The Charity Commission has found weaknesses in the system for trustee oversight of safeguarding practice at a fee-charging school where a former teacher was convicted of possessing indecent images of children.
St Paul’s School, a charity, runs the eponymous independent school for boys aged 13 to 18 in Barnes, south-west London, and a prep school called Colet Court.
Several adults have been charged in connection with a police inquiry, called Operation Winthorpe, into historical claims of sex abuse at the school. Anthony Fuggle, a former teacher at Colet Court, was sentenced to four months in prison, suspended for two years, after admitting six counts of possessing indecent images of children. None of the children in the images were believed to have attended the school, police said when Fuggle was sentenced in June.
The inquiry concluded that the charity had extensive safeguarding policies that it periodically reviewed and that the charity’s trustees acted responsibly by taking a number of steps in response to the concerns.
These steps included, among other things, commissioning an independent review team to review the charity’s safeguarding policies, practice and culture.
The team identified several examples of good practice at the charity but also made a number of recommendations to assist the trustees in further development of the charity’s safeguarding policies and practice.
The commission’s inquiry noted good practice at the charity but found some weaknesses in the systems for trustee oversight of safeguarding policy and practice in 2013, including the provision of information to the trustees on complaints received and handled by the charity.
The regulator concluded that these weaknesses had the potential to inhibit the trustees’ ability to fully discharge their legal duties or to show adequate evidence that their duties had been discharged.
The commission made recommendations and provided regulatory advice to the charity to assist the trustees in discharging their legal duties and responsibilities.
The commission said the charity had largely implemented an action plan to address the recommendations of both the independent review team and the commission.
Michelle Russell, director of investigations monitoring and enforcement at the Charity Commission, said: "Trustees of schools that work with children and young people have specific legal duties under education law about safeguarding and are subject to inspections on this by Ofsted or similar bodies.
"As well as their specific duties for safeguarding under education law, charity trustees are also under a duty to act prudently, in the best interests of the charity and discharge their duties in accordance with their duty of care.
"This is particularly pertinent in charities that have been subject to allegations or complaints that raise potential safeguarding concerns or risks. In such cases, given the higher risks involved and the sensitivity of such issues, the commission expects trustees to consider what additional steps are necessary beyond basic compliance with other statutory guidance or regulations to satisfy themselves and the commission that they are properly discharging their duty of care under charity law."
St Paul’s School had yet to answer a request for comment at the time of publication.