Trustees’ Obligations in the Education Sector

The Charity Commission has announced that it has opened a statutory inquiry into Stanbridge Earls School Trust to consider whether its trustees had discharged their obligations in accordance with charity law.

Background

The Stanbridge Earls School Trust was a coeducational boarding and/or day school, which specialised in teaching children with special education needs. In 2013, there were allegations of rape and sexual assault of pupils by fellow pupils. The matter was considered by the Special Educational Needs Tribunal, which found that the school did not have an understanding of its duties and raised serious concerns which Ofsted should investigate.

Ofsted followed this recommendation and investigated the matter but later had to apologise for mistakes in its assessment. In accordance with its mandate, the Charity Commission (the Commission) also investigated whether the trustees had fulfilled their obligations in relation to administration, governance and management of the charity. The Commission’s conclusion seems to have been that the trustees had “made reasonable decisions” and that their actions were “satisfactory”. The matter of handling sexual abuse allegations was not investigated, although the Commission’s earlier report does not seem to be currently accessible.

Due to lack of interest impacting on its financial viability and lack of support from the Department of Education, the school went into administration. At the same time, the Hampshire Children Safeguarding Board (the Safeguarding Board) also launched an investigation to consider the events leading to the closure of the school.

Current Investigation by the Charity Commission

The investigation by the Safeguarding Board raised a number of concerns regarding the management and administration of the charity and its approach to safeguarding its beneficiaries. This led to the opening of the statutory inquiry.

The Commission’s inquiry will consider whether:

  • the trustees had sufficient oversight of the school’s management of safeguarding matters to discharge their legal duties and responsibilities as trustees, and
  • the charity had adequate record-keeping procedures and practices in relation to the recording and reporting of safeguarding concerns.

Whilst it is not within the Commission’s remit to investigate safeguarding issues, it does have a specific role in relation to trustees of charities and how they conduct themselves to ensure that a charity does fulfil its safeguarding obligations towards its beneficiaries.

The Commission will produce a report once it concludes its inquiry for wider lessons that can be learnt from this case.

Impact

The Commission regularly updates its guidance on the duties and responsibilities of trustees. This week the Commission is highlighting the important contribution that trustees make through Trustees’ Week 2015. The role of being a trustee should not be taken lightly and in its guidance the Commission points out trustees’ six main duties including:

  • ensuring the charity is carrying out its purpose for the public benefit;
  • complying with the charity’s governing document and the law;
  • act in the charity’s best interests;
  • act with reasonable care and skill; and
  • ensure the charity is accountable.

In the education sector, this means that trustees need to ensure that they are complying not only with charity law but a range of other pieces of legislation such as safeguarding. Ensuring compliance could mean having specific policies and procedures in place to deal with complaints and allegations, as well as ensuring that any action the school takes is well documented. Similarly, in carrying out their duties trustees are required to act with reasonable care and skill. Failure in meeting these standards may mean that trustees are breaching their duties and responsibilities and in exceptional circumstances could result in the trustees becoming personally liable for the harm that is caused.

Forbes Solicitors assist charities with a range of issues including assisting trustees to fulfil their duties and responsibilities, reviewing relevant policies and providing training on different topics such as safeguarding and data protection. If you would like assistance in relation to any of the issues discussed, please contact Daniel Milnes.

Nat Avdiu

About Nat Avdiu

Nat Avdiu is a Paralegal in the Contracts and Projects team at Forbes Solicitors. Nat provides updates for clients on a range of issues including: governance, data protection and freedom of information, procurement and charity law.

This entry was posted in Employment Law and tagged , , , , , , , , .

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *