Leading Article: Strong medicine for private schools

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The Independent Online

Finally, the Charity Commission has reported on what independent schools must do to justify their charitable status. Based on a detailed look at five schools, it concludes that two – both of them prep schools – are not doing enough to provide bursaries, or subsidised places, for poorer pupils. Therefore, they have failed the new tests laid down by the Commission. These schools have been given three months to come up with an action plan, and a year in which to put their plans into effect.

The Charity Commission was right to take a tough line. There may have been a 25 per cent increase in the means-tested bursaries awarded by the independent sector, but the provision of such bursaries has been uneven around the country. The defence of private schools has always been that they save the state sector thousands of pounds by educating children who would otherwise be a financial burden. This is not a good enough argument because they have thereby conferred immense privilege to the few who can pay. Schools benefiting financially from being charities need to show that they exist for the wider public benefit. But the Charity Commission should give the schools more help in specifying the percentage of bursaries they should provide. Yes, fees will have to go up, but this is the only way to end years of privilege on the part of schools that have not previously been able to justify calling themselves charities.