.
Bilton Grange – which is seen as a feeder school for Eton and posh Marlborough College – has a number of high-profile alumni including London-born R&B singer-songwriter Taio Cruz.
The pop star has since become an anti-bullying campaigner.
The 27-year-old revealed he was relentlessly bullied as a child at school and often took refuge in the music room but he was not specific about whether it took place at Bilton Grange.
On the school’s website, it describes itself as “a co-educational, boarding and day preparatory school for children aged four to thirteen with a special atmosphere that sets it apart from many good prep schools.”
The school was rated “outstanding” in an Ofsted inspection in June 2011.
A spokesperson for the school, said yesterday: “We take any allegations of bullying at Bilton Grange extremely seriously, and there are robust and comprehensive procedures in place to ensure any such allegations are investigated thoroughly and swiftly.
“The complaints raised by Mr and Mrs McDonnell were assessed and dealt with appropriately.
“On assessing the complaints by Mr & Mrs McDonnell, Warwickshire Safeguarding Children Board commented that: ‘the school acted appropriately, reasonably and made a number of offers relating to additional supervision and monitoring of the issues the parents raised.
“Unfortunately the parents withdrew the child, not enabling these measures to take place. (the school) has been visited when children have been present and found the atmosphere good with excellent systems in place to respond to any bullying issues.’
“Routine inspections of the school by Ofsted and the Independent Schools Inspectorate, concluded that there are proactive and effective strategies in place to guard against bullying, and that parents and children at the school trust and feel satisfied with the pastoral care and guidance provided.”