UK Private Schools Defend Charity Status

Critics argue that UK private schools aren’t fulfilling the commitment to the “public good” that gives them charity status.

The Education Review Group is alleging that private schools in England and Wales are using their charity status to fund schools programs like golf and hunting instead of using the “taxpayer subsidy” to provide benefits to the community, the BBC reports. The ERG will be offering testimony as part of a legal action filed by the Independent Schools Council, which represents 1,200 private schools throughout the country, asking to be granted more latitude in interpreting the “public good” clause of the 2006 Charities Act.

Traditionally, “public good” was interpreted to mean mostly academic scholarships to low-income students. But the ISC argues that this interpretation is too narrow. The council says that their members’ partnerships with local state schools, and their offers to share facilities and expertise, should count towards satisfying the “public good” requirement. The Education Review Group, which is testifying against the ISC, is arguing that giving private schools charitable status gives them unfair tax advantages. Some schools, according to the ERG, enjoy breaks of up to £88 million per year while offering education at a cost that is prohibitively high for most families.

Professor Ron Glatter of the Education Reform Group said:

“The law has just not kept pace. Fees of up to £29,000 per year for just one pupil mean that such education is often the preserve of the super rich.

“But the public may be more surprised at what schools which claim to be charities provide – golf, shooting, horse riding, dressage. Some schools even offer beagling. Can we really say these should attract tax payers support?”

The ISC is arguing that most private schools already offer scholarships in excess of tax benefits they receive. The Charity Commission, who issued the guidelines being challenged by the council, says that the Charities Act already gives schools flexibility in determining how to fulfill the “public good” requirement.

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May 24th, 2011

Staff Reporter

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