Page last updated at 23:21 GMT, Monday, 6 October 2008 00:21 UK

First schools facing charity test

Boarding school pupils
Fee-charging schools will have to show they are not exclusive clubs

The first private schools to have to demonstrate a charitable purpose have been named by the Charity Commission.

Five schools must prove they are not "exclusive clubs" as part of the public benefit review that will apply to all charity schools from April 2009.

This is because the assumption that fee-charging schools, religious charities and care homes offer a public benefit has been removed in law.

There have been fears that some schools may lose their charitable status.

But the Charity Commission says it believes most independent fee-charging schools are likely to meet the test and that it is prepared to help those that do not.

Under the new rules, private schools that have charitable status and charge fees will have to demonstrate that they are not "exclusive clubs" and that they are "outward-looking and inclusive".

And the commission has warned that those that lose their charitable status will not be able to re-open as businesses using the same land and buildings.

Paying bills

The schools going through the first reviews are Manchester Grammar School Trust, Manor House School, Hampshire and Pangbourne College, Berkshire, Highfield Priory School Limited in Lancashire and St Anselm's School Trust in Derbyshire.

Schools represented by the Independent Schools Council educate at least 500,000 children in the UK. Some 159,859 of these receive help with their fees, the ISC said.

Chief executive of the ISC David Lyscom said his organisation looked forward to working with schools in demonstrating the many and varied contributions they made in the advancement of education.

He said: "While there is much in the commission's guidance which we take issue with, one thing is clear: the commission must take into account the running costs of a charity.

"Full time education is not cheap, and independent schools are not exceptional in having a high cost base which, in the vast majority of cases, is met solely by parents.

"Schools charge fees to pay their bills; this does not exclude them from being charities.

"We believe that the commission's reviews will demonstrate that schools are carrying out one of the oldest charitable missions - advancing education - and doing so more or less at cost price."

Community resource

He added that most schools would also be able to demonstrate that they make other contributions through free or discounted access and sharing arrangements, and community partnerships.

The Charity Commission is also publishing a summary of consultations on the issue on Tuesday.

It said that many of the responses had argued that schools were a community resource and not just a place of learning for children.

And any assessment of public benefit should recognise the benefits of community activities undertaken by schools.

But there was also discussion about any supposed public benefits which were restricted to those that passed a test of their academic ability or to the children of a particular profession.

Commission chairwoman Dame Suzi Leather said: "The contribution that organisations and individuals make to our consultations is greatly valued.

"It really does help us produce high quality guidance for the charity sector. In addition, we have chosen a selection of charities to take part in the first assessments.

"These will help inform the wider sector, both on the public benefit assessment and reporting process."

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