Regulator withdraws report and considers reopening inquiry into independent school charity

The Stanbridge Earls School Trust was the subject of a statutory inquiry relating to allegations of sexual abuse at a special needs school it ran in Hampshire

The former Stanbridge Earls School in Romsey, Hampshire
The former Stanbridge Earls School in Romsey, Hampshire

A Charity Commission statutory inquiry report, which cleared the trustees of an independent school of wrongdoing after sex abuse allegations were made, has been withdrawn while the regulator considers reopening its investigation.

In April 2013, the commission opened an inquiry into the Stanbridge Earls School Trust, which operated a special needs school in Romsey, Hampshire.

Allegations had been made that two pupils had suffered sexual abuse at the school dating back to 2010. The Department for Education subsequently rejected an action plan put together to address the failings identified in inspections carried out by the schools inspectorate Ofsted in June 2011, January 2012 and May 2012. The school also faced county court and tribunal claims against it in relation to the abuse allegations.

The commission closed its investigation on 1 December 2014 and published a report that cleared the school’s trustees of any wrongdoing. That report was subsequently taken down and another was published on 22 December last year.

The brief amendments in the new report included the addition of the information that each of three previous Ofsted inspections of the school had been found to be flawed by an internal review by the schools inspectorate, a report on which was published in July 2014. Also added were an update on the progress of the county court case and a report removing a reference to the trustees’ belief that media coverage of the tribunal case had been a particular factor in its financial instability.

That report has since been removed from the commission’s website. No announcement was made about the removal of the report.

The school went into administration on 3 September 2013, and the administration process continues.

A spokeswoman for the commission said that issues had been raised about the report’s content and finding. "The commission has opened an assessment case to review the basis of and evidence for those claims to determine whether any adjustments to the report are required or, should new information be provided, whether it will be necessary to reopen the inquiry," she said. "The report has been temporarily removed while these issues are assessed."

Tom Perry, the founder of MandateNow, a pressure group that seeks to make it mandatory for people such as teachers or care workers to report to local authorities any concerns about the welfare of children and vulnerable adults, said the two previous reports by the commission had failed the school’s beneficiaries. "Let’s hope that a well-researched report is finally produced in which the Charity Commission can be seen to have lifted the stones and reached evidenced conclusions," he said.

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