Charity status of private schools under threat

Independents told to do more to help poorer children
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The Independent Online

Four leading Scottish independent schools will be stripped of their charitable status unless they give more help to poorer children, a regulator warned yesterday.

Hutchesons' Grammar in Glasgow, Lomond School in Helensburgh, St Leonards in St Andrews and Merchiston Castle in Edinburgh were told by the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator that they did not provide "public benefit" and therefore failed to meet the criteria for charitable status. The OSCR criticised the four for charging high fees while failing to provide to enough bursaries for children from poorer families. It said it expected to see changes within 12 months. If the schools lose their charitable status, and their entitlements to tax and rate rebates, it is likely that fees would have to rise to cover the shortfall.

Under new rules, independent schools must be able to prove they have a charitable aim and serve a cross-section of the public by offering places to children from disadvantaged families, or making their facilities available to the local community.

The Scottish ruling will intensify pressure on private schools in England and Wales to justify the charity status that gives them about £88m a year in tax breaks. Their status will be determined by a separate regulator, the Charity Commission.

Dr Michael Carslaw, the head of St Leonards, said he was "disappointed" by the ruling, adding: "St Leonards is established as a charity for 'the advancement of education for the public benefit' and it is my intention that this remains the school's objective. It is disappointing that providing a high quality of education is, in itself, not judged to have sufficient public benefit."

Judith Sischy, of the Scottish Council of Independent Schools, said: "We are delighted that seven of our schools have passed the charity test and, although we are disappointed at the view taken by OSCR, we are confident that the remaining four schools will be able to retain their charitable status."