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Partner Organisations - Reporting Serious Incidents to the Charity Commission

on Monday, 20 January 2020.

Charitable independent schools will be familiar with the need to report serious incidents to the Charity Commission and with the various iterations of its guidance.

December 2019 saw the launch of new guidance sitting alongside the existing guidance, covering incidents involving a school's partner organisations.

Partner Organisations and Existing Guidance

The existing guidance already required schools to report incidents involving partners which materially affect the school. A school's partners for these purposes would include the following:

  • members of a federated structure (where the local body and central body should typically report)
  • trading subsidiaries
  • delivery partners and subcontractors
  • funding recipients
  • other linked organisations which would include the school's fundraising foundations, bursary funds, friends', parents' and teachers' organisations

Given the content in the new guidance around reputation and by analogy to a federated structure, partner organisations are likely to include other schools (including internationally) which use the school's branding under licence even where these are not carried on by the school charity or its own subsidiaries.

New Guidance - Clarifying the Position by Example

The new guidance fleshes out the circumstances in which a school should report serious incidents involving a partner organisation and organises them into three scenario types:

  • The incident involves the charity’s funds, brand, people or an activity that it funds or is responsible for.
    The starting point is, had the incident happened in the school charity itself, would it be reportable? The Commission states that even if the incident has little or no impact on your school charity's activities, if the other organisation shares branding, it could impact the school's reputation and public trust in charities, making the issue reportable.
  • The incident does not involve the charity’s funds, brand or people but could have a significant impact on the charity.
    This includes scenarios where the incident has a reputational impact. It also covers situations which raise issues for your school about whether your partner organisation can or should carry on the work or providing the services. The Commission specifically says that an issue is reportable if it triggers suspension or termination provisions in the arrangements with the partner organisation.
  • The incident does not involve the charity’s funds, brand or people and has little or no impact on the charity.
    If what has happened is so remote from the school that it has little or no impact on your school's reputation or the partner organisation's work for the school, it is unlikely to be reportable. The Commission does recommend that schools do still take the opportunity to learn from what has happened, whether there are areas for improvement and to review policies in respect of events of that type.

Regardless of the scenario type, the Commission says there should be an assessment of what has happened, its specific circumstances, likely impact, risk to the school charity and whether it is reportable.

Relevance of Contractual Terms

Whilst most of the new guidance aligns with the approach that most trustees and governors will already have been taking, one aspect does bear emphasis. Under this guidance the need to report is triggered by the breadth of contractual provisions allowing the school to terminate or suspend its agreement with the partner (to which we would add, contractual triggers for other major performance review mechanisms).

If an event does trigger this sort of provision in a contract, the trustees' approach to the school's contractual position is likely to need to be covered in the report.

Having Management Information Available

Schools will need to make sure that they receive enough management information from partner organisations in order to effectively manage the relationship that the school has with them. Part of this involves monitoring and managing adverse incidents as well as reporting those that need to be reported to the Charity Commission. Schools should therefore make sure that they are receiving the information they need from partner organisations and have a commitment from the partner to provide and allow the school to report information relating to serious incidents. It will be important to agree and record any understanding about using a partner's confidential information to make reports.

Conclusion

The need to report serious incidents involving partners is not new, but it has always been more involved than reporting for the school itself. Not only are there practical issues about ensuring information is available and can be used, but also the degree of removal can make it more difficult to decide what is or is not reportable. The difficulty usually lies in those scenarios which do not involve the school’s funds, brand or people but could have a significant impact on the school. This is the area where the Commission's new guidance is most likely to have an impact - both in clarifying what to report, and potentially in extending beyond what may have been apparent from the core reporting guidance, such as events which would trigger termination provisions or cause reconsideration of a partner's suitability.


If you have concerns regarding serious incident reporting, please contact Barney Northover in our Independent Schools team on 0117 314 5395, or complete the form below.

 

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