Leading Article: Fee-paying victory

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The Independent Online

The news that the Charity Commission has climbed down and given independent schools five years to put their house in order has baffled observers. Two days after Andrew Grant, chairman of Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, had railed at the Government for making it difficult for fee-paying schools to come into line with new charity law, the commission's chairman, Dame Suzi Leather, threw in the towel. Was she really persuaded that private schools couldn't cope, or had the Schools Secretary Ed Balls read her the riot act and told her to make friends with the independent sector in advance of an election? We shall never know.

What Dame Suzi said was that the changes would be difficult to enforce "in the current economic climate". Last year, a couple of schools were found wanting for failing to provide enough bursaries for children who were less well off. So, the message went out that the key to keeping charitable status was to be generous with the bursaries. In five years time, when the Charity Commission returns to the subject, we are likely to have a Conservative government which could insist on a much more lenient interpretation of the law. The independent schools may have won a lasting reprieve.