Press release: SORI published into Stanbridge Earls Trust School

You can read the full statement of the result of the inquiry on GOV.UK.

The charity is based in Hampshire and ran a school, providing boarding and day education for boys and girls with special educational needs. The charity is currently in administration.

The commission’s engagement followed an unannounced Ofsted inspection of the School in January 2013 on the instruction of the Department for Education (‘DfE’) and a notice served on the trustees by DfE that they were not meeting a number of minimum standards and had to draw up an action plan to address this. The action plan was rejected by DfE. DfE made the commission aware of concerns about the governance and leadership at the charity. The commission considered that serious regulatory concerns had been raised which required further examination by the charity regulator and in April 2013, the commission opened a formal investigation, known as a statutory inquiry.

The inquiry examined the overall administration, governance and management of the charity by the trustees, including in particular their ability to put in place and implement an action plan that was acceptable to the DfE.

The charity acted properly in reporting a Serious Incident Report to the commission in November 2011. In dealing with the serious incident and the legal claims against the charity it gave rise to later, based on the evidence provided to the commission, the trustees had acted properly in taking professional advice to inform their decisions. An emergency committee was established to deal with matters and the inquiry verified that this was in accordance with the charity’s policies. The commission considers that the approach adopted and decisions the trustees made with specific regard to the Tribunal action and subsequent engagement with DfE and Ofsted relating to these matters were within the range of reasonable decisions open to the trustees to take, as required under charity Law.

The trustees stated that in hindsight it may have assisted them to have reacted to developing risks more efficiently than they had as it was noted that the pupil body at the school had, diversified, the school was catering for pupils with a wider spectrum of special education needs than was the case in previous years, and the charity had not always reacted to these changes sufficiently. The regulator was satisfied that during the Inquiry the trustees recognised the seriousness of the situation in which the charity found itself and the trustees confirmed that they were committed to compiling and implementing an action plan that was acceptable to DfE.

The trustees decided to place the charity into administration after third party negotiations regarding the possible takeover of the school failed.

As the charity went into administration, no revised action plan was submitted or assessed by DfE and/or Ofsted. The commission was unable to make a conclusion about whether the charity was able to take enough steps to address the safeguarding and leadership concerns.

The commission’s investigation has concluded but the administration process has now been extended until September 2015. After the inquiry the regulator will continue to liaise with the administrators and monitoring the process to ensure that any charitable residual funds are applied in accordance with the charity’s governing document.

The inquiry into the charity was closed on 1 December 2014 with the publication of this report.

Full guidance on managing conflicts of interest is available.

Ends

PR 98/14


Notes to editors

  1. The Charity Commission is the independent regulator of charities in England and Wales.
  2. We are the independent registrar and regulator of charities in England and Wales, acting in the public’s interest, to ensure that:
    • charities know what they have to do
    • the public know what charities do
    • charities are held to account
  3. Section 46 of the Charities Act 2011 gives the Charity Commission the power to institute inquiries and has discretion under section 50 to publish a statement of results of an inquiry.
  4. The Commission is not responsible for safeguarding nor educational matters. As the main operation of the Charity was the running of a school, the primary regulator of the Charity’s activities was DfE, as the government department responsible for education and children’s services in England. The Commission’s regulatory role in ensuring that trustees comply with their legal duties and responsibilities as trustees in managing and administering their charity.

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