Charity Tribunal’s Golden Moment: UK Independent Schools Ruling

We cheered when reading that the UK’s Charity Tribunal is about to pass judgement on the status of the 1200 or so independent fee-paying schools that still believe they warrant some kind of discount for teaching the rich.

Of course the schools PR organisation – the ISC – and their supporters are trying their best to undermine the case for fairness and egalitarianism and recent articles by the teaching failure that is historian David Starkey and others that portray UK state education as a disaster have been conveniently timed.

Nevertheless, quite how schools like Eton, Harrow, Wellington and the other thousand plus education businesses that make up their number have managed to get away with it for so long can only be because they’ve managed to get their own people into positions where the matter of the independent schools charitable status can be – and has been – quietly swept under the carpet.

Therefore we can only conclude that their people have now been outmuscled.

Perhaps also the longest running joke in UK education simply isn’t funny anymore. Or, maybe, and despite what Starkey and rabid right-wingers would have us believe, the recent successes in state education have meant that fee-paying schools don’t actually seem worth the money they once did – why bother with one when the local and free grammar school is just as good? – and there’s subsequently less need to defend them.

Whatever the reason, for those who still think that bursaries, sharing swimming pools and staff, and a bit of charity work will compensate for the gross anomaly which is the continued charitable status of independent schools, we should remember that charities must exist for the public benefit not the school’s benefit and these token reward efforts seem to be firmly in the interest of independent schools.

After all, the income from fees and other services that fee-paying schools earn is not taxed. So, in other words, the kids who can’t afford or aren’t lucky enough to win one of the proportionally very few bursaries or scholarships are actually giving free money to these businesses/schools.

Businesses pay tax. Taxes fund public services. Simple. It’s disingenuous to argue as some do that by taking money (i.e. students) out of the state system independent schools somehow benefit the rest of us. How can tax avoidance be of public benefit?

The issue of the creative use of the charity moniker has been raised at EducationState several times before. Teach First and CfBT Education Trust are two operations that would seem to do very well from charitable status but who would appear to behave as much like businesses as charities (and in the case of CfBT recently they don’t enjoy it when they lose out on new business to seemingly uncompetitive practices). And the same can be said about independent schools.

These and other similar ‘charities’ may argue that management strategies and a business culture imported from the workplace have made them more efficacious but as far as we, the Charity Commission and Joe Public are concerned, a charity is for the public benefit. Not the charity’s.

The Charity Tribunal then has a chance to drag the UK’s education system into the 21st century. We have our fingers crossed.

But even this first step if taken is we hope but the beginning of a much broader reassessment of what it means to be a charity in the UK and how a charity should act.

In 1985 Live Aid was a charitable event that aimed to raise money for the relief of the Ethiopian famine. Are independent schools working to the same template?

(And the operations of education charities are also under the spotlight across the pond)

Comments are closed


Register  |  Login

© 2017 EducationState: the education news blog.. All Rights Reserved. Log in