Progress on private schools and public benefit

When it brought in the Charities Act 2006, the last Labour government left it to the Charity Commission to try to ensure that independent schools provided sufficient public benefit to justify their charitable status and the tax advantages that go with it.

The commission made valiant efforts to set up a system to oblige such schools to share some of their advantages with state schools and the wider community, partly by providing bursaries. It made some progress, but always in the face of accusations that it was implementing an essentially political agenda, and the matter ended up, as many had predicted, in the courts.

The Upper Tribunal reasserted the primacy of trustees and decided that the commission was being too prescriptive. As a result, this particular road towards a greater contribution by independent schools has to some extent been closed off, and this week the Labour party announced that it would attempt a different route if it formed next government.

The party has received legal advice that could lawfully withdraw the 80 per cent charity business rate rebate from independent schools if they failed to implement a School Partnership Standard which would include running summer schools, sponsoring academies, helping state schools with university access and generally making a meaningful impact on state education.

It is not yet clear who would make the crucial judgement about whether independent schools reached the required standard – the Department for Education? Ofsted and the Independent Schools Inspectorate? Local Education Authorities?  But at least it won’t be Charity Commission, and that is no doubt the source of some relief at Drummond Gate.

The Upper Tribunal judgement pointed out something that Labour should have taken note of before the 2006 Act – that getting the private schools to do their bit for wider society requires, at the end of the day, political resolution. With its proposal over business rates, worth £165m to private schools last year, the party appears now to recognise that, which is progress. It might also win some advantage with the wider electorate, but the downside will be another die-hard rearguard action from the private schools lobby and their political and media allies.


2 Responses to “Progress on private schools and public benefit”

  1. oldreem

    Were told that 7% of children are educated privately. So if all state school children were helped as proposed by the private sector, each independent school would be helping 13 state school pupils for each one of its own pupils. The alternative might be seen as an ‘unfair’ ‘two-tier’ system, with some schools being helped and some not. Do the maths stack up?
    (I leave the overall financial arguments to others…)

  2. Mark Jackson

    Someone really needs to ask the question: why should private schools help state schools? Parents of children in private education have already paid for their children’s education in state schools through their taxes, yet gain nothing for those taxes. Then, additionally, they make a free decision to commission private education out of the remainder of their taxed income. Instead of the odious politics of envy being displayed by the Labour Party, we should encourage more parents to send their children to private schools, thus leaving more places, and their taxes, available to better fund our crowded state schools.


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