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Three questions your school board should ask itself about safeguarding

22 September 2015

The Charity Commission has recently published the findings of its report into the safeguarding matters at St. Paul’s School which hit the national press last year. We have condensed the Commission’s findings into three questions every board of governors should ask itself to comply with their legal duties.

The report

The publication of the Commission’s report (which can be found here) is the culmination of its investigations, began in May 2014, into the School’s governance with regard to safeguarding matters. The Commission’s investigations followed and ran alongside the police investigations into allegations of historic sexual abuse at the School and the arrest of a schoolteacher on charges of the possession of indecent images of young people. The report gives a comprehensive overview of the background, the inquiry’s scope and methods and the Commission’s findings and actions.

What is most helpful about the report is the lessons that can be drawn from the Commission’s handling of the case that are relevant for all schools, not just for those in the independent sector. We have framed three of these lessons as questions for your board to consider.

1. How do we know our review of safeguarding is effective?

The Commission’s report suggests an annual review of safeguarding, in itself, is not enough. The St Paul’s governors were criticised for not having a framework by which they could determine whether their safeguarding review was effective and relying too heavily on verbal reports from the senior management team (SMT) without corroborating them. The board was advised to draw up an audit and reporting template to agree the scope and methodology of their safeguarding reviews and ensure independent corroboration of SMT briefings by inspection of a sample of records of serious cases or by seeking feedback from the LADO or other agencies.

2. Are we reporting serious incidents to the Charity Commission?

The Commission should be notified as soon as a school becomes aware of a serious incident. The legal responsibility for reporting serious incidents rests with the governors even if they are delegating that work to the SMT. St Paul’s were criticised in the report for failing to report three serious incidents in 2013.

3. Do we analyse trends as well as isolated safeguarding incidents?

The Commission advised that the St Paul’s board and SMT were inhibited from making informed decisions regarding safeguarding because they only ever considered incidents in isolation and not in the context of other incidents and wider trends. Your board should agree how the reporting of incidents is managed and presented to allow more informed decision-making.

We regularly advise schools on safeguarding issues and would be pleased to assist your board comply with its duties and lead your school in implement best practice.

For more information please contact Joanna Lada-Walicki, the Head of our Schools & Charities practice, on 01483 464 216 or at JoannaLada-Walicki@BarlowRobbins.com.