Letters: The charitable status of independent schools

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CHARITABLE STATUS

Hilary Moriarty tries to argue that the tax relief conferred on independent schools by their charitable status can be seen as quid pro quo for the taxes paid by parents who do not make use of state education (Letters, EDUCATION & CAREERS, 24 January). On this basis, all taxpayers would be entitled to relief in respect of those public services that they do not directly use, a situation that would rapidly lead to anarchy and social breakdown.

Whatever their individual merits, independent schools collectively serve to undermine the cohesion of British society by reinforcing social and economic power and privilege. For them to have charitable status is completely ludicrous.

Michael Pyke, The Campaign for State Education

Unless we are fortunate enough to live in insular self-sufficiency, all of us rely on a dense network of professional, technical and service providers – doctors, postmen, solicitors, motor mechanics, midwives, and so on. The huge majority of these individuals, on whom our daily lives depend, are educated through the state sector supported by the taxes we all pay.

I would respectfully point out that simply paying for private education does not give us a place on an island where we can exist without daily reliance on the state, its educated majority and their skills and services. Investing generously in the education of the people upon whom we depend is an urgent priority for us all, no matter where we choose to send our children to school.

Mike Sparkes, retired head teacher, by email

The £100m that the private sector saves as a result of charitable status is a fraction of the amount that it would cost the state, and hence the taxpayer, to educate pupils in maintained schools who are currently in independent schools. Isn't that of public benefit? And what about all those bursaries that independent schools offer to pupils of modest means so that they can be privately educated? It is not untypical for independent schools to give away about 10 per cent of their annual income to fund bursaries, if they don't have a separate bursary fund or don't benefit from the support of a specific charity. That, too, is of public benefit.

Furthermore, most independent schools do all sorts of things in their locality that are also of public benefit. At the Royal Hospital School, for example, we have a very well-developed community action scheme that includes paired reading at local primary schools, looking after OAPs at Oak House, and raising money for Ipswich Mencap. We also provide our facilities, often free of charge, for local people to use.

All this means that most independent schools will be in a strong position to demonstrate that what they do is indeed of public benefit, and they will therefore be able to retain their charitable status.

Howard Blackett, headmaster, The Royal Hospital School, Holbrook, Suffolk

SUMMERHILL SCORES

As a right-wing libertarian admirer of A S Neill, I enjoyed reading about Summerhill ("Freedom – and people power", EDUCATION & CAREERS, 24 January). I want children to be happy, and leave school contented, literate, numerate, articulate, confident and patriotic. Summerhill seems to score six out of seven at least.

There is far too much emphasis on paper qualifications by governments and employers. As for the Summerhill system – in my opinion, the heads of all secondary schools should be elected by the staff, and there should be an elected school council whose agreement should be required for all school rules.

Something far more radical hasn't led to chaos at Summerhill, and I don't think it would have that effect elsewhere. For instance, I believe that my traditional 1970s grammar school would have kept uniforms, homework and compulsory games – although corporal punishment, paranoia about long hair, and barring pupils from both staying in the building and leaving the premises at break and lunchtime would have been things of the past.

Mark Taha, Sydenham

FIELDWORK MATTERS

There is much to pick up on the recent comments about geography coursework ("Geography classes ignore key issues", The Independent, 17 January). Exam boards redesigned their AS- and A-levels for teaching in September 2008 and are now redesigning their GCSEs for teaching from 2009. As Edexcel's chair of examiners, I was keen to bring in many of the global issues raised. We have addressed climate change, globalisation, human movement and diversity, energy and water resource issues, and a host of other contemporary issues within the new Edexcel specifications.

However, it has been reported that health and safety issues prevent fieldwork: to my mind, fieldwork was discouraged by the regulator in England – the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority – by prohibiting the assessment of fieldwork through coursework in the new A-levels. This was previously popular with teachers because personal enquiry was the best way to encourage field studies. Any geography teacher will tell you that the fieldwork was the exciting bit of the course. Edexcel is fully committed to the value of fieldwork.

Tony Thomas, Chair of Examiners, Edexcel

OVERCROWDING

Michael Bawtree is absolutely right to complain about the effects of overcrowded schools ("The lesson is clear: get rid of private schools", The Independent, 21 January). It is bad enough that teachers should have to conduct lessons in assembly halls, dining areas and corridors, but, worse, that they do not have a room of their own.

A room of your own means that your specialist teaching materials are to hand, and when you are not teaching, you can prepare work and improve displays. In an overcrowded school, you will have to hawk some of your lessons to remote parts of the school, and may have to compete with the catering staff laying the tables for lunch!

How is lesson quality improved when some tables have more children seated at them than space permits, there is no circulation space in the room, and the children and teacher cannot see each other properly?

More seriously, it is well established that overcrowding leads to insecurity, aggression and delinquent behaviour. The socially fractured nature of overcrowded schools places great strain upon the pastoral system, which must work hard to resist becoming an instrument of discipline instead of an agency of support.

David McKaigue, Thornton Hough, Wirral

Send letters to: The Editor, Education, 'The Independent', Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS (with a daytime phone number); fax to: 020-7005 2143; email to: education@independent.co.uk; letters may be edited for length and clarity

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