Page last updated at 15:00 GMT, Tuesday, 3 June 2008 16:00 UK

Private school charity rule fears

Pen and paper
Schools will have to report on their public benefit

Independent schools still face an anxious wait over charitable status, as the head of the Charity Commission considers rules on "public benefit".

Andrew Hind told an Independent Schools Council conference that he did not expect that all schools would succeed in keeping their charitable status.

He highlighted the need for independent schools to consider "those in poverty and those unable to pay fees".

Guidelines should be finalised by the end of the year, said Mr Hind.

Independent school leaders gathered in London are still waiting to find what will be expected of them to retain their charitable status and the associated tax breaks.


"Much of the anxiety is caused by the lack of definition," said the ISC's chief executive, Chris Parry.

School representatives heard questions over what exactly would be required - for example, would there be an expectation of more bursaries for poorer students or would it be sufficient to open facilities to the wider community.

Schools will be assessed on whether they can show benefit beyond their own pupils - with the call from the Charity Commission that they should be more than an "exclusive club".

But schools are waiting to hear what this will really mean in practice - and an ISC representative considered some of the questions raised by this.

Will hiking fees to fund bursaries be assessed as a move towards greater inclusion - or will it be seen as making fee levels even less accessible to the poor?

Is there a level of fees which will be considered "unreasonable"?

A legal expert on charities, Stephen Lloyd, told schools that they might consider expanding their bursaries rather than "spending a lot of money on yet another arts block which you don't really need".

Public service

Speaking later, Mr Lloyd said parents would have to recognise that choices - such as an overseas rugby tour or subsidised places - would have to be made in the light of legal expectations over public benefit.

"We have to educate parents as to what they can expect from an individual school that's also a charity as opposed to one that's not a charity," he said.

Mr Lloyd also said the Charity Commission was having to make judgements about the future of independent schools that "had been ducked on the floor of the House of Commons".

Although Mr Hind, the Charity Commission chief executive, offered the assurance that the change of rules would not mean a "huge swathe" of schools losing charitable status, he still made clear that this would not be a token exercise.

Independent schools would be expected to show a public benefit that was "proportionate" to their circumstances in terms of size, location, character and wealth.

But he emphasised that those that failed to show that they were providing public benefit could not expect to remain as charities.

There might not be individual checks on each school, he suggested, but there would be assessments of a sample of schools which would give examples of what is expected.

There have already been moves to increase bursaries and widen involvement with local state schools from a number of prominent independent schools.

Eton, Rugby and Winchester have all recently announced initiatives to make themselves more accessible to less well-off pupils.

Eton to enter state partnership
19 May 08 |  Education
Rugby to let in more poor pupils
09 May 08 |  Education
School fees hiked for bursaries
28 Apr 08 |  Education
Charity rules for private schools
16 Jan 08 |  Education

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