Gad's Hill School head accused of 'misusing funds'

David Craggs in 2011
Image caption In 2011 David Craggs was criticised for putting up a sign claiming the school was the best in England

A private school head teacher has been accused of misusing funds and giving himself huge pay rises, it has emerged.

David Craggs, head at Gad's Hills School in Higham, Kent, did not contest a report that raised concerns purchases made using school bank cards may not have had approval from governors.

He has not commented but the school, run as a charity, said a 2012 inquiry found he should not be disciplined.

The Charity Commission said the funds misuse claims were "very serious".

The commission, which regulates the school because of its charitable status, said it had this week written seeking answers from the Gad's Hill, which is based in a former home of Charles Dickens near Rochester and charges pupils about £10,000 a year.

'Bitterly disappointed'

John Melville resigned as chairman of the board of governors in April and said he was now free to speak out about his concern over the school's finances "as opposed to toeing the line".

Two other governors left the following month, both also mentioning financial concerns in their letters of resignation.

Image caption The school is based in a former of home of Charles Dickens

Mr Melville told BBC South East the governors did not spot the issues at the time and then decided to keep it quiet.

"I was bitterly disappointed, angry and upset at the fact that the headmaster had used charitable funds and I assembled a lot of evidence to confirm that," he said.

"The advice we got from our solicitor was that we should refer the matter to the police.

"The consensus of the board was that we should not do that."

381% pay rise

The governors are responsible for finances but the head has day-to-day control of the money.

In 2010 the governors discovered Mr Craggs had been awarding himself annual pay rises of tens of thousands of pounds apparently without prior approval, for 11 years.

When he got the job in 2000 his annual salary was £35,130. Five years later it was £107,674 and by 2011 he was being paid £168,985, meaning in 11 years his pay had risen by 381%.

"I advised the salary review board that the headmaster had been setting his own salary," Mr Melville said.

"Their initial reaction was they were fairly aghast at this and saying 'what can we do about it?'."

The BBC has seen Mr Craggs's amended contract of employment in which he agrees to a pay cut of £70,000.

The same document shows the head teacher chose not to contest that there were more than 20 dates on which purchases were made on the school credit or debit card that may not have had governor approval.

Image caption Former chair of governors John Melville said since resigning he no longer had to "toe the line"

Mr Craggs would not be interviewed by the BBC but the school issued a statement on his behalf.

It said the allegations had been raised by a former employee of the school in March 2012 and an investigation at the time concluded Mr Craggs "had not breached any school policy or procedure and would not be subjected to any disciplinary process".

It also said the governors had referred the matter to the Charity Commission, which had "concluded that the school may need to review some of its internal procedures but that it had acted appropriately and saw no need for any further action".

'Full confidence'

However, when the governors told the commission about the salary issue, they did not mention concerns about how money was being spent.

When the BBC checked details with the Charity Commission it said the issue appeared to require further regulatory assessment.

A statement said: "Whilst the trustees informed us of the financial review they undertook, we did not receive any notification of alleged misappropriation of funds. Any such concerns are very serious, and it is the trustees' responsibility to report these to us."

The Charity Commission said it had written to the school in the past 48 hours and was considering "what action, if any, may be appropriate".

Kirsty Hillocks, the acting chair of governors, said the school was fully co-operating with the commission's requests and Mr Craggs "deservedly has the full confidence of school staff and the governing body".

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